State lawmakers scrambled last year to close a loophole after the Georgia Supreme Court ruled the state was unconstitutionally requiring some sex offenders to wear ankle monitors after they completed their sentence.
Last week, Georgia House members sent House Bill 720 for the Senate to review just before the 2020 legislative session was suspended. It passed the House of Representatives with a 98-63 vote on Thursday’s Crossover Day over objections by Democrats that the proposed lengthy probation requirements are too harsh. The bill adds a list of felony sex offenses that would get mandatory lifetime probation in the case of a second conviction.
The Supreme Court decision released 400 sexual offenders classified by the state as dangerous predators from state GPS monitoring. Rep. Steven Sainz said the crimes listed in his bill like sex trafficking, aggravated sodomy and enticing a child for indecent purposes are serious enough to warrant a lifetime of around-the-clock GPS tracking after the offender is released from prison.
The legislation has elicited strong opposition from Democrats who say it goes against criminal justice reform efforts by unfairly lumping some offenses together for a potential lifetime sentence of probation or 30 years in prison because of a probation violation.
A judicial review is called for after the first 10 years and subsequent five year periods to determine if the offender is rehabilitated enough to have their sentence reduced.
Republican Chuck Efstration said the bill is consistent with the criminal justice reform push that he served on a council for during Gov. Nathan Deal’s administration.
“We are saying that for the most serious offenders, where public safety is in jeopardy, we are going to allow oversight to ensure that the public is protected,” said Efstration, who lives in Gwinnett County.
Georgia law already requires life imprisonment or probation for anyone convicted of forcible rape, felony aggravated child molestation, felony aggravated sodomy and aggravated sexual battery.
Democrat Minority House Leader Bob Trammell says the proposed monitoring rules are overbearing.
“This is a step backwards,” said the Luthersville resident. “If we decide that any of these crimes need to be sentenced in a more harsh manner, then we should deal with those crimes individually, but what we should not do, is tack on at the end probation for life.”
Rep. Gregg Kennard, a minister and director of a transitional reentry program, said the state already has safeguards in place such as the sexual offender registry and rules that prevent sex offenders them from living near schools.
“I find unduly punitive and stigmatizing research proves that the offending individual who is further penalized and stigmatized will cease to respond positively to treatment because there’s a sense of futility,” the Lawrenceville Democrat said.