Bill reviews sex offender rules

ATLANTA - The House will now consider changes to the state's sex offender law after the Senate approved a bill updating last year's sweeping overhaul of registration requirements and living restrictions.

The upper chamber voted 51-0 late Tuesday to approve Senate Bill 249, which requires offenders to register with sheriffs in the counties where they work and attend school. Currently, offenders have to report only where they live.

Under the bill, elderly and physically sick offenders could get an exemption from some of the housing restrictions that would now prohibit them from living within 1,000 feet of schools, churches and places where children gather.

A pending lawsuit, which has enforcement of the existing statute on hold, argues that the restrictions are too harsh for nursing home residents or bed-ridden offenders who pose no risk.

Sen. Jim Whitehead, R-Evans, said he sponsored the bill on behalf of sheriffs who said changes are necessary to make the law enforceable.

Another sex offender measure, Senate Bill 37, was not voted on Tuesday, the deadline for statewide legislation to pass one of the chambers and still be considered during the 2007 session.

The Democratic-led bill was introduced this year in part to help convicted offender Genarlow Wilson, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for receiving oral sex as a 17-year-old from a girl who was 15. The bill attempted to clear up so-called "Romeo and Juliet" cases that occurred before last year when the Legislature lessened the penalty in such situations to a misdemeanor.

Senate President Pro Tem Eric Johnson, R-Savannah, had spoken out against SB 37, saying it would open the door for reviewing hundreds of old cases and potentially put dangerous sex offenders out on the street.

"I was very disappointed," said the bill's sponsor Sen. Emanuel Jones, D-Decatur. "I knew it was going to be a problem when I saw it at the foot of the calendar."

Mr. Jones said Republican members were unwilling to debate another controversial bill before his on the calendar that proposed letting workers legally bring guns in their locked cars at work.

He said Senate leaders talked with him Wednesday, promising to find a bill that his measure can be attached to as a "rider," allowing it to receive a vote.