Douglas prefiles sex offender bill
Senator wants legislation that would prohibit running for BOE

COVINGTON - State Sen. John Douglas, R-Social Circle, has prefiled legislation that would prohibit sex offenders from running for seats on local boards of education.

Senate Bill 14 would amend state law to prevent anyone on the national or state sex offender registries from serving on a board of education.

"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.

Douglas promised to take action on the issue earlier this year after news broke 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 was not required to register. Douglas said that such cases cannot be grandfathered in to the law, but he is trying to prevent similar situations from occurring in the future.

"It was something I said I was going to do. I thought it was an intolerable situation that we faced back in the spring, and we want to do our best to not let that happen again," he said.

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.

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.

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.

The amendment only addresses 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.