Wasco sued over sex offender ordinance

Wasco sued over sex offender ordinance »Play Video
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WASCO, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — A lawsuit filed Thursday in federal district court in Los Angeles by a group called California  Reform Sex Offender Laws challenges a Wasco ordinance that restricts sex offenders.

"We allege that the Wasco sex offender ordinance violates both the federal and state constitutions," said Santa Barbara attorney Janice Bellucci, president of the nonprofit legal group.

Wasco approved the ordinance in 2007. It prohibits registered sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of any "children's facility."

But, it also bans registrants from being within 300 feet of a wide range of public and private locations, such as libraries, day care centers, parks and other places.

Bellucci said registrants have a right to access a library.

"There's a constitutional right to access to information. That's part of the 1st Amendment to the U.S. constitution, and that is being abridged by this city ordinance," said Bellucci.

She said the goal is to get rid of "presence restrictions" in every county in California in 2014.

Wasco city officials defend the ordinance, saying it was adopted with the intent of protecting residents and most of all, children.

"My intent is to protect the welfare and the safety of our children in our community," said Wasco Mayor Tilo Cortez.

According to Megan's Law website, Wasco has 15 registered sex offenders living within the city limits.

"Whenever you have registered sex offenders around small children, it's a concern for any parent," said Cortez.

The lawsuit is asking the federal court that it strike down the city's ordinance as null and void, and that Wasco pay all attorney fees and costs associated with the suit.

Five other cities in Kern County have similar sex offender ordinances in place: California City, Delano, Shafter, Taft and Tehachapi.

Just two weeks ago, the city of Shafter agreed to stop enforcing its ordinance after being informed by California Reform Sex Offender Laws that it, too, could be sued.

Cortez said he could not comment on the suit as the city has not yet been served.

"Obviously, we're just finding out about this, but we'll see where the law takes us," said Cortez.