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House okays bill that would ban communities from limiting where sex offenders can live

C0NCORD — Communities could not adopt local ordinances to bar sex offenders from living near schools or in certain neighborhoods under a bill the House approved 231-97 Wednesday.

House Bill 1237 would align state law with two court cases that found local ordinances restricting where sex offenders could live unconstitutional: one in Dover and the other in Franklin.

Police groups supported the bill, saying local residency ordinances send offenders underground where they cannot be tracked.

But opponents say people deserve to know who is living in their neighborhoods or near the schools where they send their children.

As a long-time member of the Derry Zoning Board, Rep. Jim Webb, R-Derry, said communities can pass ordinances restricting land use and can say “yes’ and “no.”

But bill supporters said safe guards exist because the sex offender registry includes the names and addresses of those who are required to register.

Rep. Timothy Robertson, D-Keene, said that if a judge believes a sex offender should be barred from school property that can be part of the sentencing order.

Currently, 12 New Hampshire communities have ordinances restricting where sex offenders live, including several barring them from their borders.

Other legal challenges are expected to the ordinances.

During debate on the bill, Rep. Al Baldasaro, D-Londonderry, told of a sex offender who moved into a neighborhood in his community near a school.

“Once a sex offender moves in, it shut down the whole neighborhood,” Baldasaro said. “More and more sex offenders are moving into our state.”

But Rep. Robert Renny Cushing, D-Hampton, said with communities passing different ordinances there is the risk of creating a patchwork of restrictions.

“If you make it so there is no place for sex offenders to go,” Cushing said, “they will live under bridges so the thing you don’t want to happen, happens.”

Without a fixed address, he said, offenders are difficult to track, which is why there are registry requirements.

“If Manchester outlaws sex offenders from living in that community, they’ll sleep under bridges or in winter rentals in Hampton Beach,” Cushing said.

Police chiefs support the law and asked lawmakers not to take away one of their best tools, tracking where sex offenders are, he said.

The bill now goes to the Senate.

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