Law­mak­ers an­gered by sex of­fender rul­ing

Res­i­dency re­stric­tions over­turned

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - By Tyler Smith

Sev­eral leg­is­la­tors, in­clud­ing, Ge­or­gia Sen. John Douglas (RCov­ing­ton), were ou­traged when the Ge­or­gia Supreme Court re­cently over­turned a state law ban­ning reg­is­tered sex of­fend­ers from liv­ing within 1,000 feet of schools, churches and other ar­eas where chil­dren con­gre­gate.

“I was very dis­ap­pointed with their de­ci­sion,” Douglas said. “They are over­turn­ing the will of the peo­ple.”

The Ge­or­gia Supreme Court de­ter­mined on Nov. 21 that the law vi­o­lated the rights of sex of­fend­ers and was un­en­force­able.

“It is ap­par­ent that there is no place in Ge­or­gia where a reg­is­tered sex of­fender can live with­out be­ing con­tin­u­ally at risk of be­ing ejected,” read the unan­i­mous opin­ion, writ­ten by pre­sid­ing Jus­tice Carol Hun­stein.

The rul­ing fur­ther stated that even sex of­fend­ers who com­ply with the law “ face the pos­si­bil­ity of be­ing re­peat­edly up­rooted and forced to aban­don homes.” Un­der the law, of­fend­ers would be in vi­o­la­tion of the law when­ever some­one opened a school, church or other fa­cil­ity serv­ing chil­dren near the of­fender’s home.

Douglas, who was a cosigner of the orig­i­nal bill, be­lieves the law’s tough re­stric­tions on sex of­fend­ers were an im­por­tant part of keep­ing chil­dren through­out the state safe.

“ We very much need to keep con­trol of th­ese sex­ual preda­tors,” Douglas said.

While many states and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties ban sex of­fend­ers from liv­ing near schools, Ge­or­gia’s law, which took ef­fect last year, pro­hib­ited them from liv­ing, work­ing or loi­ter­ing within 1,000 feet of just about any­where chil­dren gather — schools, churches, parks, gyms or swim­ming pools.

The de­ci­sion by the court was not the first time the law, which took ef­fect in 2006, had been tweaked. Douglas points out that reg­is­tered sex of­fend­ers were orig­i­nally not al­lowed to live near one of the state’s 150,000 school bus stops un­der the law.

Douglas said the court pre­vi­ously re­moved that sec­tion of the law for sim­i­lar rea­sons as their re­cent de­ci­sion.

“ Our hands are tied now,” said Douglas, who re­cently worked with New­ton County agen­cies on be­half of a young girl whose house and school bus stop were sep­a­rated by a reg­is­tered sex of­fender’s res­i­dence. “ We did all we could for her and her fam­ily, but we came to a point where there was noth­ing else we could do.”

The New­ton County Sher­iff Joe Nichols de­clined to com­ment on the sit­u­a­tion and in­stead de­ferred to a state­ment is­sued by the Ge­or­gia Sher­iffs’ As­so­ci­a­tion.

“ In light of this rul­ing, Ge­or­gia’s deputies will con­tinue reg­is­ter­ing and track­ing sex of­fend­ers and in­form­ing the pub­lic where of­fend­ers live through lo­cal sher­iff ’s of­fice Web sites, post­ing in pub­lic places and lo­cal news­pa­pers,” read the state­ment.

The GSA hopes im­proved com­mu­nity in­volve­ment will coun­ter­act the neg­a­tive af­fects of the court’s de­ci­sion.

“ Com­mu­nity in­volve­ment is the key­stone be­hind the pub­licly as­sess­able sex of­fender reg­istry. Cit­i­zens be­come the eyes and ears of the com­mu­nity and be­come acutely aware of of­fend­ers who re­side, work and at­tend school in the com­mu­nity. The pub­lic is en­cour­aged to ed­u­cate them­selves on the pres­ence of sex of­fend­ers liv­ing in their com­mu­nity.”

While lo­cal law en­force­ment agen­cies try new tac­tics in en­sur­ing the com­mu­nity’s safety, Douglas said he and other leg­is­la­tors will be­gin work on a new bill as soon as the leg­is­la­ture con­venes again on Jan. 14.

“ I’m sure it will be one of the first is­sues we will tackle once we are back in ses­sion,” Douglas said.

Any­one with ques­tions or con­cerns about reg­is­tered sex of­fend­ers in the county should call New­ton County Sher­iff ’s Lt. Ezell Brown at ( 678) 625- 1415 or visit the NCSO Web site at watch­sys­tems. com/ ga/ New­ton/.

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