DA says sex offenders must move now; others say not so fast

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July 25, 2006

Sex offenders got the word from local deputies tonight that they can't live within a thousand feet of school bus stops.

The local district attorney says the ruling out of Atlanta today means thousands of registered sex offenders in Georgia will have to move immediately...but lawyers for sex offenders suing the state say: not so fast.

It's the kind of house call deputies normally don't have to make--but officers spent the day telling sex offenders that they had to move.

"We're going to be busy tonight into tomorrow notifying offenders, and they'll have 72 hours to move," said Capt. Steve Morris of the Columbia County Sheriff's Office.

It's all because a federal judge in Atlanta ruled against offenders suing the state. Those eight offenders claimed the new law, which bans them from living near school bus stops and other places children gather, is unfair.

District Attorney Danny Craig says the judge cleared the way for sheriff's departments to start enforcing the law.

"It's a really good first step," he said.

Craig, who helped write the new law, says he knows sex offenders and their families will be uprooted.

"The sex offenders are affected by the law. It's unfortunate and a big discomfort and inconvenience for families, but it's something we see with every criminal act."

And Mr. Craig says the 72 hour notice Columbia County deputies are giving is more than enough.

"I think it's reasonable to be given 72 hours," he said. "It's not necessary that they be given 72 hours. Indeed, they were given way more time, way more notice than that, as we were anticipating the effective date of the law on July 1."

But the center helping offenders sue the state, says the district attorney is getting it all wrong.

Lisa Kung of the Southern Center for Human Rights told News 12:

"The DA is absolutely wrong here. The court made it clear the old bus stop lists school boards handed over are not the lists to be relied on. School boards have to take additional action. Right now, there's nothing to enforce." Kung went on to say that "the responsible thing to do is to wait and see whether school boards take any additional action."

Still, local law enforcement has made the first move...one the offenders on notice don't like one bit.

News 12 rode along with Inv. Harden of the Columbia County Sheriff's Office as he let sex offenders know about the ruling. One sex offender was none too happy about the situation. "He's going to have to live in a ditch I guess," Inv. Harden related to News 12 after the visit.

The Richmond County Sheriff's Office says they are going to start enforcing the law immediately, but will be using common sense and good judgment before making any cases.

And here's what Georgia governor Sonny Perdue said today about the ruling:

"The state's foremost obligation is to keep the people of Georgia safe. This includes doing everything within our power to keep sexual predators away from our children.

"We appreciate Judge Cooper's order today."