Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — NORTH TONAWANDA — Members of the Niagara County Republican party this week urged Democratic Assemblyman Robin Schimminger to push for passage of a sex offender bill that he initially sponsored three years ago.
During a Wednesday press conference at City Hall, Mayor Rob Ortt, City Attorney Shawn Nickerson and Niagara County Legislator Paul Wojtaszek called on Schimminger to bring his bill to a vote in the Assembly before the state Legislature goes into recess next week.
A companion bill sponsored by state Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane, was approved by the Senate this past Tuesday.
The bill would prohibit all currently registered sex offenders, levels 1, 2 and 3, from establishing residence within 1,350 feet of schools and other children’s gathering places, statewide.
Currently, state laws place residency prohibitions on Level 3 registered sex offenders who are on parole or probation. They’re barred from establishing residency within 1,000 feet of child-centered places.
Wojtaszek, who co-authored a 2008 Niagara County law imposing a wider limit on more offenders, challenged Schimminger to finish what he started.
“If he cannot get it passed (in the Assembly), it shows me that his sponsorship of this legislation was nothing more than a hollow act designed to placate the public,” Wojtaszek said.
Schimminger countered through a written statement that the Republican attack was less about the bill and more about political maneuvering at a time he was not readily available to respond. The bill, introduced in the Assembly back in January, is currently held in its Committee on Correction for review, he said.
“It’s unfortunate that Legislator Wojtaszek and Mayor Ortt chose today, a day that they should know I am in Albany, to hold a press conference on this matter and with just a handful of days left in session,” he said. “I will however continue to work to get this legislation passed in the Assembly.”
North Tonawanda and Niagara County established stricter regulations over the past six years regarding how far away certain sex offenders should stay from children’s gathering places. Both municipalities’ local laws have been subjected to legal challenges.
Niagara County enacted a law in 2008 prohibiting Level 2 and Level 3 sex offenders from residing or loitering within 1,000 feet of schools and similar locales. One legal challenge is still ongoing.
Maziarz authored another bill — and got it passed by the Senate late — in which the state would authorize Niagara County only to impose a “safety zone” of 1,500 feet around schools and child care facilities and keep Level 2 and Level 3-registered sex offenders out of them permanently. That bill was referred to the Assembly, where no member has agreed to sponsor it.
North Tonawanda’s local law, which orders a 1,250 foot safety zone around children’s gathering places and applies to registered sex offenders of all levels, has gotten it sued as well.
Schimminger’s bill references North Tonawanda’s 2007 law.
Ortt said he thinks Schimminger, given the senior status he has as a 36-year member, ought to be able to get that bill out of committee and onto the floor for an Assembly vote by next week.
“All we’re asking him to do is get one member of the Assembly to vote for this legislation for each of his years in Albany,” he said. “Along with the 42 Republicans in the Assembly who’ve vowed to support the bill, the passage of this critically important legislation would be a done deal and we’d all feel a whole lot safer.”