Legislators plan new proposal

ATLANTA --- The General Assembly will try again to restrict where thousands of registered sex offenders can live after the state Supreme Court struck down a law intended to do that, two key Republican lawmakers said .

 

House Majority Leader Jerry Keen, R-St. Simons Island, and Rep. David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, chairman of the House committee that handles criminal law, announced their intention Monday in a press conference outside the House chamber.

"Now, we basically have opened the borders and invited them to come to Georgia and live anywhere they want to," Mr. Keen said.

He sponsored legislation in 2006 that added to the list of locations sex offenders had to avoid when choosing a place to live.

The high court struck down that law, which required sex offenders to live at least 1,000 feet away from a school, church, day-care center or other places where children congregate. Justices ruled that forcing a homeowner to leave his property because a day-care center moved in nearby violated the "takings" clause of the U.S. Constitution, which regulates when government can seize property and requires adequate compensation when it does.

The new proposal would allow a registered sex offender who is also a homeowner to continue living in that residence even if a place where children congregate moves in.

Augusta Judicial Circuit District Attorney Danny Craig said Monday that most state prosecutors want clarity on the issue.

"We're awaiting a ruling on the attorney general's motion for reconsideration and clarification," he wrote in an e-mail. "Without clarification, it is not possible to determine the breadth of the Court's opinion. And if the Court's ruling applies only to prevent third parties from displacing a registered sex offender who is in compliance with the statutory restrictions, every prosecutor in Georgia agrees with the constitutional jurisprudence of such ruling."

Mr. Ralston, who will be the lead sponsor on the new legislation, said his committee would hold the first hearings next week and would move to approve the bill once the General Assembly reconvenes in January.

"We're concerned that Georgia, without this, is going to become a dumping ground for these people that we've been trying to protect our children from," Mr. Ralston said.

But critics say Mr. Keen and Mr. Ralston's proposed revision is no better than the original.

"It's extremely likely that the courts would strike this law just as they did the previous one," said Sarah Geraghty, an attorney with the Southern Center for Human Rights, which has filed a separate federal lawsuit.

She said the legislation doesn't provide for leaseholders, who have many of the same rights as property owners, according to court rulings. She said the new residence restrictions would also still affect Georgians who registered because they had consensual teen sex.

Staff Writer Sandy Hodson contributed to this report.

Reach Brandon Larrabee at (678) 977-3709 or brandon.larrabee@morris.com