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Restrictions lifted for most sex offenders

Law quietly signed last month allows those on registry more freedom

POSTED: June 3, 2010 11:33 p.m.

More than three-quarters of Hall County’s registered sex offenders can now live and work wherever they want, after a recently passed state law lifted residency and employment restrictions for the majority of men and women on the registry.

Gov. Sonny Perdue signed the bill into law along with more than 60 others with no fanfare on May 21. It significantly rewrites Georgia’s restrictions on where sex offenders are allowed to live and work, and the effect has yet to be fully felt locally.

At the Hall County Sheriff’s Office, there could be an increase of offenders coming in to notify officials they are changing addresses now that restrictions have been lifted for many of them.

Investigator Mike Mazarky, who monitors sex offenders for the sheriff’s office, said officials will still make home visits to verify sex offenders are living where they say they are, and their addresses still will be available to the public online.

But in many cases, sheriff’s officials will no longer need to make sure the homes aren’t too close to churches, schools or playgrounds.

“We’ll just take it on a case-by-case basis,” Mazarky said. “The whole state is dealing with this.”

Under the previous sex offender law, considered the toughest in the nation, most registered sex offenders were barred from living within 1,000 feet of places where children commonly congregate, including schools, parks, churches, community swimming pools and
recreation centers. Most were also barred from working within 1,000 feet of where children played.

The new law eliminates those residency and employment requirements for sex offenders who committed their offense prior to June 4, 2003.

According to a review of public records on the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s sex offender registry site, 178 of Hall County’s 240 registered sex offenders were convicted prior to June 2003. That means 78 percent of the county’s registered sex offenders now have no residency or work restrictions.

Georgia’s sex offenders have never been barred from visiting parks or churches; they just couldn’t live within 1,000 feet of them.

They have also never been prevented from living near homes where children reside.

Local officials say since the registry was created in 1996, no registered sex offenders living in Hall County have been convicted of new sex crimes.

Sara Totonchi, director of the Southern Center for Human Rights, which has long lobbied for changes to the sex offender registry requirements, declined to comment on the new law when reached Thursday, citing pending litigation in the federal courts.

The center has a long-pending class-action lawsuit against the state over residency restrictions preventing sex offenders from living near school bus stops. The bus stop provision is on hold until the case is decided.

Not all Georgia sex offenders can live wherever they want. Those who committed their offenses after June 4, 2003 are still not allowed to live within 1,000 feet of places where children congregate.

Offenders who committed their crimes between July 1, 2006 and June 30, 2008 also cannot by employed by any business that is located within 1,000 feet of a child care facility, a school or church.

Those who offended after July 1, 2008, have the same restrictions and also cannot volunteer at a child care facility or church.

Efforts to reach the new law’s primary sponsor, House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, were not successful Thursday.

Perdue’s press secretary, Chris Schrimpf, noted that since the sex offender law was rewritten in 2006, the state has faced a number of court challenges and many provisions were found unconstitutional and overturned by judges.

“Still today, Georgia is facing pending litigation in regards to many aspects of the law and the constitutionality of the provisions,” Schrimpf said in an e-mail response to questions about the new law. “The overarching goal of (the new law) was to rectify provisions in the law that had been deemed unconstitutional by the Georgia courts and comply with court decisions.”

There are about 18,000 registered sex offenders living in Georgia. The new law also makes it possible for some of them to petition judges to be taken off the registry if they meet certain requirements.



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