BELOIT, Wis. - Local legislators have joined together to propose a bill that would make sure anyone considered a serious child sex offender cannot live next to children.
Currently, there’s a loophole in the law under which sex offenders with child victims who plead guilty to reduced charges are not considered serious child sex offenders.
“The state law is way too narrow in who’s considered a serious child sex offender,” Rep. Mark Spreitzer, D-Beloit, said. “You have to be charged with very specific crimes and convicted of those very specific crimes -- first- and second-degree sexual assault of a child, for instance, when there is first- and second- and third-degree sexual assault. And that’s a different charge when it isn’t of a child, even though the victim may in fact be a child.”
Spreitzer proposed the bill, which is co-authored by Sen. Janis Ringhand, D-Evansville, and Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton. The bill would expand the definition of a serious child sex offender to include any offense against a child under the age of 16.
“So, by expanding that to cover more sexually violent crimes against children and raising the age of that child up from 12 to 15, so we’re protecting slightly older children as well. We’re able to cover more people under that and make sure that people like this wouldn’t be allowed to live next to children in the future,” Spreitzer said.
The idea for the bill came when two registered sex offenders with a history of crimes against children were allowed to move into a home in Beloit next to a 15-year-old girl and 9-year-old boy.
“No one else outside of the Beloit area, as long as it doesn’t affect them, seems to be bothered by this,” Beloit Police Chief David Zibolski said.
The first sex offender moved into 2219 Euclid Ave. in November. Steven Schuelke is from La Crosse County and has a history of crimes against minors and adult women. The Beloit Police Department opposed his placement, and it is opposing the placement of a second registered sex offender in the same home.
“Our community’s extremely upset,” Zibolski said. “They’re very frustrated that we’re in a position that we have to house these individuals and we don’t have any say in it.”
The Wisconsin Department of Human Services notified the police department in February that Kenneth Cairns could be placed at 2219 Euclid Ave. The police department and community members voiced their opposition and started a petition against Cairns’ placement. The petition garnered more than 2,000 signatures, but a Douglas County judge still ruled to place Cairns at the Beloit home.
“I understand that they can make that decision, but that doesn’t make it right,” Zibolski said. “The law as it was written did not intend for serious child sex offenders to live next to kids, and that’s exactly what both of these guys do. They live next to two kids, and everyone seems to be OK with that except the people here in Beloit. That’s a huge problem.”
Zibolski said he talked to Spreitzer about the legislation and is proud of the support he’s gotten.
“It’s really a bipartisan issue that has everything to do with public safety and the safety of our kids,” Zibolski said.
Spreitzer said his bill has been turned in to be formally introduced, but he anticipates it will have to be reintroduced in 2019.
Even though Schuelke and Cairns are already living in Beloit, Spreitzer said there’s a provision in his bill that would require re-evaluation of their placement.
“So, ideally, at some point in the future, that might lead them to not be placed next to a child,” Spreitzer said.
He said there’s another bill going through the Legislature that would require sex offenders to be placed in the county they’re from. That would keep sex offenders such as Schuelke and Cairns, who are from La Crosse County and Douglas County, respectively, from moving outside their home counties to be placed in Beloit.
This is another issue that Beloit police and the community have been upset about.
“We have elected judges in other counties making decisions about placements of serious child sex offenders in our community who have no connection to this community whatsoever,” Zibolski said.
Spreitzer said that bill has passed the Assembly and will go before the Senate on March 20.