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A sex offender in Mason City, Iowa, who lives within sight of a day-care center and asked not to be named in this story, told TIME he plans to move to Nebraska or South Dakota to escape Iowa's pending residency restrictions. Convicted at 19 for having nonforcible sexual relations with a 14-year-old, he served two years in prison before his release in June 2004. "What really bothers me is that years from now, I'll still have to worry about something I did at age 19," says the offender, who is now 23. "This is like using a broadsword to cut out a lump of cancer." Legislator Jerry Behn, the lead sponsor of Iowa's new residency law, sees things differently. "It's very important not to instill victim status on these predators," he says. "Some inconvenience on them is nothing compared to the lifetime of suffering they give to their victims."
While restrictive measures have so far been upheld in court, more challenges are in the works. The New York State Civil Liberties Union has filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of a lawsuit brought by 15 John Doe offenders in Binghamton, N.Y., who say that the city's new ordinance, which bans offenders from coming within a quarter mile of any park, school or day-care center, unconstitutionally limits free travel inside a state. In New Jersey, Steven Elwell, 35, is speaking out against a local ordinance that could keep him from living near any bus stop. "All of a sudden they are telling me where I can live and where I can't live. They are trying to take everything away from me," says Elwell, a former teacher who served one year in prison after pleading guilty to the sexual assault of a 16-year-old girl seven years ago. Now married with two kids, he owns a pizza shop in Cape May.
Even some child advocates say the new residency measures have gone too far. "These offenders need to have somewhere to live," says Ernie Allen, president and CEO of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. "We can't zone them out everywhere using the not-in-my-backyard approach."
In Iowa, police departments are facing a more basic problem: figuring out how to implement the laws. Just days before the new residency ban took effect, officials were scrambling to determine exactly which of the state's 6,000 registered offenders would have to move, and mapping out pedophile-free zones in places like Polk County, which has more than 1,400 registered day-care centers and 90 schools. What's more, Des Moines police sergeant Barry Arnold, who is overseeing the law in the state capital, estimates that the whereabouts of some 15% to 18% of the city's convicted offenders is unknown because they never reregistered after moving. That problem isn't unique to Des Moines. An estimated 100,000 of the more than 500,000 registered sex offenders nationwide have not provided a current address.