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HomeBusiness & CommunityUpdate: Revisions made to Hernando County Sex Offender and Sexual Predator Ordinance

Update: Revisions made to Hernando County Sex Offender and Sexual Predator Ordinance

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Last week, the Hernando Sun ran a story on recent changes to the Hernando County Sexual Offender and Sexual Offender Ordinance found in Chapter 21 of the Code of Ordinances. The story was largely based on a copy of the revised ordinance posted on the BOCC website for their July 11th meeting. We have learned that the copy of the ordinance posted did not reflect some of the final revisions.

County Commissioner John Allocco spoke with us about the final revisions and why the changes were needed. Allocco said the most significant changes to the ordinance were driven by the ambiguous language specifying where registered sex offenders can and cannot go in Hernando County. Areas generally off limits to Sexual Offenders and Predators are defined in Section 21-239 of the ordinance, which is titled Restrictions of Certain Activities of Sexual Offenders and Sexual Predators. The section also establishes certain exemptions.

Allocco cited wording in the section of the ordinance that made it appear an offender could be prohibited from going to a third-party meeting, such as an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting hosted at a church. Another example was the language that seemed to prohibit a sexual offender or sexual predator from visiting a relative in the hospital or a nursing home facility.

To clear things up a bit, some of the verbiage in section 21-239 was changed. The initial paragraph formerly read: “No sexual offender or sexual predator may enter or remain within the 1000 ft. buffer zone surrounding any school, childcare facility, park, playground, public library, long-term care facility, nursing home facility, or religious institution except to:” with a list of several exemptions following. The wording “enter and remain” was deleted and replaced by “loiter or prowl.”

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The below-bolded wording was added to Section 231-239(k) of the ordinance, which now permits attending a church service or function, including attending official meetings or functions of rehabilitation or treatment groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and related groups;

Section 21-239(q) added language to permit offenders to visit relatives in nursing homes, long-term care facilities, or hospitals that may be in an otherwise excluded zone. The addition allows an offender to attend or visit a relative in a long-term care facility, nursing home facility, or hospital property. When a sexual offender or sexual predator enters upon a long-term care facility, nursing home, or hospital pursuant to this subsection, the sexual offender or sexual predator shall promptly depart from the property without any undue delay or loitering on premises after completing such visit.

Allocco said the need for the changes was brought to his attention after he was contacted by several people who were seeking clarification so they did not run afoul of the ordinance. “They are just trying to do the right thing,” he said.

Before seeking the changes, Allocco said he conducted an experiment to test the ordinance’s language. Allocco asked one of the concerned parties to contact the Sheriff’s Office to ask a specific question concerning the ordinance. He said the person was told that the answer wasn’t clear and they should contact an attorney. Allocco said he then called and asked the same question to a different person in the Sheriff’s Office and got the same answer. It became apparent that the wording in the ordinance wasn’t clear enough.

Allocco said seeking changes such as those to the sex offender ordinances is a sensitive topic because citizens may sometimes misinterpret the changes as “soft on crime.” Allocco said that, in this case, “It was just the right thing to do. When people want to obey the law but can’t understand it without a lawyer, and law enforcement doesn’t understand it either, it’s a problem. It’s not fair to the people, and it’s not fair to law enforcement officers,” Allocco said.

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