Change in Iowa Law Offers Hope for Solution to Restrictive Florida Sex Offender Residency Requirement

July 27, 2009 by David S. Seltzer

As a Miami sex offender registration violations defense attorney, I was pleased to see a recent piece in the Miami Herald about some of the unintended consequences of our punitive sex offender registration laws. As Miamians may know, Florida places very strict restrictions on where registered sex offenders may live -- they cannot live within 1,000 feet of any place where children congregate. Miami-Dade has an even stricter law that requires offenders to live at least 2,500 feet away from any place where children congregate. As a result, a group of sex offenders with no place else to go have taken up residence under the Julia Tuttle Causeway bridge, sparking a lawsuit from the ACLU arguing that the county law has essentially forced these people into homelessness and made it harder for police to keep track of them.

According to a July 24 article from the Miami Herald, the state of Iowa faced a similar problem until recently. Its state law, passed in 2005, kept sex offenders at least 2,000 feet from schools and day-care centers. As in Florida, this had the unintended consequence of making it very difficult for offenders to find a legal home, driving some into homelessness and others to disappear. However, unlike in Florida, the Iowa legislature has found a solution. Iowa’s recent amendment to its sex offender laws creates three tiers of sex offender, allowing people convicted of the least serious crimes to live anywhere and requiring those convicted of the most serious crimes to keep to the 2,000-foot limit. Similar efforts in Florida have failed, at least once because of opposition from Miami-Dade legislators.

As a South Florida sex offender registration violations criminal defense lawyer, I’m pleased to see attention paid to this issue. These restrictions are in place to keep us safe from sexual predators who might offend again. However, if this law drives offenders to flee or become homeless, it impedes law enforcement’s ability to track these offenders -- paradoxically creating a situation that could make us less safe. It is also an unnecessarily punitive law, particularly because these offenders have already done their time and been released.

No politician wants to be seen as soft on child molesters -- even when common sense tells them the current situation isn’t working. That’s why the political willpower mustered in Iowa is so impressive to this Fort Lauderdale sex offender registration criminal defense attorney. As one state senator observes in the article, Florida has different problems and demographics from those in Iowa. But when the problem is similar, it only makes sense to consider a similar solution, even if it takes some political courage.