Proposal could send sex offenders outside the Lawrence city limits

? Some sex offenders in Kansas might be forced to leave their city homes for rural areas, under a proposal offered by House Speaker Doug Mays.

Mays, R-Topeka, wants to prohibit people convicted of sex crimes involving children from living within 2,500 feet – nearly one-half mile – of schools and day care centers.

In Lawrence, that would put much of the city off-limits to convicted child molesters: the city has 22 public schools, a handful of private schools and more than 100 licensed and registered day care centers.

“There’s not going to be much space,” said Tom Bracciano, Lawrence school district director of facilities and operation. “If there’s not a day care center at Alvamar, maybe there.”

There are 36 men who have been convicted of sex crimes involving children living in Lawrence, according to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation’s sex offender registry.

Mays’ bill would be retroactive, forcing offenders already living in the protective zones to move.

If other cities in Kansas are similar to Lawrence, that could mean hundreds, if not thousands, of sex offenders statewide would have to leave towns and cities for places to live, mostly in rural areas. There are approximately 4,000 registered offenders, with about two-thirds of them convicted of crimes involving children.

“I will do anything legally possible to change whatever law is necessary to protect the kids of this state from child molesters,” Mays, a Republican candidate for governor, said when introducing his proposal last week.

“I don’t feel a bit guilty if I make it harder for them to find a place to live,” he said.

His spokesperson, Rachelle Colombo, said for the public’s safety and for the released offender, it is best to keep the offenders and children as far apart as possible.

She said as Mays’ bill goes through the process of being worked on by a committee, there will be more information available about how other states have managed to prevent sex offenders from living near areas where children are present.

Douglas County Commissioner Jere McElhaney, who represents much of rural Douglas County, said he supported Mays’ proposal.

“We have to put them somewhere,” McElhaney said. “Mays is wanting to take a pro-active approach.”

But, he said, he hoped legislators would take into account that rural areas are often less-policed than urban areas.

He said the Legislature should adopt longer sentences for sex offenders. Mays’ proposal would increase sentences for sex offenders who fail to register with local authorities, or who provide a wrong address.

Mays has also said the Legislature should look at tougher sentencing of sex offenders.