A bill under consideration would ban registered sex offenders from going to county fairs.
“There is a loophole in the current sex offender law that says you can’t work at the county fairs or you can’t be a vendor at the county fairs, but you can attend them,” Illinois State Representative Mike Smiddy told News 8’s Angie Sharp on Wednesday, February 12th, 2014.
State Rep. Smiddy heard about the loophole following the 2013 Whiteside County Fair. The State’s Attorney for Whiteside County called him and explained an instance where a Whiteside County Sheriff’s Deputy noticed a convicted sex offender around children at the fair. However, he wasn’t able to do anything, because it’s not against the law.
“When a state’s attorney comes to you and says this is a real issue for our kids and our county, you want to kind of listen and do what you think is right and a change in this law is the right thing to do,” says State Rep. Smiddy.
“If it stops one person, done deal,” says Bob Fox, Director of the Great Mississippi Valley Fair.
Fox says the law – if passed – could act as a deterrent for sex offenders who may want to go to an event that’s supposed to be focused on families.
“Under my watch, I don’t want anything to happen to anybody,” he tells News 8’s Angie Sharp. “You always have to think out of the box because what’s out of the box happens here.”
Fox and his team found that out in 2011, when a registered sex offender dressed up as Cookie Monster and walked around the fair passing out flyers.
“It was weird,” Fox says. “It was very strange.”
Police arrested the man for trying to work at the fair. Fox says it was a lesson learned.
“Now we know what’s abnormal and what’s not. We really do.”
Fox says it is unrealistic to check every single person who walks through the front gate. Representative Smiddy agrees. However, both say if that loophole can become law, police will have more power and fairs can go back to being fun.
In Illinois, the law only applies to county fairs.
In Iowa, a law states that registered sex offenders are not allowed to work or be a vendor at any city, county, or state fair or carnival when open. Unless told by their Parole Officer, they can attend a fair. Iowa State Representative Phyllis Thede tells News 8’s Angie Sharp that it’s not something they’re considering changing in the 2014 legislative session.