During a Feb. 2 City Council meeting, Kyle Chief of Police Jeff Barnett presented an ordinance centered on protecting children within the city.
Because Kyle does not have a clear ordinance defining residency guidelines for registered sex offenders, the city has tended to attract more of them, Barnett said.
“In an effort to promote a community that is safe for our families and for the children in our community, in places where they may congregate, we wanted to bring for you an ordinance for consideration,” Barnett said.
Specifically, the ordinance amends the Kyle City Code by adding an article called "Child Safety Zones" that, among other updates, defines a child sex offender as someone registered on the Texas Department of Public Safety’s Sex Offender Database due to convictions involving a minor.
KPD Officer Dago Pates said during the meeting that the inspiration for the ordinance came about when he asked a new Kyle resident who is a registered sex offender why he moved to the city instead of his original choice of Cedar Park.
“He said, and I quote, ‘I can’t throw a rock without being in violation [of distance requirements] in that city,” Pates said, adding that the city's affordability and proximity to Austin both contribute to Kyle's growing population of registered sex offenders.
The ordinance, which city documents state was mirrored from similar drafts in Cedar Park and Pflugerville, defines places within the city where children commonly gather, such as parks, and specifies that sex offenders cannot, by law, live permanently or temporarily within 1,500 feet of any defined common gathering area for children.
Registered sex offenders may not decorate their homes for Halloween, nor may they rent a dwelling within 1,500 feet of a child safety zone, according to the ordinance.
Violators of the new rules would be charged with a class C misdemeanor.
City officials noted during the discussion of the ordinance that based on its definition of common areas where children gather, residency within 95% of Kyle would be off limits for registered sex offenders.
Pates said since sex offenders are required by the state of Texas to let local police departments know when they move into a given city, no added burden would be placed on home renters, leasers or sellers to vet new residents.
District 2 Council Member Yvonne Flores-Cale thanked the police department for introducing the ordinance and asserted its importance with an enthusiasm commensurate with that of council as a whole.
“I just want to give a big fat thank-you for doing this work," Flores-Cale said. “Mr. Pate, you did not have to do this work at all. ... I promise you, every family with young kids is going to appreciate this.”
Mayor Travis Mitchell said that while he is in favor of the ordinance, he did want to raise what he called valid concerns from family members of registered sex offenders and their rights to residency.
“Nobody has any hesitation toward passing an ordinance that essentially expels sex offenders out of the city of Kyle from a constitutionality or a rights standpoint?” Mitchell asked council members.
Flores-Cale said that since the ordinance would only affect 60 people currently living in Kyle, she has no issue with its guidelines.
“It’s only 60 people, so, hopefully, it doesn’t cause a problem,” she said.
Following a request from Mitchell, Barnett said his department would look into reducing the distance restrictions from 1,500 feet to 1,000 feet, thereby slightly reducing the limitations of where registered sex offenders may live within Kyle.
Barnett agreed he would return with the revised guidelines and that a first reading of the ordinance would occur at the Feb. 16 City Council meeting.
Throughout the discussion, Mitchell was the lone council member to address balancing the need for a strong ordinance with what can, at times, be nuanced circumstances for those who are convicted as sex offenders.
“This is a good conversation for us to have,” he said, adding that he would prefer to err on the side of children’s safety. “I just don’t know if it’s right [that it is assumed] a child would feel unsafe because three blocks down the road, there is someone who, 10 years ago, was convicted of a crime that they have paid the consequences for and [is] trying to live there peacefully.”