Law Requires Some Sex Offenders to Live, Work Away From Kids

State law prohibits high-risk sex offenders who victimized a child from residing or working within 300 feet of a facility that serves youth

By Justin Franz

HELENA — Certain sex offenders employed near children in Montana must find new jobs, get special permission to work or face arrest.

A state law that took effect last week prohibits high-risk sex offenders who victimized a child from residing or working within 300 feet of a facility that primarily serves people under age 18.

Local law enforcement officials say they will include the new regulation in compliance checks they already conduct to ensure sex offenders report their locations. But the state’s lack of direction or additional resources to measure the distances between offenders and children has some officers scratching their heads.

“We can’t go out with a yardstick to everybody’s house and see if they’re in compliance with living too close to a school,” said Jim Kamminga, a Yellowstone County sheriff’s deputy. “I don’t know how this is going to work out really.”

More than a dozen states enacted laws restricting sex offenders from living near kids in the first decade of the millennium and others followed suit in recent years. Courts have overturned a handful of the laws.

In Kentucky and Missouri, judges ruled that retroactive provisions unconstitutionally criminalized residencies that were legal when sex offenders moved there.

Montana’s restriction does not apply to housing established before the law was enacted on May 5, but does apply to employment accepted or performed before that date.

The Montana statute resembles a revision planned for a California regulation commonly known as Jessica’s Law. The California Supreme Court ruled on March 2 that the state’s blanket restriction keeping all sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of schools or parks was overly ambitious and “greatly increased the incidence of homelessness among them.” A planned modification will apply the boundary only to pedophiles.

In Montana, 137 people were classified as high-risk, sexually violent predators on Thursday. Of those, the restriction will apply to people who victimized someone age 12 or younger.

Opponents to the restrictions argue that research points to a link between isolation and recidivism, and will do more to hurt offenders than protect kids. A conviction in Montana for living or working too close to children could mean up to 10 years in prison and a fine of no more than $50,000.

Rep. Jeff Essmann, a Billings Republican who brought the measure before the Legislature, said prosecution under the new law will likely depend on complaints from people who notice a sex offender working or residing too close to children.

Kamminga said enforcement could largely rely on the compliance of convicted sex offenders.

“I think they’re going to have to figure out where they can live and make sure there’s no restriction,” Kamminga said. “Most of the responsibility is on them.”

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