Wednesday, January 16, 2008

South Carolina wants less restrictions

Aiken County's New Sex Offender Proposal
NEw proposal proposes educating residents on offenders' infractions

Tuesday, Jan 15, 2008 - 06:28 PM

Aiken County has some new proposals for sex offenders living there, but they may not be the rules you think they are...the county wants to allow sex offenders to live and work in the area with less restrictions, and they also want to educate the community about what these sex offenders are actually registered for.

WJBF-TV News Channel 6's Joy Howe has the story of one family's struggles.

Aiken, SC -- There are over 350 sex offenders listed in Aiken County...many of them are haunted by a past mistake that may have seemed harmless, but now marks them forever.

Courtney Vera, Aiken, SC: "It's very stupid that he's having to do that."

Courtney Vera's husband used the bathroom on the side of the road almost ten years ago.

Vera: "It's not anything related to do with children, or sex, or anything that consists of that, and I don't think that it's right. It's wrong."

Aiken's County Council is evidentally in agreement...that's why they are proposing a plan to change some of the strict laws in the county. The law now bans sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet from a church, school, park, or any other place children gather...and if one of those moves into the neighborhood, a sex offender must move out, regardless if they were there first.

LaWana McKenzie, Aiken County Council: "You want to be tough, and laws should be tough, but you also have to be fair, and I'm not so sure that that system has a great deal of fairness in it."

The council also wants to allow registered sex offenders to work in the areas where there may be children.

McKenzie: "Common sense tells you it is much better for these people to be employed and busy, and not just wandering and looking for ways to get into trouble."

Vera hopes the new law passes, so she and her family won't have to move, if a school is built nearby. She and her husband are paying steep fines for something done so long ago.

Vera: "Because we have our son over there, that's fighting in the war, and it's messed up because sometimes he needs money and stuff and we got bills and we got children here that we're having to take care of, and I think it's wrong. Not just that he's registered as that, but we're having to pay money, too, that there's no sense in doing."

A list that keeps the names of sex offenders...may also be keeping families from living normal lives.

Council members say they have no patience for child molesters, and sexual predators, adding that they will continue to have no place near the children in their county. The council adds they have a tough job to do at their next meeting, but their number one concern is the safety of their children and the citizens.

That meeting will be Tuesday night at 7:00 p.m. at the County Council Building on Richland Avenue, in Aiken.

This guy shouldn't be on the registry to begin with. I'm all for educating the public on offenders infractions, and I have always said that offenders who's crimes did not involve children should not be affected by residency restrictions. On that note, residency and work restrictions should be held in place for those who violate against children.

Aiken County Sex Offender Law Too Strict, Critics Want Changes

Aiken County Council will try to iron out details of a proposed sex offender law--some say the current law is too strict to enforce.

Like many day care managers Judy Thompson, of Building Blocks Child Development Center, wouldn't mind having a new sex offender law in Aiken.

She's knows 76 sex offenders live near her school, one just three blocks away.

“Yes it would make the children safer but if they've done a hideous crime, I think they should be in jail. I don't think they should be living next door to anybody,” said Thompson.

But at least 200 of them do live in Aiken County. 15 sex offenders moved from Richmond County after Georgia passed a similar law. Council member LaWana McKenzie, a co-sponsor of Aiken's proposed law, admits changes are needed.

She says if passed today too many offenders would have to move or quit their jobs because they live or work within a 1,000 feet of where a child would be.

“I do think it will pass council eventually but we want to pass it in the best form were we can be fair and tough,” said McKenzie.

Critics say part of being fair includes allowing sex offenders who already live in Aiken County to stay there if the law is passed.

If a school or church is built within 1,000 feet of where a sex offender already lives, that offender would not be forced to move.

Critics say the law should be enforced in both cities and unincorporated areas and clearly define who the law should apply to.

“There's a lot of different things people do that require them to be registered as sex offenders and it is very narrow in scope when you look at the state law,” said McKenzie.

A law, if brought to Aiken, may need more tweaks before it’s passed.

The council has already passed two readings of the proposed law. McKenzie hopes after the changes, a final reading will be passed next month.

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