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Comprehensive revision better than piecemeal

An initiative to bar sex offenders from county fairs deserves lawmakers’ consideration. Let them also consider a comprehensive, common-sense revision so all other loopholes are closed at the same time.

Published: Thursday, March 27, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, March 27, 2014 9:02 a.m. CDT

Of the more than 2,000 bills introduced this session of the Illinois General Assembly, one that would bar registered sex offenders from attending county fairs deserves a “fair” hearing.

The bill has its roots in a situation that was observed this past August at the Whiteside County Fair in Morrison.

It was there that Seth Janssen, a Whiteside County deputy sheriff, saw something that disturbed him as he manned a fair booth.

Janssen recognized a sex offender working at a separate booth. The offender, who was then awaiting sentencing for violating the sex offender registration act, was interacting with a young girl.

Janssen notified State’s Attorney Trish Joyce about what he saw.

Current law states that registered sex offenders “can’t knowingly operate, manage, be associated with, or be employed by the county fair when persons under 18 are present.”

The statute is not restrictive enough to cover the behavior witnessed by the deputy.

Uneasy about that, Janssen, Joyce, and Sheriff Kelly Wilhelmi got behind an effort to tighten the law to further protect children from sex offenders.

The legislation that they support, sponsored by state Rep. Mike Smiddy, D-Hillsdale, would prohibit sex offenders from going to any county fair, period, or being within 500 feet of one.

Janssen, Joyce and Wilhelmi were scheduled to testify in favor of the bill earlier this week in Springfield. And we certainly hope that the bill to ban sex offenders from county fairs receives a “fair” hearing from legislators.

The bill prompts the question, Why was this situation not included in the original legislation that prohibits sex offenders from being in close proximity to children?

Are there other circumstances, waiting to be observed by sharp-eyed law enforcement officers, that should be included in the list of forbidden places for sex offenders?

And frankly, where does the state draw the line so it does not go too far in legislating such things?

This is a discussion that legislators, law enforcement, and prosecutors should have.

We encourage legislators and law enforcement personnel to put together a comprehensive, common-sense revision of the law, rather than be content with only a piecemeal approach.

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