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Niagara County Legislature urges passage of bill setting tougher sex-offender buffer zones

LOCKPORT – The Niagara County Legislature voted unanimously Monday to urge the Assembly to pass a bill allowing the county to toughen its sex-offender buffer zone law.

However, Democratic Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso of Niagara Falls said the county could have done better by endorsing a bill sponsored by Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, D-Kenmore.

He argued that Schimminger’s bill, which has been stalled in committee since January, was preferable to the one the County Legislature endorsed, which is sponsored by State Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane.

That bill passed the Senate by a 61-1 vote May 21, and it would allow the county to bar sex offenders from coming within 1,500 feet of any school or child care facility.

It was introduced in response to a County Legislature resolution in October that asked for a stronger law than the state’s current one. At present, the state has a 1,000-foot buffer zone, but only for Level 3 offenders who are on probation or parole.

In 2008, the county passed a 1,000-foot law protecting schools, child care facilities, parks, playgrounds and swimming pools.

It applied to Level 2 and 3 offenders.

Monday’s resolution called on Schimminger, the only Democrat representing any part of Niagara County in Albany, to push Maziarz’s bill through that house.

But Virtuoso said Schimminger’s bill would create a statewide 1,350-foot buffer zone applying to all levels of sex offenders. It would bar them from coming that close to schools, playgrounds, parks or day care centers.

Virtuoso said that makes it “stronger than Mr. Maziarz’s bill. It excluded the playgrounds, which is very important.”

Majority Leader Richard E. Updegrove said, “I certainly hope the bill introduced by Assemblyman Schimminger will pass. … If it doesn’t pass, it’s not going to do us any good.” Updegrove, R-Lockport, suggested that Schimminger should push Maziarz’s bill in the Democratic-controlled Assembly because it would directly benefit Niagara County.