Originally created 08/04/06

Bus stop action is criticized



Columbia County school board Chairman Wayne Bridges said Thursday that he felt manipulated by law enforcement to pass a resolution designating the county's bus stops, possibly forcing the relocation of many of the county's registered sex offenders.

At a board meeting July 25, the day a federal judge lifted an order blocking police from enforcing a new state law banning sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of school bus stops, Columbia County school board members unanimously voted to designate their bus stops.

Part of U.S. District Court Judge Clarence Cooper's ruling was that school boards must designate their bus stops for the law to apply.

Mr. Bridges said he supported the resolution because he thought he was helping police enforce the law. Now, he said, he felt Augusta Judicial Circuit District Attorney Danny Craig prompted the board to pass the resolution to force Judge Cooper to rule on the constitutionality of the legislation passed earlier this year.

"I don't see the purpose of this resolution other than to further the judicial process," Mr. Bridges said.

Wanting to get more legal information before rescinding the resolution, board members tabled further discussion of the matter until their next meeting Aug. 8 at their main office on Hereford Farm Road.

After Thursday's meeting, Mr. Craig said he did want the board to pass the resolution so Judge Cooper could, through court proceedings, find flaws in the law. Then, the state Legislature can fix the flaws, he said.

Once the Columbia County board designated its bus stops, police in the county began notifying all affected registered sex offenders, about 30, that they had 72 hours to comply.

The next day, the two entities that filed the original restraining order - the Southern Center for Human Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union - filed for another temporary restraining order, asking Judge Cooper to block Columbia County officers from evicting offenders from their homes.

Judge Cooper granted the order July 28.

Officials with the Center for Human Rights said they hoped Judge Cooper's ruling might prompt other school boards to hold off until the courts determine the law's constitutionality.

Reach Donnie Fetter at (706) 868-1222, ext. 113, or donnie.fetter@augustachronicle.com.