AUSTIN — Registered sex offenders in small Texas cities were until last year challenging residence restrictions, arguing that “general-law” municipalities lacked authority to control where they lived. 

A new state law that took effect in September codified small cities’ legal standing to enact such ordinances, but now the attorney who in 2015 sued Krum over its ordinance is back in court, saying that the Denton County city’s newly enacted residence restriction, along with those of several other Texas cities, violates the statute.

“If they’ve passed a new ordinance and it doesn’t comply, they are very likely to be sued,” said Denton attorney Richard Gladden, who challenged Krum’s residency rules on behalf of a then-local male resident who is a registered sex offender. “If they have not complied with House Bill 1111 they are going to lose.”

Gladden hung his original challenge on a 2007 opinion by then-Attorney General Greg Abbott, who said the Legislature hadn’t granted residence-restriction powers to smaller municipalities.

But while the new state law codified cities’ authority, it has yet to eliminate conflicts over controlling where registered sex offenders can live.

Before the Legislature acted last year, Gladden challenged 46 small cities’ ordinances, and about half revoked their rules.

The Johnson County general-law city of Alvarado, for example, dropped its distance requirement before the passage of HB 1111.

Alvarado’s old ordinance included a requirement that registered sex offenders post a yellow sign with black lettering to alert trick-or-treaters and their parents in the days before Halloween.

Clint Davis, Alvarado’s city manager, said its new restrictions, passed in October, “strictly mirror what the state put in place.”

The new state law says that small cities may restrict where registered sex offenders live but must provide an exemption process — a hearing to show that they aren’t a threat, for example — and includes a grandfather clause for residents who lived within 1,000-foot exclusionary zones before the effective date of the law on Sept. 1, 2017, allowing them to stay in their homes.

Texas’ top civil court last month upheld a legal challenge from a Krum sex offender, saying the new statute made challenges to small general-law cities’ authority to pass sex offender residency restrictions ordinance moot.

But in Meadows Place, a Fort Bend County city in the Houston area, one registered sex offender is suing, claiming the city is violating the new state regulations, and trying to drive her out of her home.

The 43-year-old woman, who is not being named to protect her teenage children’s identity and her job, was convicted in 2016 of indecency with a child by exposure, according to Texas’ sex offender registry.

She received a probated sentence.

But the city passed its new residence restrictions in August 2017, before the effective date of the new statute.

That puts the city’s old residence restrictions, dating to 2006, back in place, but Gladden contends it had no authority to enact such rules before the new state law.

The woman said the one-square-mile city is trying to drive her out of the home where she’s lived since 2007.

First the city refused to let her register as a sex offender, then began writing her tickets for living within its child safety zone, set at 2,000 feet in 2006.

The Meadows Place police chief, who handles questions about the ordinance, was not immediately available for comment.

But the local resident said the city has installed playground equipment in new areas, seeking to broaden the borders from which it can exclude sex offenders.

Her attorney, Gladden, argues that because she lived in the house before the new law took effect, his client is entitled to remain.

“They’re using this as a tool to make the entire city off limits,” the woman said. “The only place we’ll be able to move is outside of city limits.”

Meanwhile, briefs on a motion for re-hearing in the Krum dispute are due with the Supreme Court of Texas later this month.

An attorney representing Krum did not respond to a request for comment on the challenge to its ordinance, but Gladden said the exemption provision in latest ordinance is also defective.

His client is no longer living in his parents’ Krum home there, but would like to return, Gladden said.

“Once this is all settled he’ll be able to go back and have a hearing,” Gladden said.

 

John Austin covers the Texas Statehouse for CNHI LLC’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at jaustin@cnhi.com.

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