Twelve registered sex offenders currently live in Washburn and its immediate vicinity, according to the state Department of Corrections online sex offender registry, but the city currently has no ordinance addressing where they can live.
That may soon change.
A proposed ordinance has been drafted to map out where sex offenders may reside in the city, but it must align with new guidelines established by a federal court judge in a 2017 ruling over an ordinance set by Pleasant Prairie in Kenosha County.
The court decision spurred lawyers for Washburn to consider proposing a registered sex offender ordinance to put on the books.
The ordinance draft sets 500-foot safety zones into which convicted sex offenders can’t step. These zones surround buildings and places where children usually congregate, including schools, parks, swimming pools, recreational trails and paths, church and library.
The trick for the city, if the council pursues the ordinance, is to have enough neighborhoods open to registered sex offenders while protecting public safety. This is where Pleasant Prairie ran afoul of the courts.
Pleasant Prairie’s ordinance had restricted registered sex offenders from about 90 percent of the village. The remaining 10 percent mostly included commercial zones and neighborhoods lacking low-income housing.
After a federal judge ruled the ordinance violated the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause, Prairie Point revised rules so that registered sex offenders could live in about 25 percent of the village.
When inmates are ready for release from prison, the DOC helps them prepare for the outside world, including searching for housing, said Clare Hendricks of the DOC, but it’s still up to the individuals to find a home.
However, the DOC may have to work with the community to help a person under active supervision find a residence in the absence of available housing. That doesn’t apply to people on the sex offender registry who are no longer monitored.
The Washburn City Council will consider whether it wants to adopt a sex offender registry ordinance at its March 11 meeting, said Scott Kluver, city administrator. If it chooses to move forward, the council would review and vote on a draft at a later meeting.
If the council moves quickly, an ordinance could be published and in place by mid-April, Kluver said.