Over the last few months, a broad legal challenge has led more than 20 towns in Texas to ease restrictions on where sex offenders can live instead of fight a costly battle in court. While other states, including neighboring Oklahoma, continue to push offenders away from some neighborhoods, about 45 Texas towns received letters in November from the group Texas Voices for Reason and Justice demanding they repeal residency restrictions. The nonprofit, which is critical of sex offender laws it considers ineffective, also has sued 14 towns and has a powerful ally—the state attorney general's office. "We advocate an individual assessment on a case-by-case basis to determine if someone is a threat to the community," an attorney for the group tells the AP.
At issue is how Texas' small towns are differentiated from larger ones. Communities with fewer than 5,000 people are "general law" towns, which can't adopt an ordinance that the Legislature hasn't permitted. Dozens of these smaller communities have restricted where sex offenders can live—usually with the purpose of keeping them away from schools and other places children gather—but only later learned they've run afoul of state rules. "They're saying that we as a small town don't have a right to have an ordinance to protect our children and our residents, but larger towns do," complains the mayor of Krum, a community north of Fort Worth that may have to repeal its sex offender law. (Read more Texas stories.)