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Wisconsin cities amend rules for sex-offender residency

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Dozens of Wisconsin municipalities have expanded the areas where convicted sex offenders are allowed to live after being released from prison.

Milwaukee, Waukesha and, most recently, Brookfield are among the cities that changed their sex-offender ordinances following a federal court case in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin Public Radio reported.

A judge in 2017 found the village’s sex-offender ordinance violated the equal-protection clause of the U.S. Constitution by essentially banishing offenders from the town. Pleasant Prairie’s ordinance barred sex offenders from living in 90 percent of the town, and the allowed area was mostly non-residential.

After the ruling, many municipalities expanded their rules governing sex-offender residency.

The city of Brookfield repealed and redid its ordinance last month to allow sex offenders to live in 24 percent of the city. Brookfield previously only allowed offenders to live in 7.5 percent of the city.

The city attorney Jenna Merten said the change will protect Brookfield from future lawsuits.

“If we didn’t take this action, our ordinance would be unenforceable and sex offenders could live anywhere,” Merten said.

Milwaukee loosened its ordinance to give convicted sex offenders more options after the Pleasant Prairie case, said Adam Stephens, deputy city attorney.

Stephens said state legislation to regulate where sex offenders live after their release would prevent one city from becoming a “dumping ground.” Milwaukee had become a hot spot for sex offenders before it adopted its ordinance, Stephens said.

The only statewide rule applies to sex offenders who are identified as sexual predators, and only about five to 10 sexual predators are released in Wisconsin annually, he said.

The Wisconsin Department of Corrections didn’t respond to WPR’s questions about devising a statewide ordinance.

The League of Wisconsin Municipalities believes a statewide regulation over the issue has merit, according to Curt Witynski, deputy director of the league.

But Witynski said the idea “is like touching a live wire for legislators and local elected officials.”

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