Wednesday, December 17, 2014



Help us secure safer neighborhoods throughout Wisconsin

By Tom Barrett, Joel Kleefisch

The column below reflects the views of the authors, and these opinions are neither endorsed nor supported by . 

The most important responsibility we have as adults is to protect our children from harm, and to keep them safe at school, daycare and in our neighborhoods. In general, residency requirements for convicted sex offenders establish restrictions in areas where children are present. Given this commitment to our children, it is no surprise many Wisconsin communities have raced to enact ordinances mandating residency requirements for convicted sex offenders. Recently, Milwaukee passed legislation after witnessing an increase of sex offenders living within the city. The problem moving forward is an emerging patchwork quilt of laws due to many communities enacting their own residency restrictions that vary in detail. That is why this issue needs to be immediately addressed. Without consistent residency restrictions across the state, we risk children's safety by perpetuating a system that fails to appropriately place dangerous offenders. 

Our priority during the upcoming legislative session is to create a bipartisan coalition that will pass a uniform statewide sex offender placement law, requiring offenders to reside at least 1,000 feet away from schools, daycares, and other areas where children are known to congregate. 

In 2005, Assembly Bill 557 authored by Rep. Joel Kleefisch (R- Oconomowoc) was the first of its kind to shed light on the issue of mandating residency requirements for convicted sex offenders living within Wisconsin's communities. Unfortunately, this legislation and 2009 Senate Bill 548, authored by Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) did not have the support to pass both houses of the state Legislature. While we may have different views on a number of issues, we are confident that our concern for Wisconsin's children will rise above partisan politics. We must come together to enact this important legislation to make our communities safer places to raise a family. 

Across the state, communities have faced issues with the placement of sex offenders after they have completed their sentence. In the Village of Allouez, a community just outside of Green Bay, many leaders were shocked to see the population of convicted sex offenders more than double since 2008, one year after the city of Green Bay passed their sex offender residency restriction. As a result, Allouez had no choice but to pass its own ordinance earlier this year. The same pattern happened in Milwaukee, where in two ZIP codes the sex offender population increased more than 40 percent since 2007, the year before several other municipalities in Milwaukee County enacted their own residency restrictions. 

These offenders have committed state crimes, were prosecuted by state prosecutors, and are imprisoned and monitored by the state Department of Corrections. It is time for the state to step in and support all communities in Wisconsin with an equitable and uniform standard of residency restriction, so that our communities don't face the challenge of becoming a dumping ground for dangerous individuals. Every resident deserves safety. 

Together, we need to be cognizant of where registered sex offenders reside. Through this law, our commitments and responsibilities to the people of Wisconsin are met, and safer more secure neighborhoods are in place for future generations. 

-- Barrett is mayor of Milwaukee. Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc, represents Wisconsin's 38th Assembly District.