RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Here in California, voters appear likely to approve the toughest law in the nation to clamp down on sex offenders. Under Proposition 83, anyone convicted of a sex crime would be banned from living within 2,000 feet of a school or park and required to undergo electronic monitoring for life.
As NPR's Ina Jaffe reports, it's the latest effort in a nationwide push to increase restrictions on the perpetrators of sex crimes.
INA JAFFE: California likes to think of itself as the nation's trendsetter. But if Proposition 83 passes, California will be following in the footsteps of Iowa. Sex offenders there are prohibited from living within 2,000 feet of a school or daycare center. Iowa prosecutors are united in trying to get the law overturned.
Mr. CORWIN RITCHIE (Executive Director, Iowa County Attorneys Association): We've seen no evidence that where a person sleeps has any connection to re-offending.
JAFFE: Corwin Ritchie is the executive director of the Iowa County Attorneys Association, which put out a report itemizing 14 different ways in which the residency restriction doesn't work. Here is one of them.
Mr. RITCHIE: People who got tired of trying to find a location to live and they could not do so, then just decide, well, I'm going to drop off even the registry. You no longer know where a sex offender lives. That certainly does not contribute to safety.
JAFFE: But that wouldn't happen in California, says Republican state Senator George Runner, Prop. 83's major proponent, because the measure requires lifetime GPS monitoring.
Mr. GEORGE RUNNER (Republican, California): You can't go underground. We know where you are.
JAFFE: And your location is not likely to be in a major city. Maps drawn by state Senate researchers show that nearly all of San Francisco and most of Los Angeles would be off limits to sex offenders. Runner says the maps aren't accurate, but even if they are, so be it.
Mr. RUNNER: My goal in this is to not make it easy for sex offenders to find a place to live. We just think that they shouldn't be living across the street from a school.
JAFFE: And no one will publicly say, oh, yes, they should, especially after high-profile tragedies like the rape and murder of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford in Florida last year. Which is why polls show that Prop. 83 is likely to pass by a wide margin. In fact, there's been no organized opposition. State Assembly member Mark Leno, a San Francisco Democrat, is one of the few politicians to speak against the measure.
Mr. MARK LENO (Democrat, California): One way to help prevent further crimes of this sort is to stabilize the lives of these former offenders. So you don't make it more difficult for them to find housing, more difficult to find work. You don't break up their family units if you expect people to become again a productive member of society.
JAFFE: Leno knows he's unlikely to be even a speed bump in the path of this juggernaut. Laws like these have been passed in states all over the country in the past three years, according to Blake Harrison, criminal law specialist at the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Mr. BLAKE HARRISON (National Conference of State Legislatures): The important thing to remember is that this isn't something that is being driven by the state legislatures. This is something that has had overwhelming public support.
JAFFE: So 21 states now have GPS tracking of at least some sex offenders, says Harrison. And 17 states say they can't live or can't work around schools.
Mr. HARRISON: There's going to be some unintended consequences, and some of the research is not yet out on how effective some of these residency restrictions are.
JAFFE: California state Senator Dean Florez, a Democrat from the Central Valley, believes Prop. 83 will have at least one of those unintended consequences: pushing convicted sex offenders out of the cities and into rural areas like his.
Mr. DEAN FLOREZ (Democrat, California): It unfortunately says that city kids are more important in terms of being protected from sexual predators than rural kids.
JAFFE: Nevertheless, he supports the measure because California's law, like Iowa's, allows cities and counties to adopt further restrictions.
Mr. FLOREZ: We're going to have to look at swimming pools, and reclassifying them. We're going to have to look at farm worker housing complexes where children congregate.
JAFFE: In Iowa, one rural town took it further than that. Dyersville, where the movie Field of Dreams was shot, has banned convicted sex offenders from living anywhere in city limits.
Ina Jaffe, NPR News, Los Angeles.
MONTAGNE: And you can learn more details about California's Proposition 83 and also track measures that other states have taken against sex offenders at npr.org.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.