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FL - Lawsuits Fly Over Sex Offenders' Encampment

MIAMI (CBS4) ― Hard by world-famous Biscayne Bay, scores of convicted sex offenders live beneath the bulkheads and along the grassy shoulders of the Julia Tuttle causeway, one of the main gateways to Miami Beach. It is apparently the only place the law allows them to live. But the law might change, depending on the outcome of two lawsuits filed Thursday over the hovel of homeless probationers. More..One lawsuit planned by the City of Miami blames the Florida Department of Corrections. A second suit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, blames a local law.

Miami City Commissioners authorized a suit against the Department of Corrections, arguing that the state, which is charged with monitoring the sex offenders, should find them an appropriate place to live -- rather than under a bridge.

Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, in sponsoring the motion to file the lawsuit, noted that tourists drive by the spectacle on their way to the beach. "The good folks of South Florida have decided this is where sexual offenders belong," Sarnoff said, urging vacationing visitors to "look to your left, look to your right" as they drive by and "see the way the state of with its sexual offenders."

The state counters that there is nowhere else for the offenders to go because of local ordinances that prohibit convicted sex offenders from living with 2,500 feet of a school, park, daycare center or other places where children might be.

Maria Di Bernardo, an administrator with the state department of corrections, said the ordinances, enacted by Miami, Miami-Dade and other local governments, has made it virtually impossible to find places that don't violate distance restrictions. "I've even said, let's find a warehouse where they can live and we can check on them," Di Bernardo said, adding that her department has been unable to find even a warehouse location that doesn't encroach on the local ordinance restriction.

While the city has targeted the state, The American Civil Liberties Union is attacking the local ordinances and the 2,500 foot distance rule. The ACLU's suit specifically names Miami-Dade County's ordinance. "If the County's intention was to make our community safer, they have really missed the mark with this ordinance," said Carlene Sawyer, President of the Greater Miami Chapter of the ACLU of Florida. "This misguided policy has led to over 70 registered offenders being forced to live in a shantytown under a bridge."

The ACLU's suit, brought on behalf of two men who live in the encampment, claims the ordinance "unreasonably burdens" the registered offenders from finding affordable housing. It asks the court to adopt the state's distance requirement for sex offenders - a much more relaxed 1,000 foot buffer - as a uniform standard statewide.

State and local bureaucrats have been battling for years over a solution to the problem. Local governments have been reluctant to ease their distance requirements for fear of inviting an influx of parolees.

"It is time for a judge to establish" a fair and uniform standard, said Miami Commissioner Sarnoff. "We all hope we're going to wake up tomorrow and they (the sex offenders) are just going to vanish, but they're not."

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Added: Jul-10-2009 Occurred On: Jul-9-2009
By: SexOffenderIssues
Tags: sex, sexual, offender, issues, sex offender, sexual offender, florida, miami, miami-dade, julia tuttle, julia tuttle causeway, homeless, lawsuit
Location: Miami, Florida, United States (load item map)
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