A law signed last month by Gov. Sonny Perdue allows more than half of the county’s registered sex offenders to live and work wherever they want.
Under the previous sex offender law, considered the toughest in the nation, most registered sex offenders were barred from living within 1,000 feet of places where children commonly congregate, including schools, parks, churches, community swimming pools and recreation centers.
Most were also barred from working within 1,000 feet of where children played.
Dawson County Sheriff’s officials will continue to make visits to verify sex offenders are living and working where they say they are, Maj. John Cagle said.
But in many cases, officers will no longer need to make sure the homes aren’t too close to churches, schools or playgrounds.
“They have to come in and register with us every year, or every time they move,” Cagle said.
The new law eliminates those residency and employment requirements for sex offenders who committed their offense prior to June 4, 2003.
According to the sheriff’s office Web site, 22 of Dawson County’s 37 registered sex offenders were convicted prior to that date.
That means more than half of the county’s registered sex offenders have no residency or work restrictions.
Cagle said the new law could also allow low level offenders to petition the court to be removed from the registry.
“There are people on the registry that aren’t sex offenders,” he said. “One guy I heard about over the weekend pleaded guilty to drug charges and false imprisonment that put him on the registry. He doesn’t need to be on there.”
Sara Totonchi, director of the Southern Center for Human Rights, which has long lobbied for changes to the sex offender registry requirements, declined to comment on the new law last week, citing pending litigation in the federal courts.
The center has a long-pending class-action lawsuit against the state over residency restrictions preventing sex offenders from living near school bus stops. The bus stop provision is on hold until the case is decided.
Not all Georgia sex offenders can live wherever they want. Those who committed their offenses after June 4, 2003, are still not allowed to live within 1,000 feet of places where children congregate.
Offenders who committed their crimes between July 1, 2006, and June 30, 2008, also cannot by employed by any business that is located within 1,000 feet of a child care facility, a school or church.
Those who offended after July 1, 2008, have the same restrictions and also cannot volunteer at a child care facility or church.
Efforts to reach the new law’s primary sponsor, House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, were not successful.
Perdue’s press secretary, Chris Schrimpf, noted that since the sex offender law was rewritten in 2006, the state has faced a number of court challenges and many provisions were found unconstitutional and overturned by judges.
“Still today, Georgia is facing pending litigation in regards to many aspects of the law and the constitutionality of the provisions,” Schrimpf said in an e-mail response to questions about the new law.
“The overarching goal of (the new law) was to rectify provisions in the law that had been deemed unconstitutional by the Georgia courts and comply with court decisions.”
There are about 18,000 registered sex offenders living in Georgia. The new law also makes it possible for some of them to petition judges to be taken off the registry if they meet certain requirements.
Staff Writer Michele Hester contributed to this story.