Imagine a 17-year-old girl stopping in a convenience store near her home and running into the man who had sexually assaulted her some five years earlier.
Imagine the shock she must have felt realizing the man, who had been sentenced to a 15-year prison term in 2004 for what he had done to her, was now out and back in her neighborhood.
Hard to imagine? Unbelievably, this very thing happened a few months ago near Savannah. Fortunately, the sexual predator has since been captured and now is back in custody.
Over the past few years the Georgia State Legislature has been diligent in passing some of the toughest sex offender laws in the nation.
Initial laws that were passed in 2006, subsequently challenged in court and in some cases overturned, have been tweaked and passed again. Last week Gov. Sonny Perdue signed two pieces of legislation that clarify the 2006 statues as well as add new restrictions to the laws.
On July 1 of this year, SB 1 will go into effect and, with some exceptions, will essentially reinstate all of the residence restrictions that were passed in 2006 and struck down by the courts. According to the new law, a registered offender who owns a home will not be required to move if they established ownership of their residence before July 1, 2006. If a day care center, church, public library or park moves in within 1,000 feet of a registered offender’s residence that was established before July 1, 2006, they will be entitled to stay and not required to move.
SB 1 also reinstates all of the employment restrictions that were in effect in the 2006 laws, with a few exceptions. A registered offender who still works at the same location they were at on July 1, 2006, will not be required to leave if a child care center, church, public library or park moves in within 1,000 feet of the place of employment.
Essentially, while the 2006 laws did not take into account where registered sex offenders had established residency and worksites, SB 1 will allow them to stay if they had been living or working in an area before July 1, 2006.
Already critics are challenging the new laws and threatening more lawsuits saying that no provisions are made for renters who have entered into a valid lease agreement.
They also say that some groups of offenders, such as a 17-year-old who engages in consensual sex with a 15-year-old, are treated the same as serious sex offenders. Offenders living in nursing homes, hospice care facilities and others who no longer pose a danger but may not be able to relocate because of health problems are also not exempted, critics say.
A new addition of SB 1 to the current law would require individuals to obtain the consent of a minor’s parent or guardian before intentionally photographing a minor.
Another bill signed by Gov. Perdue last week, SB 474, will force sex offenders to submit their e-mail addresses to authorities and require Internet service providers to offer parents the ability to block certain Web sites.
Schools will also be required to offer an annual course on online safety to students in grades 3 and higher under this new law, making Georgia one of the leading states in the nation in enacting tougher Internet legislation.
While situations similar to the one that happened near Savannah may never be eliminated entirely, one thing is for certain — the state Legislature is serious about making Georgia one of the toughest states in the nation for sex offenders to live or work.