Bill takes heat before committee

ATLANTA - A proposed crackdown on sex offenders in the General Assembly would score political points for lawmakers without seriously addressing crimes that victimize children, two convicted sex offenders said Friday.

The two men told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee that the bill, which passed the House in January, would punish sex offenders who have been released from prison and are trying to mend their ways without providing the treatment they need to recover.

The legislation would lengthen prison sentences for sex offenders and, when they finally do get out of prison, increase monitoring requirements to allow authorities to keep better track of their whereabouts.

Roy Reid and Kyle Sandusky said forcing paroled sex offenders to register with the sheriff's department where they live subjects them to harassment from neighbors, which ultimately detracts from the ability of police to keep up with them.

"What doesn't work are laws that make offenders constantly move or go underground,'' Reid told committee members. "These laws give the public a false sense of security.

"I am committed not to offend again. I ask you to help me by voting for smarter laws, not tougher laws.''

Sandusky said he was among a group of paroled sex offenders who were living at an extended-stay motel in Kennesaw until last fall, when they were discovered and subsequently hounded out by neighbors, local officials and the news media.

"I now live, to the detriment of my health, in a roach-infested room with paper peeling off the walls, where I'm miles from grocery shopping,'' he said.

Representatives of prosecutors and sheriffs across the state also testified during Friday's hearing in favor of the bill.

But even those groups expressed reservations about some of the lengthy measure's provisions and suggested changes.

Terry Norris, executive vice president of the Georgia Sheriff's Association, recommended that a provision prohibiting paroled sex offenders from living near bus stops be changed to apply only to those who have been identified as dangerous sexual predators.

He said more than 12,000 registered sex offenders are living in Georgia.

"If we prohibit those offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a school bus stop, we're virtually moving these folks from the highly congested metro areas to other areas of the state,'' Norris said.

Capt. Terry Eaton of the Rockdale County Sheriff's Office also complained about the logistics of sheriff's departments being forced to post lists of sex offenders, updated daily, at schools and other public places.

"We have 25 schools I'd have to go out to each day,'' he said.

Reiterating a warning that the bill's critics have aired for months, others testified Friday that the legislation - in its zeal to target pedophiles - would also let prosecutors tag teenagers involved in consensual relationships as sex offenders.

"You're trying to solve a terrible problem. I commend you for that,'' said Carmen Alexander, who described herself as a concerned citizen. "But let's not create a whole population of new criminals out of kids who haven't done anything to deserve that label.''

Sen. Preston Smith, R-Rome, the committee's chairman, said lawmakers are aware that there's a difference between hard-core criminals and indiscreet youths.

"For truly dangerous sexual predators, there is almost no penalty too severe,'' he said. "But we want to exhibit all three mottoes on our state seal - 'Wisdom, justice and moderation' - in considering how widely the net is thrown.''

Smith said he expects the committee to vote on the bill on Tuesday.