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Marco Island may increase sex offender buffer zone

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MARCO ISLAND, Fla. – Keep sex offenders out! That’s the message from Marco Island. The city might ban sex offenders from living 2,500 feet from where kids live, play and go to school.

But, on an area as small as Marco Island, does that mean sex offenders will be banished completely?

As safe as Marco Island is to raise her 4-year-old daughter, Joanna Veipi says the city should restrict where sex offenders can live on the island.

“Yeah, that’s absolutely a great idea,” said Veipi.

State law bans sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet from where kids live and play.  This includes schools, bus stops, daycare centers and parks. But, Marco Island’s ban would more than double the buffer zone to 2,500 feet.

“I would feel more secure as they get older and they have to walk,” said mom, Doris D’Agostino. “It would be helpful.”

Miami Beach and Miami-Dade County both have similar buffer zones. They were adopted after the 2005 murder of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford by a convicted sex offender.

The ordinances were challenged by the ACLU after sex offenders couldn’t find anywhere to live and were camping under bridges. But, the challenge was struck down in court.

WINK News uncovered there are six registered sex offenders or predators living on Marco Island. If this new buffer zone is approved, they’ll be grandfathered in to stay where they are.

But, the new ordinance would virtually eliminate where sex offenders who move to the island could live. They’d be forced into two small areas. One, on San Marco Road. The other, on the west side of the island. Homeowners say the move is more than fair.

“I think you have to be tough,” said homeowner, Doug Williford.

The ordinance also holds landlords accountable. They’re not allowed to rent or lease to a registered sex offender in the buffer zone. They also have to prove to Code Enforcement they researched their tenant, or they could face a fine.

On Monday night, City Council will hear a first reading on the ordinance.