Bill bans sex offenders from BOE
Measure passes Senate, moves on to House; inspired by local candidate

COVINGTON - The Georgia Senate passed a bill that would prohibit sex offenders from running for election to local boards of education by a vote of 48-0 Tuesday.

State Sen. John Douglas, R-Social Circle, who sponsored the bill, said he was pleased with the strong show of support.

"I'm very pleased the Senate has taken this action, and I look forward to the same action in the House," Douglas said.

The first reading of Senate Bill 14 is scheduled to take place in the House today and it will then move into committee. Douglas said he did not know yet when the House will vote.

The bill would amend state law to make anyone on the national or state sex offender registries ineligible for election to or service on a board of education.

Douglas was motivated to address the issue last year after learning that Newton County Board of Education candidate Horace Don Gresham had been convicted of sodomy with a child under the age of 14 in DeKalb County in 1988.

Because his crime occurred before the sex offender registry was created, Gresham is not on the list. Douglas said that such cases cannot be grandfathered into the law, but he is trying to prevent similar situations from occurring in the future.

"It's an unfortunate situation but it's something we want to prevent from happening again," he said.

Georgia Election law states that at least 10 years must have elapsed from the date of completion of a sentence for conviction of a felony involving moral turpitude and qualification to run for elective office.

However, "Once someone is on the list, there are no provisions in Georgia law for removing their name unless a judge orders them removed from the list for some extenuating circumstance. The end result is this bill would in virtually every case permanently bar someone on the list from running for a board of education seat," Douglas said.

According to Lt. Gwen Hightower, who maintains the sex offender registry at the Newton County Sheriff's Office, sex offenders remain on the registry for life, but may be removed from the registry 10 years after completion of their sentence if they petition the Superior Court and are found not to pose any further threat.

Some offenders, such as those convicted of a misdemeanor, are not required to register, according to Georgia Code.

According to court documents, Gresham was convicted in May of 1988; his sentence included one year in prison and 11 years on probation, meaning he would not be eligible to seek office until 2010.

Three residents of District 2 challenged Gresham's eligibility, but he withdrew just prior to a hearing before the Newton County Board of Elections.

Gresham promised to run for the District 2 Board of Commissioners seat in 2010.

Senate Bill 14 addresses only candidates for Board of Education seats.

"We're doing a laser instead of a shotgun blast here - we'll concentrate on where the kids are," Douglas said.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.