NORTH TONAWANDA – Lawmakers in North Tonawanda urged the Assembly to back a bill toughening residency restrictions on all levels of sex offenders.
“Time is of the essence,” Mayor Robert G. Ortt said Wednesday, noting that the state concludes its legislative session next Friday.
Ortt said North Tonawanda’s representative in the Assembly, Robin Schimminger, D-Kenmore, has already proposed a tougher state law that would prohibit sex offenders from residing within a quarter mile, or 1,350 feet, of schools, parks, playgrounds and day care facilities. But that bill has stalled in the Assembly.
The State Senate voted 59-3 on Tuesday to approve a companion bill introduced by Sen. George Maziarz, R-Newfane. State law currently has a 1,000-foot buffer zone, but only for Level 3 offenders, the most serious offenders, on probation or parole.
The law does not address Level 2 offenders.
“It’s incumbent on Assemblyman Schimminger to succeed in the Assembly; there are only eight days left,” Ortt said Wednesday, noting that with the passage of the Senate bill there is momentum for the legislation.
Ortt said the city passed tougher legislation in 2006 that mirrors the bill proposed by Schmminger, but City Attorney Shawn Nickerson said without a state law in place, the city legislation has been challenged in court. Ortt said the city reached out to the state last year to support a tougher law. Niagara County also passed tougher legislation in 2008 that applied to Level 2 and 3 offenders, with a 1,000-foot zone to protect schools, child care centers, parks, playgrounds and swimming pools.
Last week the Niagara County Legislature also urged the Assembly to pass a bill to toughen its sex-offender buffer zone.
Republican leaders in North Tonawanda publicly scolded Schimminger on Wednesday for failing to move his bill out of committee.
“The City of North Tonawanda, the Niagara County Legislature and the State Senate have fulfilled their responsibility to enact legislation that protects families from the most predatory members of our society,” said County Legislator Paul B. Wojtaszek. “It’s time for Robin Schimminger and his colleagues in the State Assembly to do the same.”
Ortt said Schimminger, a senior member of the Assembly majority, has been in the Assembly for 36 years and should be able to get support from other Democrats. Ortt said 42 Republicans in the Assembly have already pledged their support.
“I’m optimistic. I have to believe that if anyone can get it done he can,” Ortt said.
Nickerson said the legislation hits home for families in North Tonawanda.
“North Tonawanda has had too many instances of sex offenders preying on the most vulnerable members of our community, and we know that this area has had its share of controversy related to the housing of convicted sex offenders,” he said.