PARAGOULD, AR (KAIT) - A bill currently awaiting Governor Asa Hutchinson's signature could further restrict where sex offenders live in Arkansas.
House Bill 1164, sponsored by State Senator Linda Collins-Smith of Pocahontas, would keep violent sexual predators from living within 2,000 feet of a church.
State legislators have already approved it, as did some parents we spoke with on the matter.
"I want people to feel welcome at our church; but, at the same time, we have to protect our children," Amy Gagel said.
Gagel, a Paragould mom, told Region 8 News that knowing where sex offenders are, especially where they live, is important.
"Especially if my kids are playing outside," Gagel said. "I'm gonna watch them but you just never know."
Gagel said her family is in the process of buying a new home and one of the first things they did was visit the Arkansas Crime Information Center's website.
"We went on the sex offender's registry and we checked to see if there was anybody in the certain radius of our house," Gagel said.
Already, sex offenders cannot live within 2,000 feet of a school, daycare, park or youth center. House Bill 1164 aims to further restrict where certain sex offenders can reside. Namely, near churches or other places of worship.
The bill only affects Level 4, or sexually violent, predators.
The goal is to keep kids in church safe.
For Eastside Baptist Church in Paragould, Children's Pastor Jason Lincoln said there are already a number of safety measures in place for kids.
"We have people who monitor the halls, monitor the children's halls, make sure everyone is safe," Lincoln said.
Lincoln told Region 8 News that over the years, people convicted of sexual crimes have worshiped at the church. He explained the church still wants to minister to them.
"Everyone makes mistakes, everyone is a sinner," Lincoln said. "We just have to make sure that we watch out for the innocent kids."
To do so, Lincoln explained that ground rules are laid out.
"They're not allowed to work with children or youth and we also let some of our leadership know as well just to kind of keep an eye on people," Lincoln said.
As for whether this potential new law will further keep kids in church safe, Lincoln isn't sure.
"If they've got their mind made up to commit a crime, they're gonna do it," he said.
Gagel said the possible amendment to the law just gives her more peace of mind.
"You just never know who is going to walk in off the street," Gagel said.
Of the thousands of sex offenders in Region 8, only a very small percentage are classified as Level 4 sex offenders. According to the Department of Correction, only 5-7% of all sex offenders re-offend.
Additionally, there has been no evidence to suggest that residency restrictions have any impact on whether an offender will re-offend.
To check on where sex offenders live in relation to your home, visit the Arkansas Crime Information Center's website and click on the sex offender registry.