State considers sex offender ban

AIKEN --- Aiken County leaders aren't the only ones thinking of banning sex offenders from living in certain places.

As county council members struggle to finalize their proposed ban -- which would have no effect inside city limits unless municipal leaders opt in -- state legislators are considering their own version.

The proposed state ban has already passed the House of Representatives and is now under consideration in a Senate subcommittee. If it passes, it might trump any county ban.

The state's version would ban sex offenders from moving into a residence within 1,000 feet of schools, day cares, parks and playgrounds.

Aiken County leaders have been wrangling over their own version since last summer but have not enacted a ban over concerns that it was too far-reaching, fears of litigation and questions about whether it would apply inside the county's municipal boundaries.

They've recently held talks with municipal leaders about the proposed ban, which would not be enforceable inside their boundaries unless they approved it.

Sheriff Michael Hunt has argued that any restrictions would be ineffective if they were not uniformly enforced throughout the county. Aiken County has about 260 sex offenders, and most of them live inside city limits, he said.

Asked what he thought of the state proposal, Sheriff Hunt replied: "I support any bill to protect our children. At the same time, I encourage lawmakers to adopt a measure that law enforcement realistically can enforce."

Other council members have expressed concerns that if the cities don't adopt the restrictions, then sex offenders would move inside the boundaries.

County Attorney Jim Holly said that he does not yet know if the proposed state law, if passed, would supersede local law.

There can be state and local laws on the same subject, he said, but he'd have to research the matter before knowing for sure whether South Carolina's proposed ban would pre-empt Aiken County's.

Councilwoman Lawana McKenzie, who's been one of the driving forces behind the Aiken County proposal, said she is happy the state is taking up the matter -- even if it makes their ban moot. She said the county is still sending city leaders their proposed restrictions, but anticipates halting their efforts if it becomes clear the state is taking the lead on the issue.

The bill that has made it to the Senate -- there were initially others proposed at the state level -- is comparable to what the county was considering, which was being tweaked even as late as Tuesday night by the county attorney.

"Those sound very familiar," she said. "If the state covers it, I would hope the county backs off."

But she said that does not mean the county couldn't pass a law that complements the state's version by adding provisions legislators didn't include.

Bottom line, she said, "We want to make sure we're in compliance."

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

HOW THEY COMPARE

GEORGIA

What are the distance restrictions? 1,000 feet

What can't they live near? Schools, churches and everywhere children gather.

Are there any working restrictions? Yes. Sex offenders can't work for day cares, schools or churches or for any business within 1,000 feet of those facilities.

What are the penalties for violating the law? Violators could be found guilty of a felony and punished with a minimum of 10 years in prison, but no more than 30.

Which sex offenders are included in the ban? Anyone who must register as a sex offender in Georgia.

Is there a grandfather provision? No, but part of the Georgia law was overturned by the state Supreme Court as an unlawful taking of property because homeowners were required to move as part of the ban.


SOUTH CAROLINA

What are the distance restrictions? 1,000 feet

What can't they live near? Schools, day cares, kids' recreation centers, parks, playgrounds

Are there any working restrictions? No

What are the penalties for violating the law? The first and second offenses are misdemeanors (jail and fine), and the third offense is a felony (up to five years in jail and fine).

Which sex offenders are included in the ban? Only those convicted sexually assaulting children or kidnapping a person under 18.

Is there a grandfather provision? Offenders who have established residency before the law goes into effect can stay, even if a facility opens after they've moved in. Newly convicted offenders who own property won't have to move post-conviction either, regardless if he or she was arrested after the law goes on the books.


AIKEN COUNTY

What are the distance restrictions? 1,000 feet

What can't they live near? Day cares, churches, schools, parks

Are there any working restrictions? Yes. County's proposal would ban sex offenders from working for any of those same facilities.

What are the penalties for violating the law? Penalties are not clear.

Which sex offenders are included in the ban? Anyone who must register as a sex offender in South Carolina.

Is there a grandfather provision? Yes. Property owners won't have to move. They also won't have to move if one of those facilities opens up after they've moved in. Renters, however, would have to move once their lease is up.