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Two months after a convicted sex offender moved back to his hometown with a new roommate, also a sex offender, the small Seattle suburb of Issaquah, Wash., passed a law banning most sex offenders from residential neighborhoods. The ordinance forced Kyle Lewis’ mother to evict him and the roommate from the property she owned. Both Lewis and his mother, Mary Lou Lewis, sued. The law goes beyond restrictions in other community protection zones by restricting convicted sex offenders to commercial- and industrial-zoned neighborhoods and at least 1,000 feet from schools or daycare centers. Thirteen states have some version of the limits but those generally bar sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a school, according to a Washington state task force on sex offenders currently reviewing state standards. The Lewis lawsuit has survived its first legal challenge, and at least six nearby cities say they want to copy Issaquah’s ordinance. A constitutional challenge The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in Washington state, although denied a temporary restraining order in August, continues to pursue its constitutional challenge to the law on behalf of Lewis and his mother, with a trial set for spring. The lawsuit challenges the ordinance as a due process violation, as additional punishment despite completion of his state sentence, and as a law specifically aimed at the two men, known as a bill of attainder. Lewis v. Issaquah, No. 05-2-28914-7-SEA. “For a lot of sex offenders, on release [from prison] one of the few places they can easily go to live is with family members,” said Aaron Caplan, an attorney with the ACLU in Seattle who represents Lewis. “Family is one of the support systems and in this particular case we see the family support taken away,” he said. Caplan said he also believes the city is pre-empted by state law from imposing zoning limits that amount to added punishment on sex offenders. But Issaquah Mayor Ava Frisinger said, “The main issue was proximity to small children. The community responded in an organized and vocal way and wanted to know what could be done.” The city’s attorney, Wayne Tanaka, with Seattle’s Ogden Murphy Wallace, said that the ordinance was modeled after an Iowa state law that barred sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school. The Iowa law survived a constitutional challenge in the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year in Doe v. Miller, 405 F.3d 700 (2004). A similar law in Ohio was also upheld in a district court. Lewis was convicted a decade ago of child molesting while he was a teenager living in foster care, according to the lawsuit. He completed parole and, after living in Seattle, returned to Issaquah in June. The crime did not occur in Issaquah. In a city with roughly 7,000 homes, apartments or condominiums, the zoning restriction would limit him to an area with roughly 250 to 300 housing units, according to Tanaka. Frisinger said that the zoning allows sex offenders to live near transit, jobs and medical care. It imposes the same zoning limits used by the state to locate secure transition housing for violent sex offenders recently released from prison. Caplan questioned any sex offender’s ability realistically to find housing in such a limited area. Less than 5% of the city’s housing is within the permitted living area, he said. “How much of that is already occupied? How many landlords are willing to rent to a sex offender, knowing the community will be notified he lives in the area?” Caplan asked. Caplan said that the zoning limit for someone no longer on probation amounts to additional punishment, and the state controls the field of punishing felonies. The city is pre-empted from imposing its own punishment. “This interferes with the state sentencing scheme” and leads to a patchwork of rules that gets down to a “not in my backyard syndrome,” he said. As for the Iowa law, that was a state rather than city regulation, and it had a grandfather clause that prevented eviction of a sex offender already living inside such a zone when the law took effect, something Issaquah did not include.

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