After a judge declined to block enforcement of a new state law imposing restrictions on where convicted sex offenders can live, at least one county began making early morning arrests Wednesday.
U.S. District Judge John Heyburn II ruled Tuesday night after a 90-minute hearing on the law, which imposes new restrictions on how close sex offenders can live to schools and other places where children congregate.
Heyburn said it wasn't yet clear whether the law would bring irreparable harm to those who are forced to move. "Law enforcement officials retain the discretion to enforce the new statute in a humane and sensible manner, considering all relevant factors," Heyburn wrote.
Ten sex offenders sued the state last month, claiming the new restrictions are unconstitutional because the law forces sex offenders to move from their property without due process of law and imposes penalties after they have served their sentences. They asked Heyburn to issue a temporary injunction stopping enforcement
of the law, which was to go into effect Wednesday.
Fayette County sheriff' deputies went out after midnight Wednesday to enforce the law. They targeted 50 sex offenders who had not yet moved, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported Wednesday.
"We feel it is very important to send a strong message from the beginning," Fayette Sheriff Kathy Witt said as two teams of five deputies each began looking for violators of the law.
Witt said it is a misconception that those being targeted don't pose a threat to the community. She said 70 percent of the 50 sex offenders committed "heinous sexual assault against children."
Those arrested were to be taken first to the sheriff's office and then to the Fayette County Detention Center and charged with a class A misdemeanor.
Most of those being forced to move were living in older, urban neighborhoods inside New Circle Road. With a few exceptions, the new state law makes downtown Lexington virtually off-limits for sex offenders.
After nearly four hours, one of the teams had made eight stops and arrested three sex offenders in violation of the law. It seemed the other team had made similar progress.
Bill O'Brien, head of the civil division for the county attorney's office in Jefferson County, said enforcing the law could result in additional charges if police try to evict someone.
"I imagine there may be hard feelings, which would result in other charges," O'Brien said.
The law, passed earlier this year by the General Assembly and scheduled to take effect Wednesday, bars sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of schools, churches, playgrounds and other places where children gather. It is similar to laws passed in several states - including Iowa, Indiana and Georgia - after a convicted sex offender was charged in Florida last year with the kidnapping, rape and murder of a 9-year-old girl.
Authorities aren't precisely sure how many sex offenders in Kentucky will have to move because of the law. Numbers fluctuate, but there are more than 5,000 registered sex offenders in Kentucky.
Rob Eggert, one of the attorneys for the sex offenders, said forcing his clients to move would amount to an additional punishment after they have served their sentences. Many would have nowhere to live, Eggert said.
"Once they get thrown out, it's going to be difficult because the shelters are going to be illegal for them to stay in," Eggert said. "In Louisville and Lexington, there's going to be very few places to live."
Brent Irvin, who represented the Kentucky attorney general's office, said other courts around the country have upheld similar laws, making it unlikely that attorneys Michael Goodwin and Eggert can ultimately win the case.
Goodwin said in an e-mail Tuesday night to The Associated Press that Heyburn's decision "will force thousands of people across Kentucky out of their homes. As this is only a preliminary ruling, we will continue to challenge this law. We are hopeful that when a court hears all of the evidence in this case, the law will be struck down as unconstitutional."
Irvin also dismissed arguments about sex offenders being rendered homeless.
"I think that's pretty speculative," Irvin said.
A federal judge recently blocked a provision in Georgia's recently passed law preventing sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a school bus stop. The judge left in place requirements prohibiting sex offenders from working or loitering within 1,000 feet of schools, churches, gyms and swimming pools.
In Iowa, the law prevents people from living within 2,000 feet of places where children gather but included a grandfather clause allowing people to stay in their homes if they lived there before the law took effect.
(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)