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Senate unveils bills with new restrictions on sex offenders

ATLANTA - Three Senate Republicans unveiled a legislative package Thursday that would put even tighter restrictions on sex offenders in Georgia than the already-tough bill being crafted in the House.

Besides the stricter sentencing, registration and electronic monitoring requirements found in the House measure, the Senate bills would place additional limits on where paroled sex offenders could live - or even "loiter" - and make it a crime to have sex with a disabled person who is incapable of giving consent.

One of the measures also would require banks to set up ATM systems allowing customers who are being accosted at a terminal to trigger a silent alarm notifying authorities.

"There's a huge outcry across the nation to do something about (sex offenders)," said Sen. Judson Hill, R-Marietta, chief sponsor of one of the four bills. "Current Georgia law is simply not tough enough on sexual predators."

House Republicans first announced their bill last spring shortly after a convicted sex offender was arrested in Augusta and charged in the murder of a 9-year-old Florida girl.

The three Senate Republicans, all representing districts in Cobb County, said they were prompted by more recent events there.

Kimberly Boyd, a 25-year-old mother from Acworth, was kidnapped in September by an alleged sex offender and subsequently killed in a car crash.

Her attacker, who was gunned down by a passerby shortly after Boyd was killed, had been released from prison but failed to register with authorities as a sex offender.

"We believe that had he registered, he would have been apprehended prior to killing her," said Sen. Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock.

A bill Rogers is sponsoring would require sex offenders to register before they are paroled from prison. Current law gives parolees 10 days after they are released to register.

Also in recent months, authorities discovered about a dozen registered sex offenders living in an extended stay motel in Kennesaw, and another group of sex offenders turned up at a halfway house in western Cobb County.

Sen. John Wiles, R-Marietta, said one of the two bills he prefiled on Thursday would address the Kennesaw situation.

It would prohibit registered sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet of child care centers, schools or other facilities where children congregate. Current law sets the buffer at 1,000 feet.

"With a larger buffer, you get more protection for children," Wiles said. "Several of these hotels bump right against subdivisions."

A bill sponsored by Hill would go even further by forbidding sex offenders even from loitering near areas frequented by children, including bus stops and neighborhood pools.

"This is a very mobile society," Hill said. "It doesn't matter where you live. It really matters where you're hanging out."

During a committee meeting two weeks ago on the House bill, some criminal defense and sexual abuse treatment experts criticized such buffers as overly restrictive, particularly those that affect where a paroled sex offender can work.

"Every corner is a bus stop," Dr. Jim Stark, a therapist, told the House panel. "Where are these people going to work, and where are they going to live?"

The ATM bill, sponsored by Wiles, also drew concerns Thursday from the president of the Georgia Bankers Association.

Joe Brannen questioned how it would be possible for the General Assembly to require ATM cards in Georgia to contain an optional emergency PIN number along with a customer's regular PIN when those systems are international in scope.

"If it's a bank in Missouri not covered by Georgia law ... it's going to be a rejected transaction," he said.

Wiles said he hopes to work with the bankers to iron out any potential technical obstacles.

All three senators emphasized that their bills are not an attempt to usurp the issue from House Majority Leader Jerry Keen, R-St. Simons Island, who is shepherding the House legislation.

"Jerry Keen has taken the lead on this," Rogers said. "We stand behind him, not in front of him or even beside him."