Stacey Edward Rush is one of many on Columbia County's sex offender list who might soon have to move because of a new state law governing those on the list.
"I don't want to move, but they're forcing me to,'' said Rush, who lives across the road from a bus stop, something that will be prohibited in the new state law, which is slated to go into effect Saturday.
Rush, who was arrested and found guilty of criminal attempt rape in Virginia, serving three years in jail being released in 2000, has been married for three years and fears he will lose his job because of the move.
While finding a new place to live, Rush, who maintains his innocence in the case that put him on the offender list, said his wife will stay at his house in Martinez.
Rush said he's hoping to get help from a friend, but because of the new restrictions, "It's looking slim," he said.
Columbia County sheriff's Capt. Steve Morris says the new law, which currently is being challenged in court, will force most on the county's list to move if upheld.
"School bus stops will impact the majority of our current offenders, requiring them to move," Morris said, adding that the addition of churches to the list won't have as big of an effect. "We've had probably a half of a dozen who have made comments that they will most likely move to another state that is less restrictive ... With a few exceptions, pretty much it is going to push them out of the neighborhoods and into more rural areas, or, in some cases, completely out of state."
The General Assembly approved a revision of the state's sex offender laws this spring. Under current Georgia law, registered sex offenders can't live within 1,000 feet of child-care centers, schools and places where children congregate.
The new law goes much further by also restricting Georgia's 10,755 sex offenders from living, working or loitering within 1,000 feet of child-care centers, schools and bus stops, churches and anywhere minors congregate such as playgrounds and public swimming pools, Morris said.
Morris said if the law survives the court challenge, the changes will affect most of the county's 46 registered sex offenders, such as Rush.
"His claim is he lives near a bus stop that is only attended by his own kids, yet he is being forced to move and he doesn't like it," Morris said.
A civil liberties group filed a federal class action lawsuit June 20 challenging the new legislation on behalf of nine convicted sex offenders. The suit filed by the Southern Center for Human Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia says that thousands of people on Georgia's sex offender registry will be forced, by legislative fiat, to evacuate their homes, leave their jobs, cease attending their churches and abandon court-mandated treatment programs.
A federal judge in Atlanta Monday issued a temporary restraining order applying to specific offenders and parts of the law. Final consideration of the case is expected within two weeks.
Georgia's new sex offender law is estimated to be among the nation's toughest. Morris said that any of the county's sex offenders found to not be in compliance as of Saturday will be arrested.
Morris said the new law also includes a $250 annual registration fee, which would net more than $2.7 million for the state. Morris said the law does not include any information about how much, if any of that fee, will stay with the area sheriff's offices for things such as the required publishing of sex offender photos in the area legal organ.
Failure to pay that fee could be pursued criminally, as opposed to the civil action the sheriff's office had to pursue against any Columbia County offender refusing to pay the current $25 fee, Morris said.
Sex offenders required to register will be required to do so for a lifetime, as opposed to an average 10-year span, according to the new law, Morris said. Any violation of the registration laws is punishable by one to three years in prison. The new law will push that penalty to 10 to 30 years.
Morris said the law will create some gray areas concerning what is considered a congregation place of minors, but that his office will pursue anyone not in compliance.
"It is going to be difficult at times to enforce, but the rules are there," Morris said. "If any of the 46 offenders we have now are not in compliance July 1, they, too, will be arrested.''
Rush said he's hoping for the best in trying to find another place to live.
"I'm not going back (to jail)," he said.
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