Higher sex offender registration fees may be unconstitutional.

By Theresa Schmidt - bio | email

LAKE CHARLES, LA. (KPLC) - No doubt many people would prefer there to be no sex offenders in their neighborhoods.  Said Police Juror Hal McMillin, "We have no love lost for sex offenders in Calcasieu Parish. We want to make sure that if there's any opportunity we can drive them out by raising fees and we can do it as a parish and all the cities in general. I think it would be a good thing."

Yet the United States Constitution protects everyone, even sex offenders. And Calcasieu Police Jury Attorney Allen Smith says local ordinances drastically raising fees for sex offender registration may be unconstitutional under both the U.S. And state constitutions.  "There are a lot of people who have a lot of constitutional questions about this. For example, if you're a sex offender under our law you have to register where you live, you live in Iowa, $60. But you work in Lake Charles, you have to register in Lake Charles, $600. So there's some serious problems about whether this particular ordinance they have would withstand constitutional scrutiny."

The issue surfaced locally when Lake Charles City Council decided to raise sex offender registration fees from $60 to $600. And then Calcasieu Police Jurors started getting worried sex offenders would flee the city for rural areas to avoid the higher fee.  Smith explains the Police Jury and City of Lake Charles are not the same when it comes to making laws. "A parish police jury can enact any ordinance that it is specifically authorized to do by law. A home rule charter, however, is free to enact anything that they wish that is not prohibited by state law."

Smith says attorneys from the various jurisdictions and the district attorney will meet behind closed doors next Wednesday to have a round table discussion on the issues.

In other action, jurors are paving the way for a possible local option election on riverboat gaming.  No one knows yet whether the 15th riverboat gaming license will go to one of the two companies proposing to locate in Calcasieu Parish.

But just in case,  jurors have started the ball rolling to hold a local option election April 30th. Whether such an election will take place in April depends on if the gaming control board awards the license February 17th or soon thereafter.

Jurors have put resolutions calling the election on the agenda for their next regular meeting, Feb 3. Parish Administrator Bryan Beam explains it's all about timing.  "This is a very short window. If they don't decide anything in February, they being the Gaming Control Board, this is all moot. But we feel it's worth doing if it comes to Calcasieu and we've got a two out of three shot and those are pretty good odds."

Two companies, Creative Casinos and St. Gabriel Downs, have applied for the license and propose to locate in Calcasieu Parish. A third company seeking the license, Penn Gaming, would locate near New Orleans. The gaming board may decide the license February 17th.

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