The city of Stephenville won’t be alone if the city council goes along with Nancy Hunter’s proposed ordinance to prohibit registered sex offenders from living within a half-mile of places where children congregate.

Across Texas, legislation is being pushed and passed to limit where registered sex offenders can reside.

Hunter’s proposal would require registered sex offenders to reside only in locations that are not within 2,500-feet from places children frequent, such as schools, child care centers, and public parks.

“The thing that astonishes me is that - without having an ordinance - a registered sex offender can live near where children generally congregate,” Hunter said. “Basically what I’m trying to do is protect the kids.”

(See Friday’s Empire-Tribune for how officials in Erath County and the cities of Dublin and Hico are handling the issue)

Currently, a Texas state law adopted in 1994 - under the Child Safety Zone - requires all registered sex offenders to reside at least 1,000 feet away from any location where children congregate in public. In 2003 that law was amended to further restrict movement inside Child Safety Zones, as well as provide exemptions for certain approved activities, such as parole reporting.

However, the state does allow cities and municipalities to enact regulations that meet or exceed the 1,000-foot distance.

As a result, many cities have already enacted a 2,000-foot rule, replacing the state’s 1,000-foot requirement.

The city of Killeen, for example, recently voted unanimously to restrict registered sex offenders to residential areas that are at least 2,000 feet away from schools, playgrounds, public parks, bus stops, and other public places where children meet or spend time.

However, Killeen’s new registered sex offender ordinance doesn’t include those registered sex offenders already living inside the city limits under the old ordinance, as long as they do not change residence.

Hunter said she envisions the proposed ordinance, which will likely go before the council’s Public Health and Safety Committee on July 17, to “grandfather in” the nearly one dozen registered sex offenders who currently reside within the Stephenville city limits.

That means existing sex offenders wouldn’t be subject to the requirements if they remain in their current place of residence.

Hunter said she’s not aware of any current problems involving registered sex offenders, but “we should do everything possible to protect our kids.”

She also said she’s not sympathetic with registered sex offenders who would find it hard to find a place to live in Stephenville because nearly everything is located near where children gather.

“My sympathies lie with the protection of the children - not with the protection of the registered sex offender,” Hunter said.

Police Chief Roy Halsell said he’s totally behind Hunter’s efforts.

“I fully support the efforts to implement an ordinance like this. Anything to protect our kids,” Halsell said.

In a 2003 recidivism study, the U.S. Justice Department found that about 5 percent of all sex offenders released from prison were rearrested for another sex crime within three years. Three percent of all child sex offenders were arrested for another sex crime against a child in the same time period.

DOUG MYERS is Managing Editor of the Empire-Tribune. He can be reached at doug..myers@empiretribune.com or (254) 965-3124, ext. 229.