Governor signs tough sex offender bill

ATLANTA - Gov. Sonny Perdue signed a get-tough bill aimed at sex offenders Wednesday, nearly one year after Republican legislative leaders promised a crackdown following a highly publicized murder in Florida.

The measure, which the General Assembly passed overwhelmingly last month, will lengthen prison sentences for sex criminals who victimize children, mandating at least 25 years behind bars for such crimes as rape, sexual assault and kidnapping.

After serving those long sentences, convicted sex offenders deemed to be sexual predators then would face electronic monitoring for the rest of their lives.

"This goes as far as any law in the nation in putting these people away and letting us know where they are and what they're doing,'' Perdue said.

Republican House leaders announced last May during the state party's annual convention in Savannah that they would make targeting sex offenders a priority for this year's legislative session.

They spoke in the aftermath of the kidnapping, rape and murder of a 9-year-old Florida girl that received extensive press coverage. A convicted sex offender arrested in Augusta confessed to the crimes.

During Wednesday's bill signing ceremony, House Majority Leader Jerry Keen - the bill's chief sponsor - also acknowledged the presence of Mike Boyd, whose wife, Kimberly, was carjacked last year by a convicted child molester who was not properly registered.

The Cobb County woman was killed when her attacker turned into the path of a cement truck.

"Mike, that won't ever happen again,'' Keen, R-St. Simons Island, told Boyd.

Besides the tougher sentencing and monitoring requirements, the bill prohibits sex offenders from working or loitering within 1,000 feet of places where children congregate, including schools, churches, child care centers and school bus stops.

It also requires a review board to categorize all sex offenders according to the risk that they will repeat their crimes.

Several potential pitfalls were raised during months of review, including whether the intended crackdown on sex offenders might also rein in young people involved in consensual sexual activity. The language was tightened to account for such "Romeo and Juliet'' scenarios.

Critics also questioned whether the state could afford to house the additional inmates the new law is expected to bring into the prison system.

On Wednesday, Perdue said neither he nor the legislation's sponsors considered those expenses.

"This is one of those 'whatever it takes' bills,'' the governor said. "We didn't count the costs.''

The legislation takes effect on July 1.