The Star-Herald

State allows Madawaska, other Maine towns to ban sex offenders from parks, fields

AUGUSTA, Maine — Madawaska and other Maine towns soon will be able to ban sex offenders from any state or municipal park, athletic field or recreational facility serving children.

A new law allows municipalities to prohibit sex offenders from coming within 750 feet of such property. Officials in Madawaska had argued that state law only allowed municipalities to ban such individuals who come near property leased to nonprofits.

Republican Gov. Paul LePage signed Democratic Rep. Roland Martin’s bill into law on April 18, and it will take effect three months after lawmakers return to Augusta to consider LePage’s vetoes.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine opposed the original bill and said there’s no evidence that sex offender residency restrictions work. They argued that research shows family members and acquaintances commit most sex crimes against children.

Martin, who represents Madawaska and neighboring communities, introduced the LD 1877 to close the perceived loophole in the law at the behest of local officials

Madawaska selectmen learned last year that the community’s sex offender ordinance was not in compliance with the state’s Title 30-A statute.

The local ordinance, adopted in 2014, prevents those convicted of a sex offense against a person under 14 years of age from being within 750 feet of any “municipally owned” park or other area where children are the primary users.

But attorneys advised town officials that the ordinance, as written, was “not enforceable” because of language that is more strict than what was allowed under Maine law governing residency restrictions.

Local officials then proposed ordinance amendments that would have removed any reference to municipally owned property and removed restrictions related to distances from “family child care” facilities, which were not included in state statute.

But Madawaska residents, many of whom indicated the laws didn’t go far enough to protect children, tabled any action on the amendments at a special town meeting in March, with one voter stressing that the town should challenge the state to stand by its law or change it.

In early April, Town Manager Gary Picard thanked Martin for introducing the legislation on the town’s behalf after members of the Legislature’s State and Local Government committee unanimously voted in favor of the bill.

“It was important for us,” he said, “and other municipalities, who like Madawaska already have local sex offender residency restriction ordinances in place, to have this legal technicality addressed by the Legislature so that the towns can legally enforce those ordinances.”

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