Burgum signs law prohibiting high-risk sex offenders from living near ND schools
BISMARCK — Gov. Doug Burgum has approved North Dakota's first statewide restriction on where high-risk sex offenders can live, despite objections from the manager of the state's sex offender program.
Burgum signed House Bill 1334 into law Friday, April 14. The new law prohibits offenders deemed a high risk to re-offend from residing within 500 feet of a preschool or K-12 school.
The bill passed the House and Senate almost unanimously. The only opposition vote came from Rep. Luke Simons, R-Dickinson, who said such decisions should be left up to local municipalities.
"This bill was fully vetted by the Legislature, with a focus on the safety of constituents and their children, before being sent to the governor's desk," the governor's office said in a statement.
Barb Breiland, manager of North Dakota's sex offender program, testified against the bill. She's told The Forum she thinks the restriction could create "a false sense of security," which "could be very dangerous."
Over two dozen other states have imposed these sorts of blanket restrictions on where sex offenders can live, but no research has shown the restrictions prevent sex crimes. Rather, in some cases they've led to "loss of housing, loss of support systems, and financial hardship that may aggravate rather than mitigate offender risk," according to a 2014 report by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Asked about this, the governor's office said in its statement, "We encourage the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and law enforcement to closely monitor the implementation of this law to ensure it has the intended effect of enhancing public safety."
The bill's main sponsor, Rep. Lisa Meier, R-Bismarck, said the idea for the legislation came after her constituents raised concerns about a high-risk offender living by a Bismarck school.
It's unclear how many of the state's high-risk offenders live near schools and will need to move. North Dakota has about 130 preschools and about 480 K-12 schools.
Fargo police estimated that four of the city's roughly 25 high-risk offenders live within 500 feet of a school. Unclear on what defined a preschool, the police only included K-12 schools in their estimate.
The new law goes into effect Aug. 1, said the governor's spokesman, Mike Nowatzki. Violating the law will be a Class C felony with a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.