Lawmakers angered by sex offender ruling
Residency restrictions overturned
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/.