A federal court ruling Friday blocked Columbia County police from arresting registered sex offenders living within 1,000 feet of a school bus stop.
U.S. District Court Judge Clarence Cooper granted a temporary restraining order, sought by the Southern Center for Human Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union, which stated that police cannot enforce the 1,000-foot barrier rule until a challenge can be heard about the constitutionality of the state law that created the rule.
On July 25, Judge Cooper lifted a restraining order barring police from enforcing the law, but he wrote in his ruling that local school boards must officially designate their bus stops for the law to apply.
That night, the Columbia County school board unanimously passed a resolution to designate its bus stops. The action came at the request of District Attorney Danny Craig, who represents Columbia, Richmond and Burke counties.
Officials for the Southern Center for Human Rights, initially hoping school boards would refrain from designating bus stops, said they were caught off guard by the board's quick action and took immediate action of their own by requesting the restraining order.
"One of the issues we raised today is the further threat of imminent harm as other school boards meet to designate bus stops," Sarah Geraghty, a staff attorney for the group, said Friday. "We would like to preserve the status quo and avoid descending into chaos."
School board Chairman Wayne Bridges said Friday that he was relieved by Judge Cooper's ruling.
He said it will give the board time to examine the effects of the law more closely and seek more legal opinion.
About 30 of the county's sex offenders would be forced to relocate should the law stand. Craig said law enforcement would abide by the "spirit of the consent order."
Cooper was scheduled to meet with attorneys to continue the discussion of the case this week.
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