ATLANTA — Backed by the testimony of police officers and school administrators, civil rights lawyers urged a federal judge Tuesday to extend his order blocking a Georgia law that bans sex offenders from living near school bus stops.

A stream of witnesses told U.S. District Judge Clarence Cooper the portion of the sweeping law that bans registered offenders from living within 1,000 feet of the stops would force most — if not all — offenders in many counties to move.

The Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights filed a federal lawsuit last month contending that the law would make vast residential areas off-limits to Georgia’s roughly 11,000 sex offenders. The lawsuit also said offenders would have to dodge moving targets, since school bus stops can change frequently due to weather, road construction or family issues.

State attorneys argue that the law is necessary to protect children and that the inconvenience to sex offenders is outweighed by the state’s right to keep its citizens safe. And they questioned whether the list of roughly 290,000 bus stops compiled by the center’s staff meets the definition of the law, which requires the stops be designated by the school board.

The sweeping law, which Georgia lawmakers passed overwhelmingly, is the only one in the nation that bans offenders from living and working near school bus stops, lawyers said.

The law also prohibits offenders from living, working or loitering within 1,000 feet of just about anywhere children gather — including schools, churches, parks, gyms and swimming pools. And it stiffens minimum prison sentences and requires certain offenders to wear electronic monitoring devices.

Atlanta witnesses told the judge the new law would bar offenders from much of the city and suburbs. In Atlanta’s DeKalb County, each of the 490 offenders would have to move while all but one offender in neighboring Gwinnett County would have to relocate.

Sparsely populated rural areas offer a different story. Bus drivers often pick up students at home on set routes instead of bus stops. Some towns, like the city of Pelham in southwest Georgia, have no school bus stops at all, said city Superintendent Steve Dunn.

Cooper’s order last month blocked only the bus stop provision, allowing the rest of the law to take effect. The state immediately appealed his decision to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that it “has put the state’s children at risk of assault at a place where there is generally little to no supervision.”

Cooper will hear another round of testimony Wednesday before deciding whether to extend the ban.


On the Net:

House Bill 1059:—06/sum/hb1059.htm

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