Sex offender bill signed into Ga. law

COVINGTON - A bill sponsored by state Sen. John Douglas, R-Social Circle, that prohibits sex offenders from serving on local boards of education was signed into law Thursday by Gov. Sonny Perdue. The bill becomes effective July 1.

"I am delighted Gov. Perdue has signed our bill to prevent those on the state or national sex offender registry from seeking or holding a position on a local board of education," Douglas said in a statement issued Friday. "Representatives Doug Holt and John Lunsford joined me in working for passage of the bill and now we can assure the people of Newton County and the other 179 Georgia school systems that this is a problem that will not surface again."

Douglas was prompted to sponsor the legislation by the 2008 school board candidacy of Covington resident Horace Don Gresham, 72, who had been convicted of sodomy with a child under the age of 14 in DeKalb County in 1988.

Because his crime was committed before the sex offender registry was created, Gresham is not on the list. Douglas said that such cases could not be grandfathered into the law, but his bill will prevent similar situations from occurring in the future.

Douglas said in an earlier interview that there are no provisions in Georgia law to remove someone's name from the sex offender registry unless ordered by a judge.

"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.

Gresham did not pursue his campaign for school board after the Citizen reported that he had been convicted in 1988 and sentenced to one year in prison and 11 years on probation. 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 office, meaning Gresham was not eligible to seek office until 2010.

Gresham withdrew from the race just prior to a hearing before the Newton County Board of Elections to determine his eligibility to seek office.

Since that time, Gresham has been indicted by a Newton County grand jury on charges of false swearing and making a false statement in connection with notice of candidacy. Each count carries a possible sentence of one to five years in jail.

Gresham pleaded not guilty to the charges in Newton County Superior Court last week.

Alice Queen can be reached at alice.queen@newtoncitizen.com