A convicted sex offender, David Johnson has spent nights in a parking lot on the outskirts of Des Moines, Iowa, city since mid-November, says the Denver Post. Under a city ordinance, it’s one of the few places where he can legally sleep. “I can’t live like this forever,” said Johnson, 42. It’s like I’m getting punished twice.” As Colorado considers tough new restrictions on where sex offenders can live, work, or go, Iowa has become a national model – of preventive law enforcement for some, of unchecked fear for others. A 4-year-old Iowa law bans sex offenders whose victims were minors from living in the vast majority of the state’s residential areas. It creates 2,000-foot “buffer zones” around schools and day-care centers where offenders can’t live, defined in the law as where they sleep.
Enforcement began last summer after it was upheld by both the Iowa Supreme Court and the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Those decisions prompted cities and towns across the state to pile on even tougher restrictions. Des Moines this fall added parks, libraries, swimming pools, even recreational trails to the restricted-zone list, virtually exiling sex offenders from the state’s largest city. Police have been knocking on the doors of more than 300 sex offenders whose residences now violate the law, giving them 30 days to leave. Among those who will have to relocate are two elderly men at a nursing home and one at a veterans hospital. As offenders try to comply with the new laws, some have clustered in rundown hotels around the edge of Iowa’s cities. Among the addresses now listed on the state’s sex-offender registry are a car at a truck stop and a tent under an interstate bridge. Some 14 states now have some form of residency restriction for sex offenders. Colorado is not one of them. A series of controversial cases has convinced Colorado lawmakers of the need to toughen local laws.