Georgia lawmakers try to revise offender law

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ATLANTA - With a federal lawsuit still hanging over last year's sweeping sex offender crackdown, Georgia lawmakers will begin debating a bill that tries to address concerns about the law.

Whitehead  File
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Whitehead

Senate Bill 249 would allow sheriffs to keep closer tabs on offenders by making them register with law enforcement officials in the counties where they work or go to school instead of just where they live.

Sen. Jim Whitehead, R-Evans, introduced the bill as legislators began a break. He said he filed the proposed changes on behalf of the Georgia Sheriffs' Association, which represents the 159 county-elected sheriffs in the state.

There are currently more than 13,100 registered sex offenders in the state, according to Georgia Bureau of Investigation officials.

Last year, the General Assembly passed and Gov. Sonny Perdue signed House Bill 1059. It placed new restrictions on where convicted sex offenders could live and work, increased prison sentences for many sex crimes and required lifetime electronic monitoring of the most dangerous sex predators.

Terry Norris, the executive vice president of the sheriffs' group, said a training conference about the law drew more than 300 deputies with questions about how to enforce some of the law's provisions.

Mr. Whitehead's bill would ease some of the confusion, Mr. Norris said.

The law's stricter requirements on how close offenders could live or work near children stirred up controversy and led to the federal lawsuit.

The law said offenders could not live or "loiter" within 1,000 feet of child-care facilities, schools, churches, school bus stops, parks, playgrounds and swimming pools. They also can't work within 1,000 feet of child-care facilities, schools or churches.

Human rights groups that filed the federal lawsuit argued that 10,000 registered offenders would have to move because of school bus stops.

U.S. District Judge Clarence Cooper last year blocked Columbia County from enforcing the distance rule after the county's school board officially designated its bus stops. After that ruling, other school systems held off on the designations, waiting for the full suit to be heard.

There has been no movement in the case since last winter, said Sara Totonchi, the public policy director for the Southern Center for Human Rights, which filed the suit along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia.

The last motion Judge Cooper ruled on was to lift the 1,000-foot rule from applying to nine unidentified offenders who were elderly or disabled. The decision didn't cover those offenders statewide, but Mr. Whitehead's bill might solve the problem if it's approved this session.

His measure would allow a Superior Court judge to review cases for offenders determined no longer to pose a risk. To be considered for a waiver against moving, the offenders would have to live in hospice or nursing home or be permanently, physically disabled because they were sick or injured. Offenders 75 or older also could avoid moving if at least a decade had passed since they were released from prison or placed on parole or probation.

House Majority Leader Jerry Keen, R-St. Simons Island, said late last week that he had not read Mr. Whitehead's bill nor realized it already had been introduced. He said he has been speaking with sheriffs about their suggestions for the revisions.

"When you start drafting exemptions, you have to be very careful," he said. "I'm certainly open to them as long as it doesn't weaken the intent of the law."

Reach Vicky Eckenrode at (678) 977-4601 or vicky.eckenrode@morris.com.

SEX OFFENDER LAW

Proposed changes in Senate Bill 249:

Child-care facilities: Places would have to be licensed by the state to count as part of the 1,000-foot living restriction rule. This would clear up confusion about whether homes where people informally take care of a few children should be included in the 1000-foot rule.

Measuring distance: The 1,000-foot rule would be measured from the offender's door instead of his or her property line to the nearest property line of any off-limits building. This would make it easier for those living in apartment complexes or on large plots of land to be in compliance.

Elderly and disabled offenders: A judge could grant an exemption to offenders if they are living in hospices or nursing homes or are 75 and older and have been out of prison for at least a decade.

Registration in multiple counties: On top of registering in the county where they live, offenders also would have to register with sheriffs in counties where they work or go to school.

Living in cars: Being homeless or having post office boxes already is unacceptable when offenders register their addresses with sheriffs. The bill also would not allow turning in vehicle information instead of a physical address.

- Morris News Service

TO GET INVOLVED

To express an opinion about the bill, contact its sponsor, Sen. Jim Whitehead, R-Evans, at (404) 656-5114 or jim.whitehead@senate.ga.gov

Comments (7)

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ZMan
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ZMan 03/12/07 - 01:15 am
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This does not fix anything.

This does not fix anything. The buffer zones still banish thousands of people, offenders, families and children. Why not designate places people can't go instead of huge zones? Either way, it will not stop a predator who is determined to commit another crime from doing so. GPS won't prevent crimes either. These laws are nothing about protecting people, they are a false sense of security. They are for banishment purposes only. Nothing in these laws will prevent future crimes, nothing.

getalife
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getalife 03/12/07 - 07:28 am
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Nothing will stop these

Nothing will stop these predators when they are ready to commit another sexual act on a person, and they will. The law is so complicated that even law enforcement does not know how to enforce. On top of that, statutory rape involving young people are grouped in with the sex offenders. Sexual acts of certain ages (under 18) and with a partner within a certain age, should not be grouped in with these child pedophiles, molesters and murderers. Most of these are kids doing what we all have done since the beginning of time. We would be more protected if a big "X" was tattooed on their foreheads, than the current laws will protect us.

Reality
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Reality 03/12/07 - 11:22 am
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If someone 18 years old had

If someone 18 years old had consentual sex with a 17 year old that is different than raping someone. For the rest of them, they don't have any rights as far as I am concerned. Put them in a camp and let them molest and rape each other...

billy123
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billy123 03/12/07 - 11:23 am
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why is this such a big issue?

why is this such a big issue? They should have never been released back in to the public to begin with then these so called lawmakers would not be trying to deal with a problem THEY created in the first place. Mr. Lawmaker, keep them in the prison system sense they can't live anywhere else, stop allowing them to be free and your problem is gone!! Besides you can't even enforce your own laws now can you? These predators are roaming and stalking children and your probation and police officers are too busy writing speeding tickets and bothering law abiding citizens. These officers are driving during their shift, how much time would it take to stop by and bother the child molesters? I guess you figure making a bunch of laws you can't enforce would be much better so you don't have to do anything else other than scribbling with a pen and paper!! Great job you are doing protecting our children!!!

Rambler
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Rambler 03/12/07 - 03:20 pm
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Senate Bill 249 entitled the

Senate Bill 249 entitled the "Look at me I'm running for US Congress" Bill

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