Local plans put on hold by state law

AIKEN --- For the past year, Aiken County officials have been tweaking the details of a proposed sex offender ordinance that would restrict where sex offenders can live, but the proposed ordinance -- unenforceable within city limits -- might not be necessary.

In June, South Carolina lawmakers passed a statewide sex offender law, banning offenders from living within 1,000 feet of day-care centers, schools and children's recreational facilities.

The law goes into effect 90 days after the State Law Enforcement Division implements its sex offender mapping software.

"It's kind of one of the reasons we held up" passing the sex offender ordinance, County Administrator Clay Killian said. "But we wanted to have ours in place and ready to go in case the state didn't move forward with their law."

The state law applies only to sex offenders who have been convicted of criminal sexual conduct with a minor, assault with intent to commit criminal sexual conduct with a minor and kidnapping a person younger than 18. Unlike the county's proposed ordinance, it does not ban sex offenders from loitering or working in day-care centers, schools and recreational facilities.

The state's law is applicable countywide, allowing the sheriff's office to enforce the law within municipalities where its deputies would otherwise have no jurisdiction.

According to Sheriff Michael Hunt, by law, his office is responsible for registering and keeping up with all sex offenders living in the county. The sheriff's office is ahead of SLED, having implemented its own sex offender mapping software, Offender Watch, months ago. It is available for the public to use.

Sheriff's Lt. Michael Frank said the software will allow the department to enforce the new law.

"When the offender gives us an address, we enter it into our GIS mapping, and we'll be able to see if that address is within that 1,000-foot limit," he said.

The new law does not apply to sex offenders already residing within the 1,000-foot limit.

The proposed county ordinance would also ban sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of schools, day cares, churches and parks, in part to deter sex offenders in Georgia from moving to Aiken County to escape similar restrictions.

"When Georgia implemented their restrictions, everyone was anticipating a huge exodus" to Aiken County, Lt. Frank said.

But, he said, only about 15 to 20 sex offenders from Georgia have moved to Aiken County.

County Attorney Jim Holly said it was unclear whether the state law would pre-empt any county sex offender ordinance.

The new law also requires school districts to provide names and addresses of sex offenders who reside within 1,000 feet of a school bus stop and to provide a link on the school district's Web site to the sex offender registry Web site.

Reach Michelle Guffey at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110, or michelle.guffey@augustachronicle.com.

STATE SEX OFFENDER RESTRICTIONS

GEORGIA

RESIDENCY AND RESTRICTIONS: Sex offenders can't live within 1,000 feet of schools, churches or anywhere children gather. They can't work for day cares, schools or churches or for any business within 1,000 feet of those facilities.

PENALTY: Violators could be found guilty of a felony and punished with a minimum of 10 years in prison, but no more than 30.

OF NOTE: There is no grandfather provision, 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.


SOUTH CAROLINA

RESIDENCY AND RESTRICTIONS: Sex offenders can't live within 1,000 feet of a children's recreational facility, day-care center, school, park or public playground. There are no restrictions on where sex offenders can work.

Offenders who have established residency before the law goes into effect can stay where they are, even if a facility opens after they've moved in. Newly convicted offenders who own property won't have to move after their conviction, even if they were arrested after the law went on the books. The restrictions also do not apply to offenders living in community residential care facilities or nursing homes.

PENALTY: The first and second offenses are misdemeanors (jail and fine), and the third offense is a felony (up to five years in jail and up to a $5,000 fine).

OF NOTE: Gov. Mark Sanford signed the bill into law June 16. It is to go into effect 90 days after SLED implements its sex offender mapping software.


AIKEN COUNTY (PROPOSED ORDINANCE)

RESIDENCY AND RESTRICTIONS: Sex offenders would not be able to live within 1,000 feet of day-care centers, churches, schools, playgrounds or parks. The proposal would ban sex offenders from working for any of those same facilities. Property owners would not have to move.

PENALTY: The penalties would include fines or imprisonment.

OF NOTE: The county council approved the ordinance on first and second reading last summer. The ordinance is pending a third reading.

Sources: Georgia, South Carolina, Aiken County