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Lengthy penalty sinks sex offender residency bill

lengthy-penalty-sinks-sex-offender-residency-bill

The push on legislation combating human trafficking and child sex crimes arrived in the state Senate Judiciary Committee late Monday afternoon, as the committee voted down one proposal and heard discussion on several others.

State Sen. Lester Jackson, D-Savannah, appeared for the vote on his legislation, which included Senate Bill 35. The idea is to prohibit sex offenders from living so close to their victims and victims’ immediate family members so as to cause ongoing problems.

“We’ve had a hearing-only on this bill already, and I will point out what I think is the major change,” said state Sen. Jesse Stone, R-Waynesboro, who also chairs the committee. “That is on Line 36, which was reworded to read, ‘No individual shall move to reside within,’ and that differs from the original language, which was, ‘No individual shall reside within.’

“The thought process there is, you will recall from the discussion with the prosecuting attorneys, is that there were some constitutional issues, where someone moves to within 2,000 feet of a victim but is unaware that the victim is within that distance.”

The key phrase in the bill, Jackson pointed out, is an offender would have to make a knowing and intentional violation of the law — a person couldn’t be charged when they had no idea they were in violation.

The distance set by the bill is 2,000 feet, which Jackson explained to state Sen. Bill Heath, R-Bremen, just seemed to be the most reasonable distance.

“What 2,000 feet relates to, well, 1,000 feet, as you can imagine, for lack of a better term, three football fields,” Jackson said. “So, 2,000 feet is six football fields. If a person that’s a victim wants to go for a walk, 2,000 feet — meaning they can go in a circle around three or four football fields and they don’t have to worry about their assailant. Seeing their assailant, or the assailant being a predator, or just looking at them. There’s nothing magical about 2,000 feet, but 1,000 feet we thought was just too small of a distance.”

State Sen. Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, expressed concerns with the penalties, which appears to have been the issue that sunk the legislation, ultimately. The new law would provide for a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence, which some senators saw was too much for the offense.

Among the bills heard Monday without a vote, state Sen. Zahra Karinshak, D-Duluth, brought two that deal with human trafficking — S.B. 325 and S.B. 326.

“I want to share with you that these are two important measures to fight sex trafficking and human trafficking here in Georgia, which as you know is a high priority for our governor,” Karinshak said. “Senate Bill 325 would expand the statute of limitations for prosecuting human trafficking-related offenses to 10 years from the commission of the crime, or from any victim’s 18th birthday.”

Susan Coppedge, a friend of Karinshak’s from their time as federal prosecutors, spoke on S.B. 326. She recently served both the Obama and Trump administrations in the State Department as the ambassador at-large for the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking of Persons.

S.B. 326 would allow for the clearing of criminal records for victims of human trafficking. She said as it stands now, trafficking survivors remain in a position of vulnerability because they can’t get jobs as a result of these criminal actions they were forced to commit.

Coppedge also provided the anecdote of a mother who said she wasn’t allowed to chaperone her daughter’s field trip because of a past prostitution conviction.

“It also affects the ability to get housing in some situations, and it just continues to victimize a survivor that the system recognizes is a victim of a crime, not a perpetrator,” Coppedge said. “That’s why the law is so important. And Georgia — sadly, for me — is one of 10 states at last count that had not passed a law like this.”

State Sen. Randy Robertson, R-Cataula, presented legislation that would criminalize the possession and production of sexually suggestive images of children that already aren’t covered by other laws. He said the issue came up in a summer study committee that there’s a gap in existing law.

Presently worded, S.B. 331 states, “It is unlawful for any person to knowingly possess or control or produce any material or medium which contains images that depict a naked or nearly naked, suggestively posed, and inappropriately sexualized child or children with the intent to arouse or satisfy the sexual desire of such person or the person viewing such images.”

Work will also continue on tweaking that bill, which during discussion appeared to need more specificity.

