Shh…Georgia’s Sex Offender Law Changed Last Week

May 27, 2010

Atlanta.creativeloafing.com: Shh! Georgia’s sex offender law changed last week.

It’s gotten surprisingly little attention, but much of Georgia’s harsh and arguably unconstitutional sex offender law was effectively tossed out last Friday.

That’s when Gov. Sonny Perdue signed House Bill 571, the near-total rewrite of the 2006 state law authored by Christian Coalition head-turned-politician, Rep. Jerry Keen, R-St. Simon’s. HB 571, in turn, was introduced and shepherded through the Legislature by new House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge.

So, as of Friday, what’s changed ? Well…

* Sex offenders can’t be forced from their homes or apartments if a park or daycare opens nearby.

* Judges now have discretion to exempt some registered sex offenders from restrictions on where they’re allowed to work.

* Sex offenders are no longer be prohibited from taking part in such church activities as choir and Bible study.

* Homeless sex offenders no longer risk going to prison for failing to have a fixed address.

* Folks won’t be added to the sex-offender registry for a misdemeanor.

The new law also — and this is a biggie — allows judges to remove convicted sex offenders from the state registry after they’ve completed their sentence.

Perhaps just as importantly, the new law provides for sex offenders to be evaluated in terms of their relative risk to the public. For the past few years, the only distinction the law made was in the case of “sexual predators” — serial rapists and child molesters. Everyone else was dumped into the same basket, regardless of whether they’d been convicted of stalking or having sex with an underage girlfriend.

Law-enforcement officials, from the GBI to local sheriffs, have long asked legislators to create a mechanism to differentiate between dangerous pervs and folks like Wendy Whitaker, our cover subject from 2006, who has remained on the state registry despite the fact that she was convicted under a law that was subsequently overturned.

Which brings us to the new law’s shortcomings. For one, it doesn’t address the issue of school bus stops. You’ll recall that, under Keen’s law, sex offenders were prohibited from living near a “designated school bus stop.” That provision was enjoined by a federal judge, however, after it was realized that school systems frequently change bus routes and that there’s no official designation process for bus stops. At this point, I can’t imagine the state would continue to fight to salvage a provision that’s never been enforced.

More troublesome is the fact that the new law applies only to sex offenders convicted since July 2008, meaning it still won’t help folks like Whitaker. Those and other improvements to the law will have to be shaped by future lawsuits.

We say, bring ‘em on !

View Georgia General Assembly HB 571 here.
05/20/10 – House Date Signed by Governor

Summary:
A BILL to be entitled an Act to change and enact provisions of law relating to classification of sexual offenders, sexual offender registration, and restrictions on sexual offenders’ residences, workplaces, and activities; to amend Code Section 5-6-35 of the O.C.G.A., relating to appeals requiring an application for appeal, so as to make such Code section applicable to appeals reviewing a decision of the Sexual Offender Registration Review Board; to amend Article 1 of Chapter 10 of Title 17 of the O.C.G.A., relating to procedures for sentencing in criminal cases, so as to provide that, classification shall be by the sentencing court rather than the Sexual Offender Registration Review Board; to amend Article 2 of Chapter 1 of Title 42 of the O.C.G.A., relating to classification and registration of sexual offenders and regulation of the conduct of such offenders, so as to revise provisions relating to registration; to provide for an effective date; to repeal conflicting laws; and for other purposes.

Readers in states other than Georgia need to pay attention to this report. Only when the people fight these laws will lawmakers back down. If you are not actively participating in the fight against these abusive sex offender laws, then you are part of the problem!

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