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Residency rules for sex offenders will be back in July

POSTED: June 2, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Local authorities expect few changes when a revised law restricting where registered sex offenders may live goes into effect July 1, while one legal advocacy group says the revisions to the law didn’t go far enough.

Since the Georgia Supreme Court struck down Georgia’s sex offender residency law as unconstitutional in November, sheriffs have not enforced where registered sex offenders may live. Previously, sex offenders were prevented from living within 1,000 feet of parks, schools, day care centers and other areas where children congregate.

The state’s high court found the law was unconstitutional because it infringed on the property rights of sex offenders who owned their own homes and later saw day care centers or other child-centered businesses built within 1,000 feet of the homes, forcing them to move.

Last week, Gov. Sonny Perdue signed into law Senate Bill 1, which addressed the supreme court’s concerns over property rights. Under the law, sex offenders who established ownership of their homes before July 2006 would not be required to move if a place where children congregate was built within 1,000 feet of their residences.

The employment restrictions also were revised. Any sex offender employed at a job by July 2006 would not have to leave the job if a place where minors congregate is built near the business.

Hall County Sheriff’s Capt. Woody Tripp said authorities estimate that fewer than 10 of Hall County’s more than 200 registered sex offenders own their own homes.

"Very few are actual home owners," Tripp said. "We’re still going to monitor them. They have to register, regardless."

All sex offenders must register their residence with the local sheriff’s office each year and inform them when they move within 72 hours.

Tripp said that despite a moratorium on enforcing the 1,000-foot rule for more than six months, officials don’t think many registered sex offenders who were earlier forced to move have gone back to living in homes that will be restricted areas as of July.

"There’s been less than a dozen that have come back," he said.

The Southern Center for Human Rights filed an amended lawsuit in federal court immediately after Perdue signed the bill. Lawyers for the center, which represents a group of plaintiffs who have been forced to move from their homes, says Senate Bill 1 failed to properly address renters rights, nursing home residents and those who were charged with having consensual sex with a 15-year-old at age 17.

Last year lawmakers talked of making a provision for so-called "Romeo and Juliet" cases of statutory rape — a misdemeanor — but ultimately the bill did not address that issue.

Southern Center for Human Rights spokeswoman Sara Totonchi said the restrictions are "once again going to consume an inordinate amount of law enforcement resources in implementing a law that may still be unconstitutional."

Totonchi noted that the legislation was opposed by the Georgia Network to End Sexual Assault, which said that 93 percent of all sex crimes against children were committed by family or friends known to the victims.

"They don’t believe residency restrictions make women and children any more safe, and may have a counterproductive result in making sex offenders go underground and not seek appropriate treatment," Totonchi said.

The center continues to battle a proposal that would prevent sex offenders from living near school bus stops. That restriction remains on hold while the litigation remains pending in federal court. Officials on both sides say that the bus stop provision would prevent registered sex offenders from living in most areas of the state.

The new law that goes into effect in July adds public libraries to the list of restricted places. It also prevents sex offenders from volunteering at places where children congregate.



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