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Vote near on sex offender buffer zone plea

The Niagara County Legislature may vote as soon as next week to urge all municipalities in the county to pass a sex offender buffer zone law, barring registered sex offenders from living too close to schools, day care centers or playgrounds.

Monday, the Legislature's Community Services Committee unanimously approved a resolution making that request.

It was co-sponsored by Danny W. Sklarski, D-Town of Niagara, and Rebecca E. Cuddahee, D-Niagara Falls.

Thomas W. Scirto, attorney for the county Social Services Department, told the committee that state law bars counties from passing any such measure on their own, but cities, towns and villages are allowed to do so.

Buffer zone laws have been passed in Buffalo, Amherst, Cheektowaga, Depew and Lancaster, while the City of Lockport is considering one. Common Council President John Lombardi III said Monday that Lockport's vote is expected April 5.

County Youth Director Joan McDermott said the county Youth Board heard a presentation from Amherst Council Member Shelly Schratz on that town's law. "My board was very intent on passing this resolution," she said.

Dennis J. Stachera, chairman of the Youth Board, said at the March 1 public hearing on the Lockport proposal that he hoped every municipality in Niagara County would pass such a law.

The Lockport law would bar registered sex offenders from living within a quarter-mile of anyplace where children congregate. The county's recommendation was a 1,500-foot radius, which is slightly larger.

McDermott said an offender who lived within the radius before his conviction would not be forced to move.

"This legislation doesn't expect to protect all children," she said. "The first line of defense for children is parents."

Although no one voted against the measure, some legislators questions how enforceable it would be. Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, asked, "How do you stop somebody from buying a house in that area?"

Legislator Joseph A. Vacanti Jr., D-North Tonawanda, a detective for the Village of Kenmore, warned that some buffer zone laws are too broadly drawn. Cuddahee, fearing that, deleted a clause barring sex offenders from "other area frequented by our children" besides schools, day care centers, playgrounds and recreational areas.

The resolution also was amended so it would apply only to Level 2 and 3 offenders, the most severe ratings.

Lockport defense attorney George V.C. Muscato, who is meeting with Corporation Counsel John J. Ottaviano to revise Lockport's proposal, said Monday he thinks state law already covers the situation.

He said his reading of state law is that it bars sex offenders from going with 1,000 feet of a school, unless the person is a student or has permission from a probation officer.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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