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California cities, counties grapple with where sex offenders can live amid new guidelines

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SAN FRANCISCO — California cities and counties are grappling with how far they can go to restrict where sex offenders can live amid a shifting legal landscape.

The California Supreme Court last month struck down San Diego's blanket enforcement of a state law banning registered sex offenders from living near schools or parks. The Supreme Court said sex offenders can still be banned from living near parks and schools, but such a determination must be made on a case-by-case basis.

In response, several cities and counties have repealed — or are in the process of repealing — local ordinances with blanket residency bans. On Tuesday, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation issued new regulations requiring parole agents to individually determine residency restrictions for each of the 6,000 offenders they monitor.

The department loosened its residency policy after Attorney General Kamala Harris advised the department that the Supreme Court ruling applied statewide.

Still, some cities and state lawmakers are arguing the Supreme Court ruling applies only in San Diego. The city of Murrieta, for instance, said its ban doesn't conflict with the Supreme Court's ruling, and it plans to keep it in place.

At least two lawmakers said they plan to introduce legislation to impose new restrictions.

State Sen. Sharon Runner, R-Lancaster, said she is alarmed by the correction department's new policy and that she is working to cobble together a group of lawmakers to support legislation "that will clarify any confusion caused by the decision of the California Supreme Court."

Prison officials said they can still prohibit high-risk offenders from living near schools and parks. The corrections department said its parole officers can still bar other offenders from living near parks and schools depending on individual circumstances.

Janice Bellucci, a lawyer for sex offenders, said the new guidelines are being unevenly applied throughout the state. Bellucci said she is also concerned that too many of the sex offenders are labeled high risk and remain subject to the residency prohibition.

Bellucci and others said the residency restrictions are too restrictive and force many sex offenders into homelessness.

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