Registered sex offenders had their day to be heard before Brevard County commissioners and explain how an ordinance banning them from certain locations in the county has negatively affected them.
In their statements to commissioners on Tuesday, petitioners pleaded with the commission to reverse an amendment to an ordinance passed in 2020, barring them from entering within 1,000 feet of businesses where children typically congregate.
Their comments included examples of barriers they face because of the county regulation, and the negative impact that is having for their families and other loved ones.
But, after hearing the three speakers, county commissioners took to action to change the rules.
The attendance of the registered sex offenders at Tuesday’s meeting was made possible because commissioners modified a section of the county code in March that prohibited those on the sex offender registry list from entering the Brevard County Government Center in Viera. The regulation, passed in 2006, bars someone on the list from occupying a space within 1,000 feet of a school or a recreation area.
Because the Government Center is near Brevard Public Schools’ district offices and Viera High School, people on the registry had been prohibited from entering the Government Center to attend meetings or conduct business.
Registered offenders, with the Florida Justice Institute acting on their behalf, filed a lawsuit, claiming the 2006 rule violated their freedom of speech rights and hindered them from seeking redress from their government.
That lawsuit continues, despite the changes that commissioners enacted that now allows them to attend County Commission meetings.
The plaintiffs are challenging an amendment they made to the ordinance passed in 2006.
In the fall of 2020, commissioners passed an ordinance that expanded restrictions already in place because of the 2006 rule. It allows business owners to certify their establishments as places where youngsters congregate. This would prohibit registered offenders from entering a 1,000-foot buffer zone around their businesses.
Their comments included examples of barriers they confront as they go about their lives.
“As an American citizen, I can only hope that more care goes into our lawmaking,” Charles Violi said during public comment. He is on the offender list and is subject to the restrictions passed by the county.
“Do they meet our constitutional requirements, or will they violate a person’s human or civil rights before they are enacted?” he said. “Are we using the correct data to make all these decisions? Are these laws actually producing safety or excessive punishment, as well as wasting police time or our taxpayer dollars, keeping in mind that all lives matter?”
The speakers made a point to explain that they repaid their debt to society for the crimes they committed.
“I am a registered citizen from an offense in Virginia,” Charles Munsey Jr. said during public comment. “I have never had a sexual offense in Florida, yet I am designated as a predator in Florida, not in Virginia.”
“My daughter, the victim, long ago resolved this situation, and we get along fine just now,” Munsey said. “I have been active in community affairs, both here and in Virginia. I was released from probation 11 years early.”
The speakers also explained how the ordinance is negatively affecting their lives.
Vincent Rinaldi wanted to place his house in a trust to plan his estate. He needed to obtain a notary to complete the transaction, but couldn’t obtain one because his bank was located within 1,000 feet of a park, prohibiting him from entering the establishment.
“I cannot conduct normal business that any other citizen of this county is permitted to do,” Rinaldi said. “This is one example of many that I can offer that proves this ordinance hurts and punishes other individuals.”
The speakers also claim the ordinance is having a negative impact on their families.
Rinaldi said he cares for his partner, who is ill, and helping her could place him in custody should he need to take her to the hospital for medical care.
County commissioners, however, took no action to change the restrictions on registered sex offenders.
“People go in and they serve their time,” Commissioner Rita Pritchett said. “They can come back out and live. There are some things you do you can never gain trust back. I will always err on the side of kids, so if there is ever an opportunity to protect children, I am with Commissioner (John) Tobia and Commissioner (Kristine) Zonka on that.”
Tobia proposed the amendment because he said he wanted to protect children in the community.
“I think children are precious and innocent, and anyone that takes that away is absolutely horrific at the time they take that innocence away,” Tobia said. “Yes, there are people with much more forgiveness than me, but that is something that I don’t have that level of compassion.”