Residency restrictions “Significantly more restrictive…gone too far”

By Nick Ferraro . . . West St. Paul is reworking its “predatory offender” ordinance in light of a federal judge’s ruling that a convicted sex offender is likely to succeed in his lawsuit against the city.

The ordinance — passed in December 2016 — bars convicted sex offenders from living within 1,200 feet of schools, day care centers and group homes.

Last August, Level 1 sex offender Thomas Wayne Evenstad, 52, sued the city in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis, arguing the ordinance is unconstitutional because it imposes retroactive punishment by banishing him from almost all of the city.

The city argues that the residency restrictions are meant to “promote, protect and improve the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of the city.”

In January, U.S. District Court Chief Judge John Tunheim granted Evenstad’s motion for a preliminary injunction, which prevents the city from enforcing the ordinance against him. Tunheim concluded that Evenstad is likely to prevail with his lawsuit because the ordinance is “significantly more restrictive than those upheld by the 8th Circuit.”

Tunheim wrote that although the decision was a “close call,” West St. Paul has “gone too far in the sweep of its ordinance.”

“No one disputes that a city has a strong interest in protecting its citizens,” he wrote. “Indeed, a more narrowly drawn ordinance would likely pass constitutional muster.”

On Monday, the city council held a first reading of an amended ordinance. It would apply only to Level 2 and Level 3 offenders whose crimes involved children, not to Level 1 offenders or those whose crimes involved adults. Also, group homes would be eliminated from the 1,200-foot restriction.

City attorney Kori Land told the city council that Tunheim’s ruling “gave some pretty specific guidelines and a road map as to how the judge would recommend the city amend its ordinance.”

A second reading and public hearing are scheduled for March 12.

West St. Paul is among at least 84 cities, townships or counties in Minnesota with residency restrictions for sex offenders, according to the Department of Corrections.

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