Jackson closed out the hearing by discussing his bill to outlaw childlike sex dolls.

“Similar measures have been passed in the state of Florida, also in the state of Tennessee, also, if you look back, there’s a … (U.S.) House resolution, 4655, introduced in June 2018, that talked about childlike sex dolls,” Jackson said. “It is indeed a problem that has come to Georgia … actually, sold across the world. There have been 230 childlike sex dolls that have already been caught, and in the GBI or in federal custody. that have entered our state.”

Jackson was slightly off with his dates — the congressional resolution referenced was the Curbing Realistic Exploitative Electronic Pedophilic Robots Act — or CREEPER Act — of 2017. It passed the House by voice vote June 2018 after introduction in December 2017. The bill, a bipartisan effort, didn’t have any Georgia co-sponsors.

Possession of such a doll under Jackson’s S.B. 332 would be a misdemeanor of a high and aggravated nature on first offense and a felony for every offense thereafter, resulting in sentences of one to five years. Meanwhile. selling, lending, giving away or manufacturing such a doll, or possession with intent to do the same, would be a felony with penalties of one to 10 years.

Source: https://thebrunswicknews.com/news/local_news/lengthy-penalty-sinks-sex-offender-residency-bill/article_6f4e6734-4098-5d78-8771-a67864fd3720.html

Legislators hit ground running on first day of 2020 session

legislators-hit-ground-running-on-first-day-of-2020-session

The eyes of Georgia turned briefly to the coast Monday morning as state Rep. Don Hogan, R-St. Simons Island, fulfilled his role in the ceremonial opening of the 2020 session in the state House of Representatives.

“And now, a moment I have been waiting for, for three or four months,” Speaker of the House David Ralston said. “Do y’all feel the tension building? The chair recognizes for the report of the Committee on Information and Audits, the chair of that committee, the gentleman from the 179th District, representing the coast of Georgia, Chairman Don Hogan.”

The recognition was the cause of some mirth within the chamber, as state Rep. Noel Williams Jr., R-Cordele, and state Rep. Matt Dollar, R-Marietta, chuckled throughout the process.

“Just look who you’ve surrounded me with,” Hogan said, referencing Williams and Dollar. “Mr. Speaker, your Committee on Information and Audits has read the journal of the previous legislative day, and found it to be correct. And what a great start of this session.”

The House had a light day, approving a resolution that lays out the schedule for the next 14 legislative days, and going through first and second reading of a number of bills.

Notable among the second readers is H.B. 720, sponsored by state Rep. Steven Sainz, R-Woodbine, among others, which mandates probation to follow prison time for convicted sex offenders. Judges would also have the ability to set a maximum life probation penalty if the defendant is convicted of a felony.

The bill also reorganizes how the state determines risk and how it classifies people considered sexually dangerous.

H.B. 724, lead-sponsored by state Rep. Matthew Wilson, D-Brookhaven, would decriminalize marijuana possession in unincorporated areas of counties, with the maximum penalty limited to a fine of $1,000. Counties would be able to set other, lesser penalties.

H.R. 811, sponsored by state Reps. David Knight, R-Griffin, and Trey Rhodes, R-Greensboro, urges the House to take a closer look at the Spaceport Camden proposal and consider the risks in approving the venture.

Meanwhile in the other chamber, call it the day the lights went out in the Georgia Senate.

A power outage in the area of the State Capitol threw a bit of a wrench into the proceedings in the state’s upper chamber, though the schedule ran close to planned in the House.

Among the first considerations is a bill on internet sales taxes in which the Senate insisted on its version of the bill, H.B. 276, and notified the House. The House voted against the Senate’s amendments to the bill at the end of the 2019 session, which sets things up for a conference committee to work out the differences.

Among the bill’s details, it would require sales taxes for use of ride share apps, and an online marketplace facilitator would be obligated to pay taxes for retail sales, not the marketplace seller. A marketplace facilitator, as defined in the bill, is someone who “contracts with a seller in exchange for any form of consideration to make available or facilitate a retail sale that is taxable under this chapter on behalf of such seller directly or through any agreement with another person….”

