MADISON - State lawmakers and local law enforcement officials in Rock County commended Gov. Scott Walker for signing a bill placing restrictions related to how certain sex offenders can be placed in homes across Wisconsin.
Walker signed Assembly Bill 539 into law Wednesday afternoon. It requires the Wisconsin Department of Health Services to place offenders who have been labeled "sexually-violent persons" but cleared for residential release in their home counties. Previously, offenders could be placed by DHS around the state at-will, backed by court orders. The new legislation requires counties to work with law enforcement and DHS in locating properties adequate in the offender's home county.
Two out-of-county offenders have been placed at 2219 Euclid Ave. in Beloit since November, with both placements drawing strong opposition.
Beloit Police Chief David Zibolski welcomed Wednesday's development.
"We appreciate the governor's expeditious response in signing this overdue legislation that begins to fix the loopholes in our sexual predator laws," Zibolski said. "This is a good example of local government entities working with their local legislators and the governor to positively benefit the entire state."
"I'm glad that the Governor signed AB 539, which will ensure sexually violent persons are placed in their home county, and not in Rock County," Rep. Mark Spreitzer, D-Beloit, said.
Walker issued a partial veto, however, striking language in the bill that would have altered distance limits for the placement of sexually violent persons near any school, child care facility, public park, place of worship or youth center.
"With this veto, the process of placing sexually violent persons can be improved while not weakening current law protections that keep sexually violent persons at reasonable distances away from vulnerable populations," Walker said in a statement regarding the veto.
Both offenders placed in Beloit - Kenneth R. Cairns, 57, of Superior, and Steven M. Schuelke, 41, of La Crosse - benefited from lesser charges received in past cases and are not listed as serious child sex offenders, a far more restrictive label for the placement process.
A bill introduced last month by Spreitzer aims to close that legal blind spot. It would change the definition of serious child sex offenders to cover all sexually violent crimes against children under the age of 16, including those considered by a court as part of sentencing when an offender pleads guilty to a lesser crime in a deal with prosecutors, according to the new legislation.