Tuesday, February 02, 2010
"A Law for the Sex Offenders Under a Miami Bridge"
Posted by David Oscar Markus
Miami is in Time Magazine again. This time for sex offenders living under the bridge:
The Julia Tuttle Causeway is one of Miami's most beautiful bridge spans, connecting the city to Miami Beach through palm-tree-filled islands fringed with red mangroves. But beneath the tranquil expanse sits one of South Florida's most contentious social problems: a large colony of convicted sex offenders, thrown into homelessness in recent years by draconian residency restrictions that leave them scant available or affordable housing. They live in tents and shacks built from cast-off supplies, clinging to pylons and embankments, with no running water, electricity or bathrooms. Not even during a recent cold spell, when nighttime temperatures dropped into the 30s, could they move into temporary lodging.
But with the disturbing bridge colony putting Miami under increased national scrutiny — it has managed the improbable feat of arousing sympathy for pedophiles — Miami-Dade County hopes to return some sanity to the issue. A new law takes effect on Monday that supersedes the county's 24 municipal ordinances, many of which make it all but impossible for offenders to find housing. It keeps the 2,500-feet restriction, but applies it only to schools. It also sets a 300-foot restriction to keep offenders from loitering near anyplace where children gather, which many experts call a more practical solution than harsh residency restrictions.
County officials, as well as the American Civil Liberties Union, hope the law will prod states and perhaps even the U.S. Congress to craft more-uniform laws to prevent the kind of residency-restriction arms race that Florida let local governments wage. "The safety of Floridians has suffered as local politicians have tried to one-up each other with policies that have resulted in colonies of homeless sex offenders left to roam our streets," says state senator Dave Aronberg, a Democrat running for state attorney general. The excessive rules, he adds, "have the effect of driving offenders underground and off law enforcement's radar." Aronberg is co-sponsoring a new bill that would establish uniform statewide residency rules fixed at 1,750 feet — studies show that in many cities, over 50% of available housing is within 2,500 feet of schools — and include the sweeping no-loitering zones.