Conservatively Speaking

State Senator Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) represents parts of four counties: Milwaukee, Waukesha, Racine, and Walworth. Her Senate District 28 includes New Berlin, Franklin, Greendale, Hales Corners, Muskego, Waterford, Big Bend, the town of Vernon and parts of Greenfield, East Troy, and Mukwonago. Senator Lazich has been in the Legislature for more than a decade. She considers herself a tireless crusader for lower taxes, reduced spending and smaller government.

I testified against repeal of local sex offender ordinances

Here is testimony I gave to the state Assembly Committee on Corrections and the Courts today about Assembly Bill 759 and its companion bill in the state Senate, Senate Bill 548:

Senator Mary Lazich


Assembly Bill 759

Assembly Committee on Corrections and the Courts

March 11, 2010

Greetings, Committee Chairman Parisi and committee members.  Thank you for the opportunity to provide testimony to the Assembly Committee on Corrections and the Courts about Assembly Bill 759.  

Assembly Bill 759 (AB 759) and Senate Bill 548 (SB 548) impose the greatest risk to children and families in the state of Wisconsin.  Eliminating local ordinances that allow local communities and local law enforcement to do their jobs to protect society would put all residents, particularly children, in danger.  Approving AB 759 and SB 548 would put you and all of our constituents in the state of Wisconsin collectively in danger. 

Why do I say that prohibiting a local sex offender ordinance in a community remote to your district would put you and your constituents in danger?   We have outstanding law enforcement in the state of Wisconsin and they do an excellent job protecting us.  As a legislator you know you can speak with law enforcement in any of the communities you represent, and they, more than anyone else, are best equipped to inform you about crime in the community.  They know the daily challenges to protect the community.  Each day they take on the incredible responsibility of knowing their community and preempting crime.  By eliminating their ability to do their job, and transferring that responsibility to the state, you, your family, and your constituents are not safe visiting or traveling through communities in the state of Wisconsin.  The ability for law enforcement to fully and effectively do their job is severely hampered because AB 759 and SB 548 transfer the responsibility for community safety to the state.  The state does not have the full and adequate understanding of the community.  Local law enforcement does have that keen knowledge and expertise suited for their community.

One of the communities I am honored to represent, Franklin
is the leading pioneer about this issue.  Franklin officials carefully examined case law, reports, studies, and articles from around the country before adopting two sex offender ordinances.  Special attention was given to an important Florida trial court case October 11, 2007, the state of Florida v. Schmidt.

During the trial, two expert witnesses, Dr. Jill Levenson and Dr. Chris Robison agreed with research concluding that in the 15 years following release of sex offenders, about 24 percent will re-offend, and that offenders with a prior sex
offense conviction have even higher recidivism rates.

Although Dr. Levenson and another expert witness, Dr. Luis Rosell both testified against sex offender residency restrictions, they both find that reducing access to children can reduce the likelihood of a sex offense.  Dr. Levenson testified that she once wrote, “It makes sense that risk might be managed by reducing some of the exposure to children and prohibiting them from living near places where children congregate.”  Furthermore, Dr. Rosell had testified in a previous case, Doe v. Miller that “reducing a specific sex offender’s access to children was a good idea, and that if you remove the opportunity, then the likelihood of reoffense is decreased.”

Armed with this critical information, Franklin approved its two sex offender ordinances.  During 2008, the Franklin ordinances prevailed over nine constitutional challenges, and Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge John Franke ruled the ordinances constitutional.

Today, dozens of municipalities around Wisconsin have enacted similar ordinances.  They have made the critical decision to utilize a legal and law enforcement tool they believe best suited for their communities.  The state should not be stripping Wisconsin communities of their weapon to protect children.

AB 759 and SB 548 are direct attacks on the communities that have enacted ordinances, and a direct attack on children and their parents.  AB 759 and SB 548 violate the all-important concept of self-governance and home rule by striking down laws that benefit the health and well-being of citizens.

Can the state be trusted with the responsibility of ensuring families and their children are safe from sex offenders?  A recent, highly publicized case suggests the answer is emphatically no.

During 1998, a Dane County Circuit Court Judge ruled Lindon Knutson to be a sexually violent person. Lindon Knutson had a very serious criminal record including convictions for rape and kidnapping, and was committed to a mental health facility.  During March of 2009, a Dane County Circuit Court judge discharged Lindon Knutson from his commitment.

It is reported that there was one assessment of Lindon Knutson relied upon for his release.  One assessment, and that one assessment, was that he was safe to be released.

During November 2009, Knutson was arrested in Wilmar, Minnesota for allegedly asking for a church tour conducted by a 73-year-old woman, and then beat, raped, and robbed the woman.

Taking away the authority of municipalities and transferring decisions about offenders’ whereabouts to state bureaucrats is not just risky, it is dangerous. Committee members, please give serious consideration to the stakes. Communities in your districts are best equipped to apply safety.

AB 759 and SB 548 would repeal ordinances in communities that committee members represent including Glendale, Glenmore, the village of Wrightstown, New Holstein, the Town of Sheboygan, Oostburg, Reedsburg, and dozens of other communities throughout Wisconsin.

Think about the ramifications of this legislation.
 AB 759 and SB 548 are gambling.  It is gambling with lives of children and the lives of all Wisconsin residents.  These two bills increase the chance of children and Wisconsin residents being killed by released sex offenders, and before they will be killed, they will be tortured.  We should be making it more difficult for offenders to kill children, not easier for them to sexually and violently rape and kill our constituents.   We owe it to children, their parents, and all Wisconsin residents to reject this legislation, and allow communities the power to keep an important weapon in their fight against sex offenders.

My bet and my gamble are with local law enforcement, local citizens, and local elected officials, not with the state.

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