Missouri bill would restrict registered sex offenders from Missouri conservation areas

JOPLIN, Mo. – The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) and State Rep. Hannah Kelly are pushing for a bill that would ban registered sex offenders from nature or education centers controlled by MDC, like the Wildcat Glades area in Joplin.

“She is obsessed with leaves and branches, so this is heaven.”

Macey Christensen’s little girl loves nature and visiting the Shoal Creek Conservation Education Center, but as a mom, she’s always got her eyes peeled for predators.

“I’m a very cautious person so I’m even the type, me and her, we’re not going on walks by ourselves in the trees where no one can see us,” said Christensen.

It might come as a surprise, but registered sex offenders aren’t technically banned from places like this. MDC-operated education and conservation centers fall into a gray area. That’s something it’s trying to fix with House Bill 2142.

“We realized the statue mentioned parks, public areas with swimming pools, things of that nature, but not all of our education centers were covered so we wanted to make sure that families and residences in the community, this is a safe place for them to go,” explained Kevin Badgley, Education Center Manager for the Missouri Department of Conservation.

If passed, sex offenders would no longer be allowed within 500 feet of MDC centers. However, there is an exception.

“The amendment will hold a statement that basically says if you are a sex offender who is the parent, custodial guardian, and that child that you have direct care and parental responsibilities to has an event, any kind of event at these nature centers, that through proper communication with the education nature center managers there, that you could be in attendance to your child’s event,” stated Missouri State Representative Hannah Kelly.

Christensen hopes the bill passes but worries about how the law would be enforced.

“I mean it’s obviously a public place. It’s walk in, walk out, I mean same thing with parks, always the issue, but I guess as long as there’s that little bit of fear of retribution or getting in trouble, every little bit helps.”

Rep. Kelly feels that with bipartisan support, this bill could become a law as early as next year.