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Possible new changes for sex offenders and parks

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LAWTON, Okla._Most parents probably keep a sharp eye out for strangers and suspicious characters when they take their kids to the park, now the state legislature is trying to help parents with that.

Under a bill that recently passed the Oklahoma House, aggravated and habitual sex offenders would be banned from every park in the entire state. There's already a similar law in place, but the definition of a park created a loophole that did not cover places like state parks.

Under the proposed bill, sex offenders who have committed a crime against a child, or individuals who have committed more than one sex crime, will be banned from entering a neighborhood, town, county or state park. The bill defines a park as any public place designated for recreational purposes.

When most parents and grandparents take their little ones to the park they have to watch them like a hawk even though their kids are taught to never talk to strangers.

"You know we try to instill that in all of our grandchildren. We did in our children too when they were growing up, to not talk to strangers and stay away from people that want to talk to them that they don't know who they are," said Doug Nies, grandparent.

"The thing about it is you can't take your kids anywhere without worrying about something like that," said Tianna Foster, an aunt.

There are 84 registered sex offenders currently living in Lawton and more than 80 city parks. With the large number of parks and registered sex offenders, many people believe enforcing a law like this would prove difficult, but Lawton police detective, Nancy Lombardo, says enforcing the law is easier than you think.

"You'd be surprised, the eyes and ears of the community and the fact that sex offender registration is public record and people definitely look at the registry. They look at faces and I assure you they call us often," said Detective Lombardo.

If the bill were to be signed into law, Lombardo says that neighborhoods can not re-classify areas as parks in order to force a sex offender out of that area.

"If the sex offender lived there prior to the park going into effect, they stay in that part," explained Detective Lombardo.

Some disagree and think we need to find sex offenders somewhere else to live.

"Because our parks have to be safe. Children are our heritage and we have a duty. In fact, I believe that it's our supreme duty to protect our children from predators and anything that could bring them harm," said Nies.

A similar law was already in place but it only banned sex offenders from loitering in parks if their victim was under the age of thirteen. The new bill will incorporate more sex offenders and the ones that have been deemed dangerous.

The bill was originally introduced by the State Senate and then amended in the House. It's now back in the Senate awaiting approval. If they approve the bill and it is signed into law by Governor Fallin, it will go into effect November 1 of this year.

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