Sex offender ruling considered

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AIKEN --- The upheaval in Georgia over where sex offenders can live could trickle across the river and affect similar restrictions being considered in Aiken County.

Council members had halted plans to ban sex offenders from living or working within a thousand feet of certain places where children might be, with the hope that such restrictions would deter Georgia sex offenders from moving here to escape similar prohibitions there.

They had planned to revisit the issue early next year, but with a recent Georgia court ruling that struck down part of that law, council members say it could affect how they tackle their own proposed ban when it comes up again.

Councilman Scott Sanger vows to continue pushing for an exemption for sex offenders already living here so those who own their homes and are established wouldn't be forced to move if it turns out they live too close to a school or day care.

He said he agrees with last week's ruling from the Georgia Supreme Court, which said sex offenders could not be forced to move if they own a home that meets the requirements and then a new school, day care or bus stop is located within the thousand-foot boundary, putting them in violation of the law.

Justice Carol Hunstein wrote in the ruling -- which called the law a "statutory scheme" designed to banish sex offenders -- that "sex offenders face the possibility of being repeatedly uprooted and forced to abandon homes in order to comply with the restrictions."

Mr. Sanger, who'd criticized Aiken's proposed law for several reasons, said the court ruling was consistent with his position on the matter anyway.

"I'd already taken that tack that the purpose of doing this was to prevent people from moving into South Carolina, so we needed to grandfather people in," he said.

He also wants to distinguish between sexual predators who are a threat to children, and sex offenders who may have gotten caught having sex as a teen with someone slightly younger than them.

"It doesn't matter if they later got married and had children, they're still a sex offender ... I didn't think that was right," he said.

Those were two of the three main concerns that led council members to put off making a decision on the proposed law.

They were also worried that the cities in Aiken County wouldn't implement similar bans, which meant that sex offenders living in unincorporated areas could simply move into one of the municipalities -- where they could live where they wanted.

Sheriff Michael Hunt, whose department handles sex offender registration countywide, has said he would not be in favor of a law that is not enforceable inside the cities.

The proposed Aiken County law would prevent sex offenders from living within a thousand feet of child-care facilities, churches, schools or parks, and from loitering within that same distance of anywhere minors congregate. They would also be banned from working for a child-care facility, church, school or park.

Councilwoman Kathy Rawls said she's not sure what the county will do now.

"It was like the more we talked, the more problems arose that needed to be addressed," she said. "So I'm just not sure."

Reach Sandi Martin at (803) 648-1395, ext. 111, or sandi.martin@augustachronicle.com


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