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Sex offender zone proposal to be revised

LOCKPORT -- The Common Council voted Wednesday to hold a public hearing April 5 on a revised sex offender buffer zone law, after the city's attorney learned of possible constitutional problems with the first proposal.

That plan, on which a public hearing was held March 1, would have barred all registered sex offenders from living within a quarter-mile of any school, park, playground, day care center or anywhere else where children are likely to gather.

It received unanimous support from residents who spoke at the hearing, but apparently it won't be voted upon.

Wednesday, Corporation Counsel John J. Ottaviano told the aldermen that Binghamton was sued by 15 sex offenders, backed by the New York chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, over a similar law. Binghamton repealed its law last October to make the lawsuit moot.

Among the points raised in the ACLU lawsuit was that local buffer zone laws exceed municipal powers, because there's already a state law that bars sex offenders from coming with 1,000 feet of a school.

The same point was raised by Lockport defense attorney George V.C. Muscato in an interview with The Buffalo News Monday. Muscato said municipalities aren't allowed to pre-empt state laws.

The ACLU also asserted that buffer zones amount to "banishment," which its lawyers argued is not a permissible punishment under the Constitution.

Ottaviano said he intends to draft a law barring Level 2 and 3 sex offenders from the 1,000-foot radius. The state law applies only to Level 3 offenders, regarded as the most likely to reoffend.

But Amherst Councilwoman Shelly Schratz attended Wednesday's meeting and urged the aldermen to defy the legal threats and pass the toughest buffer zone law they can think of.

"You have to find the courage to let the criminals argue about it," said Schratz, who introduced the buffer zone law passed in Amherst. "Don't worry about the 15 sex offenders who will show up and complain. Isn't that why you want to get sued, for protecting your kids?"

Ottaviano said he wasn't that concerned about litigation, but he said he had talked to Binghamton's city attorney and was told the court saddled the city with the plaintiffs' legal fees.

The sponsor of the proposed law here, Council President John Lombardi III, R-5th Ward, said he hasn't talked to Ottaviano yet about revising his proposal.

Mayor Michael W. Tucker promised Schratz the city would pass a buffer zone law. "We have a great deal of passion about it, too," he said.

In other business, the Council hired Alp Steel Corp. for $4,997 to build a staircase from the municipal parking lot off Chestnut Street to the rear entrance of the Lockport YMCA. The Council awarded a $7,500 contract for that work to Barry Steel Fabrication Co. last year, but Tucker said the deal was canceled when Barry discovered a need for extra work that hiked the price to $11,000.

Bero Architecture of Rochester received a $22,000 contract for architectural and engineering oversight on the reconstruction of Canal Street, formerly Richmond Avenue. Community Development Director William J. Evert said work will begin in April.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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