Retail sales will be assumed to be made in Georgia “if it is to be held for pickup, used, consumed, distributed, stored for use or consumption or rendered as a service within this state.”

Legislation taken up during first readers today in the House includes a coal ash cleanup bill, H.B. 756, which is one of the policy priorities of House Democrats.

“Under Georgia law, we protect the environment and human health from household trash more than we protect the environment from the dangers of coal ash,” state Rep. Debbie Buckner, D-Junction City, said in a statement.

The bill’s sponsors have a steep hill to climb, both in terms of lobbying and being in the minority party. Republican efforts on coal ash legislation in recent years — notably by state Rep. Jeff Jones, R-St. Simons Island, and state Sen. William Ligon, R-White Oak — never made it out of committee.

Source: https://thebrunswicknews.com/news/local_news/legislators-hit-ground-running-on-first-day-of-2020-session/article_1a84d4b4-f2d4-5ff8-acd6-cf3c7894a4ae.html

Proposed homeless home generates concerns

proposed-homeless-home-generates-concerns

Cindy Supernaw has fond memories of her days as a seventh-grader at Frederica Academy when the school was located in what is now Harpers Joy, a home for the mentally disabled in Brunswick’s downtown historic district.

Frederica Academy held classes for several years in the building after the old Brunswick hospital closed. She’s seen a lot of changes since Frederica Academy moved to St. Simons Island and the building was repurposed as a home for the mentally disabled called Harpers Joy more than two decades ago.

Supernaw lives in a house less than a half block away from Harpers Joy, and like many living in the surrounding area, she has never had a complaint about the residents and believes they are good neighbors.

In fact, when the state tried to close Harpers Joy in 2012, neighbors rose up to express their support for keeping the facility open. After months of protests, and with the help of then State Rep. Alex Atwood, the state backed down and kept Harpers Joy open.

What has dismayed Supernaw and many others is a proposal to turn Harpers Joy into an apartment complex for the homeless. And she’s not alone.

A petition started after last week’s meeting has already generated more than 670 signatures opposing the creation of a homeless home at the old hospital.

There are lots of concerns about how surrounding neighborhoods will be affected if Hand in Hand of Glynn, Inc. goes forward with plans to convert the building, she said.

Critics of the proposal say the old hospital building, located on Norwich Street, is too far from the commercial district downtown — about eight blocks away — for residents to walk through residential neighborhoods to shop, work or go to doctors appointments.

Some have also expressed concerns about the potential for an increase in crime, loitering, noise late at night and the difficulty residents will have grocery shopping, doctor’s appointments and job hunting at the location.

“We need a place for the homeless but not in a residential neighborhood,” Supernaw said. “That’s going to screw up this neighborhood.”

Another neighborhood resident, Melanie Page, said she is concerned the park across the street from the old hospital building will become a magnet for the homeless.

“It’s a bad idea,” she said. “There are no services close to here. It doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

Page said a homeless home should also come with mental health services for some of the residents, which was not mentioned at the meeting by the Hand in Hand of Glynn representatives who spoke. Hand in Hand became a registered charity in Georgia in February and there is no contact information other than a post office box address. Nobody from Hand in Hand could be reached Wednesday for comment.

Anne Stembler, of St. Simons Island, one of the Hand in Hand members who explained the project to a sometimes hostile audience last week, said volunteers have raised more than $500,000 for the project, estimated to cost about $3 million to renovate the building.

What attracted organizers was the building already had 24 efficiency apartments with electricity metered by unit, sprinklers and security cameras already system in place, a recent inspection by the fire department and proper zoning.

Organizers said they would be selective on who would live in the complex. Sex offenders and people convicted of violent crimes would not be eligible to live in the building. Overnight guests would not be allowed and visitors would be required to show identification prior to entering the building, which will have security around the clock.

