County leaders across Wisconsin must continue to selectively place some sex offenders upon their release from incarceration.

Gov. Tony Evers last week vetoed SB 60, which would have changed the rules for where sexually violent felons can live. 

Current state law bans sexually violent felons from living anywhere that’s within 1,500 feet of a school, playground, nursing home, public park or church. 

SB 60 would have eliminated the 1,500 foot requirement and, instead, had county leaders consider “the distance between” the offender and one of the prohibited places. 

Evers said the changes eliminated important oversight over sexually violent people. 

“I am vetoing the bill because I object to weakening the protections in current law requiring residential options for sexually violent persons to be specific distances from any school, child care facility, public park, place of worship, or youth center,” Evers wrote in his veto message to lawmakers. “Providing as safe a place as we can for our kids to grow, learn, and play is one of the most vital responsibilities for our society.”

Supporters of the changes say the 1,500 foot barrier makes it difficult to place released sex offenders into new homes whether those homes are in large cities or smaller communities.

“Counties are now charged with placing sexually violent people and we believe no one knows their county better than the local government entities involved in these decisions. We believe local control is appropriate and will ensure the most positive outcomes for all Wisconsin residents and local government officials involved in the sexually violent people placement process,” the plan’s author, Sen. Dan Feyen, R-Fon du Lac, said in May.

“As an example, in Portage County the Sheriff’s Department has a vacant building directly across the street from their office,” Feyen said. “They would ideally like to use this vacant building as sexually violent people housing due to the proximity to the Sheriff’s Office. However, due to the 1500 foot rule they are unable to utilize that housing.”

Wisconsin’s State Public Defenders’s office also wanted to see the rules changed. The office released a statement in the spring when the proposal was up for a debate. 

“In nearly every attempted placement in the county of origin since Act 184 [in 2017], the 1,500 foot barrier was the primary reason that an individual was ultimately placed in another county,” the Public Defender’s office wrote. “Because Act 184 requires counties to find placement options, each county has discretion to identify placement in a location that is best determined by officials within those counties.”

There is no word if Feyen and other supporters will try again. 

Benjamin Yount reports on Illinois and Wisconsin statewide issues for The Center Square. Reposted with permission.

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