TARGET 11: Legislation to restrict where sex offenders can live in Pa. remains in limbo

PITTSBURGH — Four years after a Target 11 investigation exposed the problem, investigative reporter Rick Earle found more than 20 registered sex offenders on the Megan’s Law website either living or working near day cares in Allegheny County.

From Braddock to Carnegie to downtown Pittsburgh, some of the offenders are just feet away from a day care, including 10 near two day cares on Penn Avenue.

As scary as parents find it, it’s not illegal in Pennsylvania.

“It’s very scary to us, as we go to preschool and drop her off three times a week,” parent Julie Straub said. “It’s scary to wonder what people are watching you do and watching the kids on the playground.”

“It’s a little scary because we said we thought there were some rules against day cares and schools to protect kids,” parent Jenita Apel said.

Earle reached out to several of the day cares, but all were reluctant to talk about the issue because they don’t want negative publicity. One owner told Earle she doesn’t like it, but there’s nothing she can do about it. She stressed she never lets the children out of her sight.

While there’s no residency restriction in Pennsylvania, more than 20 states and hundreds of municipalities have adopted regulations during the last decade. In recent years many of them, including one in Allegheny County, have been struck down by the courts, saying they were too restrictive.

“We certainly want to protect the kids, but we also have to recognize the individual freedoms that folks have, and it’s a difficult balance you have to strike,” state Sen. Jay Costa said.

In an effort to avoid legal challenges, Costa introduced legislation banning only sex offenders convicted of child-related crimes from living near schools and day cares, but that was four years ago.  He reintroduced the bill last year, but it has been stuck in the House Judiciary Committee.

“At this point, there’s been no movement on the legislation, and largely because there have been a number of issues that have really been pushed to the back burner because of the budget problems we’ve been having in Harrisburg,” Costa said.

Costa added it’s been frustrating, but he’s optimistic lawmakers will eventually pass some type of residency restrictions.

“There’s no question that the goal is to make certain that we do everything we can to protect our children,” he said.