Change in sex offender law has little impact locally

CONYERS - When the Georgia Supreme Court struck down restrictions on residency requirements for registered sex offenders, it did not mean those living in Rockdale County will receive less scrutiny.

Capt. Tommy Eaton, who oversees the sex offender registry program for the Rockdale County Sheriff's Office, said nothing has changed with regard to the basic requirements by which sex offenders must abide.

"They still have to register where they are living and cannot move without permission," Eaton said. "They are still monitored, and if they violate the requirements of the sex offenders law, they can expect sanctions."

Under legislation passed in 2003 and 2005, registered sex offenders were not allowed to live within 1,000 feet of schools, parks, playgrounds, day care centers, school bus stops or community swimming pools.

Because of this provision, some registered sex offenders, who may have been living at a stable residence for years, were suddenly faced with having to relocate.

However, the state Supreme Court ruled Nov. 21 that the restrictive residency requirements were unconstitutional. It was only this provision of the law that the high court addressed, and other requirements of the statute remain in effect.

"Our interpretation at this time is that we can not require someone to move from their residence because it is within 1,000 feet of one of those areas previously designated," Eaton said Friday. "The rest of the residency requirements remain in effect, and our job is to continue to enforce the law. Should we get a clarification from the Supreme Court regarding their ruling on the residency requirements, we will respond accordingly."

Eaton said there are approximately 50 registered sex offenders living in Rockdale County.

The sex offender statute is expected to be an issue in the upcoming session of the General Assembly, and Rep. Robbie Mumford, R-Conyers, said clarification of the legal requirements will be something the legislature will need to address.

"I don't think there is any question this is something that will be a major topic of discussion," said Mumford, who has served as a judge, prosecutor and defense attorney. "Certainly we want to protect our children and our community, but we also want to make certain that the laws we pass to deal with these individuals are reasonable, fair, effective and can face constitutional challenge."

Ric Latarski can be reached at ric.latarski@rockdalecitizen.com.