Ulster Pulls Proposed Restrictive Housing Law for Sex Offenders

Some Ulster County legislators took a page from a decision by New York State Supreme Court Justice William Kelly invalidating a Rockland law restricting where sex offenders can live.

Kelly, sitting in New City, ruled in January that the state had taken responsibility for sex offenders and that state law pre-empted local statutes on housing. Kelly wrote state law specifically empowers local probation officers to decide where sex offenders may live. The state law sets specific criteria, and no boundaries are included.

The Ulster County Legislature chairman got the message.

Last week, the chairman blocked an attempt to set a public hearing on a proposed law prohibiting registered sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a school, church or day-care center, The Daily Freeman reported today.

The chairman said that an almost identical law adopted in Rockland County has been tossed out, the article reported

Another Rockland resident – sex offender Christopher Palma – inspired the proposed law. Legislature Minority Leader Glenn Noonan proposed the residency ban after the Rockland Social Services Department moved Palma to a Kerhonkson motel  in December because the Rockland law made it impossible for Palma to live in Rockland.

Kelly ruled on the state-pre-emption argument raised  by Rockland-based attorney David Goldstein, who represented a sex offender who was living in Monsey for years without causing problems and couldn’t find a place to live. Kelly previously ruled the county law was constitutional.

Kelly’s ruling – which is the state precedent at the moment and could impact 80 laws statewide  – is not likely to be appealed by the administration of Rockland County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef, who signed the residency law in March 2007 after the Legislature adopted it. Vanderhoef signed it even after warning with other that the law had problems and probably was not workable.

By Legislator Ed Day, R-New City, urged Vanderhoef to appeal Kelly’s decision to a higher court. Day was the leading proponent of the residency law and critic of those who opposed the law and argued it wouldn’t work. He wrote the law took a year to create and had input from various groups.

Day argued the law had been upheld previously in constitutional grounds, so it was batting .500. Noting sex offenders had found housing within the restricted area, Day also criticized the Rockland Probation Department for not establishing procedures to convey to the probationers about where they could live.

“As the county that crafted what was at the time a relatively cutting edge approached … the fact that this decision could serve as a nullification ofr 80 similar statutes across the state puts us in the unique position of higher responsibility,” Day wrote.

“I believe it is in the best interests of our citizens that we do not simply accept this one decision on its face,” Day said.

Steve Lieberman

Steve Lieberman joined The Journal News as an editor in February 1984 and became a reporter during the spring of 1986. He has covered police, courts and legal issues for more than a decade, after reporting on county, town, village and state governments and general issues. He received more than a dozen state awards for writing and reporting. Born and raised in The Bronx, he has lived in Rockland since 1988.