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Our Views: Protect kids, not votes
Legislators should pass workable sex offender law
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When it comes to addressing key issues, our state legislators have become remarkably adept at passing unworkable laws designed chiefly to make themselves look good come election time.

One recent example, the General Assembly's ham-handed attempt to crack down on registered sex offenders, was struck down by a state Supreme Court ruling last week.

The much-debated law decreed that convicted sex offenders not be able to live within 1,000 feet of a school, church, day care center, school bus stop or other site where children may gather. The stated objective of the law was to force such offenders to congregate far from neighborhoods where children live, play and learn.

Anyone know of such a place that actually exists? In other words, sex offenders are allowed to get out of jail when their sentence is up, but they can't live or work anywhere in the state. Might as well keep them in prison.

In the particular case ruled by the court, a convicted sex offender who owned a home and a business in Clayton County would be forced to move when a day care center opened nearby. The court ruled that such a imposition was beyond the pale and struck down the law.

Public sentiment in such a case won't be in favor of the state's 11,000 or so offenders, but that is what the legislature counted on. In its attempt to play to the fears of the electorate, it wanted to show it was "getting tough" with sex offenders, in effect driving them out of the state.

If enforced, the law would keep sex offenders on the move constantly, unable to hold down a job or own a home or business anywhere in the state. Turning convicted felons who seek to re-enter society into nomadic pariahs doesn't solve the problem; it just passes it on to someone else.

Yet solving the problem isn't so much the goal as is showing the voting public just how committed the legislature is to punishing bad people and protecting our children. Only that won't happen now because the courts have put the law in limbo until a more reasonable one can be enacted.

Law enforcement officials weren't happy with the law because they saw it as unenforceable. Bus stops, for instance, are not set in stone. Local sheriffs would be obligated to dedicate a huge amount of resources and effort to shuffling about sex offenders. Do we want our local law officers cracking down on dangerous crimes or spending their precious time stretching out 1,000-foot tape measures hither and yon?

The idea of the offender registry, in fact, is to give law enforcement and neighbors the ability to keep an eye on such offenders. It is best to know who and where they are rather than drive them underground.

By keeping them in plain sight, it is more feasible to monitor any activities that could be suspicious.
Consider which case is worse: Having a known sex offender living in the neighborhood, or having no idea where a sex offender might be living or lurking.

Of course, the state also needs to designate between different levels of sexual misconduct. It's one thing to keep tabs on adults who are proven to have preyed on children; they are the worst kind of threat and need to stay in custody as long as possible.

Yet state law treats a 17-year-old who has sex with a 15-year-old the same as an adult-child assault. Common sense dictates that such youthful indiscretion does not identify a pattern of child molestation, and such an offender is less of a risk to the general populace.

But none of that matters to legislators who are more in tune with showing their concern for a problem than actually fixing it. We send our state reps and senators to Atlanta for 40 days each year to craft reasonable laws that keep us safe and prosperous. When they overreach, they waste their time and our money and do not begin to solve the problems they elected to address.

The sexual offender law is a prime example of that. The Assembly needs to try again next year to craft a law that targets the truly dangerous convicted molesters and gives law enforcement a reasonable way to keep tabs on them so our children won't be threatened.