According to the ordinance, a child safety zone is defined as a premises where children commonly gather, such as a playground, school, day-care facility, video arcade facility, public or private youth center or public swimming pool.
“I think it’s important that we send a message from our city that says ‘if you’re a registered sex offender, there’s not a welcome mat for you in the city of Shenandoah. You can find another place to live.’” Council Member Ted Fletcher said. “In our city, we want to make sure that all of our residents are safe.”
Prior to the 85th Texas Legislature, general law cities—or cities with a population less than 5,000, like Shenandoah—did not have the ability to restrict sex offenders from child safety zones within the city.
However, House Bill 1111, authored by State Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, did just that. The bill was signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott on June 15, 2017 and became state law effective Sept. 1, 2017.
Just a few months after the new law went into effect, the Texas Supreme Court upheld a general law city’s sex offender ordinance for the first time, on Dec. 15, 2017 in the case City of Krum v. Taylor Rice.
With the law in place and upheld in the Texas Supreme Court, Shenandoah City Council directed City Attorney Bill Ferebee to draft an ordinance restricting sex offenders from occupying or establishing a permanent or temporary residence within 1,000 feet of any child safety zone.
John Ferrand, community resource officer and sex offender registrar for the Shenandoah Police Department, said to help Ferebee draft the ordinance, he contacted 10 neighboring police departments in the state of Texas regarding their respective city ordinances relating to sex offenders, to identify strengths and weaknesses.
Shenandoah’s ordinance is patterned after the city of Krum's, Ferebee said.
“All we know for sure is that this works,” Ferebee said. “How much more aggressive you want to be—that’s a city decision. It’s drafted conservatively so that I can say ‘this has passed in the Texas Supreme Court.’”
According to Ferrand, the city of Shenandoah currently has four residents who are registered sex offenders—all of which live within 1,000 feet of child safety zones.
“2010 was our last census and we had 791 homes [at that time]—we have more now,” Ferrand said. “Of [those 791 homes], 20 percent had children under the age of 18 living in them. This combined with our very attractive city parks, with our young visitors who come here to those parks and our children—that’s why I’m asking that this city ordinance needs to move forward.”
However, the ordinance allows sex offenders to apply for an exemption from the ordinance if the sex offender had established a residency within 1,000 feet of a child safety zone prior to the date the ordinance was adopted. This clause, essentially grandfathers in the four sex offenders currently residing within child safety zones, according to the city.
The ordinance passed in a 4-0 vote with Council Member Charlie Bradt abstaining. The council opted to amend the drafted ordinance changing the definition of a minor from 16 years of age or younger to 17 years of age or younger.
“If I find out that a subject in the park is a registered sex offender, under our [existing] laws, there is absolutely nothing I can do unless they’re on parole or probation because as a registered sex offender, you’re not, not allowed to be in our parks,” Ferrand said. “If we pass this ordinance and there’s a registered sex offender in our park, I can now remove them from the park and also issue a citation.”
The ordinance is expected to return to council at the Oct. 24 meeting for further amendments including definition a “minor" and “mental state,” as well as adding information about civilly committed sexually violent predators. City officials said they are still working to designate all child safety zones within city limits.
The full text of the ordinance can be found on Pages 100-102, in the Oct. 8 agenda packet.