A bill that would restrict where certain sex offenders could live in Pennsylvania got a skeptical reception at a House hearing on Tuesday, with discussion centering around whether such measures actually increase public safety.
The House Judiciary Committee held an informational session Tuesday on House Bill 77, which would require that anyone who has been adjudicated as a “sexually violent predator” under Pennsylvania’s sex crimes law could not live within 2,500 feet of a school or child care center.
Although judges can impose residency restrictions on a case-by-case basis, typically through an offender’s parole conditions, Pennsylvania does not have any blanket rules on where offenders can live.
House Bill 77 would change this when it comes to those deemed violent, and also impose residency restrictions for life, not just for the term of a parole sentence.
The bill was introduced by Reps. Armind Venkat, D-Allegheny, and Rob Mercuri, R-Allegheny, whose districts share the municipality of Hampton Township. The bill is a response to a public outcry, Venkat said, that occurred when a violent sex offender moved in close to a school in the township.
But none of the experts who testified Tuesday were directly supportive of the bill, and several were explicitly opposed, voicing concern that similar measures in other states have forced offenders into homelessness or otherwise made it more difficult for them to receive psychiatric treatment, increasing the risk that they will re-offend.
Venkat acknowledged at the outset of Tuesday’s hearing that “we need to find a way to balance the safety of the community along with understanding that rendering these individuals homeless and not able to be connected would be as dangerous for the community.”
“There is no question that they may be challenging, but that there is the opportunity and ability to do so and that’s been shown in other states and municipalities,” Venkat said of residency restrictions.
However, several who testified Tuesday challenged this outlook, pointing to copious prior instances in other states where such measures have gone awry. The core issue is that, particularly in urban areas, the volume of schools and daycares effectively makes entire metropolitan areas off-limits of sex offenders.
Miller also pointed to several studies showing that registered sex offenders who committed a further sexual offense would not have been impacted by residency restrictions, given that the vast majority of sex crimes are against someone the perpetrator already knows and not against victims selected because of proximity.
“This is largely creating more problems than it would solve,” Miller said of residency rules.