LOCKPORT – The Niagara County Legislature backed away from repealing its sex offender buffer zone law Tuesday, as the leaders of both parties refused to sign the resolution.
The repeal had been left off the printed agenda, meaning that signatures from the chairman and the majority and minority leaders were needed to add it to the agenda.
Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, took the microphone during a public hearing on the repeal to announce he would not sign the resolution. Moments later, Majority Leader Richard E. Updegrove, R-Lockport, said he wouldn’t sign it, either.
The county passed a law in 2008 barring all Level 2 and Level 3 sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of any school, park, playground, day care center or other places where large numbers of children gather.
County Attorney Claude A. Joerg recommended the repeal because several laws around the state, including one in Newfane, have been overturned by judges who ruled that no local government can pass a law tougher than the state’s.
The state’s 1,000-foot buffer zone applies only to Level 3 offenders on probation or parole.
Virtuoso said he will introduce a resolution at the Oct. 16 meeting to expand the county’s buffer zone to the same 1,500 feet that remains in force in Niagara Falls – a law that has yet to be challenged in court.
North Tonawanda and the county have been sued over the Lumber City’s quarter-mile rule by a prison inmate who wants to live there. He has been kept in prison, even though his sentence is up, because he can’t find a residence that complies with the law.
The City of Lockport repealed its law last month.
Ronald Anderluh of the Niagara Street Business and Professional Association said, “If somebody’s putting pressure on the Niagara County Legislature from the state level, you should fight it. You don’t have to put up with this baloney.”
“If we arrested someone under the statute, it’s an illegal arrest,” Joerg told the audience. “The arrest is thrown out, so we’re not providing any protection for the residents.”
He said the county also would face a possible false-arrest suit. “It just opens us up to giving sex offenders money, in addition to what they’ve already done.”
Legislator Paul B. Wojtaszel, R-North Tonawanda, who sponsored the original law, said, “I thought our law was perfect.”
He said he believed making it apply to sex offenders whose probation or parole terms had expired “distinguished our law sufficiently from the state statutes to pass constitutional muster.”