Supernaw said the current use of the building as a home for the mentally disabled would be ideal. But Gateway officials who manage the property said they have already moved out about one third of the residents, and they plan to move the remainder in coming months.

But if Harpers Joy is determined to move, Supernaw had another suggested use for the building.

“I think the use they have now is the right one,” she said. “It would make a great loft. Even just an apartment complex would be great.”

Source: https://thebrunswicknews.com/news/local_news/proposed-homeless-home-generates-concerns/article_b63986a9-7760-59c5-bbc7-cf3240d876af.html

Key sex trafficking bill heads to governor

key-sex-trafficking-bill-heads-to-governor

The state Senate by a 52-0 vote Friday sent Senate Bill 158, the “Anti-Human Trafficking Protective Response Act,” to the governor for his signature. The legislation was a priority for the Governor’s Office this session.

State Sen. Brian Strickland, R-McDonough and floor leader for the governor, explained some of the amendments to the bill since the last time the Senate voted.

“The first is in Section 1-3 of the bill, and here we just confirmed that the organization, the victim assistance organization that we’re referring child victims to, will be certified by the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council,” Strickland said. “The next change is in Section 1-6. This is where we made it where a minor cannot be prosecuted for prostitution in our state — we have the age of 17, because that is the age in our state of being an adult in Georgia. The House had a version of the bill, they wanted 18, and we agreed with them, so 18 is the age we went to there.

“The bigger changes come in sections 1-9 and 1-10, and this is where we’re trying to use our nuisance laws to go after businesses that have human trafficking occurring on their premises, and are profiting from that. The big thing we discussed is how you create a presumption of a nuisance.”

He said there is a presumed nuisance if there’s a conviction or guilty plea regarding a sex offense committed on the property. Nuisance presumption typically will follow a set of notices given to the property owner, especially involving repeated drug activity. Strickland said that from law enforcement testimony, illegal drug activity tends to occur where sex trafficking occurs.

House Bill 424, adding sex trafficking to the state gang law, passed the Senate on substitute 50-0 and returns to the House for concurrence. State Sen. John F. Kennedy, R-Macon, who presented the bill, noted that language regarding elder abuse — which was part of a different bill originally — was added in order to clean up the state law and reduce conflicts.

The Senate also passed S.B. 6, which prohibits the use of drones to drop contraband into jails and prisons, and now goes to the governor.

The chamber decided not to agree to the House’s changes to a revision of the state hunting laws, so that has to be dealt with in conference committee if S.B. 72 is to advance. While there are minor changes throughout the bill, most of the talk regarding the bill involved the legalization of airgun hunting on private land, and making it easier under the law to bait feral hogs.

With state Sen. William Ligon, R-White Oak, on an excused absence, state Sen. Ben Watson, R-Savannah, presented H.B. 201. That bill, of which the lead sponsor is state Rep. Don Hogan, R-St. Simons Island, prohibits the residents of live-aboard vessels from dumping raw sewage into the state estuaries. It also allows for the state Department of Natural Resources to administer anchorages where pumping out of the waste is possible.

H.B. 201 passed the Senate by a vote of 45-0, and because there were no Senate changes, it now also goes to the governor for his signature.

In the House, a resolution supported in a bipartisan manner by the coastal delegation never received a vote. House Resolution 48, which advocates for coastal industries and the coastal environment, while opposing seismic airgun testing and offshore drilling, was placed on the calendar by the House Rules Committee earlier Friday.

However, apropos of nothing and with no explanation at the time, state Rep. Alan Powell — a Republican from Hartwell who does not sit on the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee, which favorably reported the resolution — late Friday afternoon had it recommitted to the Rules Committee.

Source: https://thebrunswicknews.com/news/local_news/key-sex-trafficking-bill-heads-to-governor/article_a49009ba-6bbb-520b-8b45-b307e85e0a00.html

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