THE STATE

SEX OFFENDER NOTIFICATION BILL PASSES

Published on: 06/26/1999
Section: FRONT
Edition: FINAL
Page: A1
By CHRIS ROBERTS, Staff Writer

Schools and day-care centers soon may be told if a registered sex offender lives nearby.

The South Carolina General Assembly has passed a bill requiring sheriffs to notify schools and day-care centers within a half mile of a sex offender's residence.

Gov. Jim Hodges has the bill but has not reviewed it yet, a spokeswoman said.

If he signs it, South Carolina would become the 36th state to actively notify residents who live near sex offenders. The state will continue its "passive" notification efforts through a Web site (www.scattorneygeneral.com) and by making the lists available at sheriff's offices.

"This is the biggest piece of crime legislation that passed this year," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Chip Limehouse III, R-Charleston. "You can see where we're going with this legislation: You don't want to be on the sex-offender list."

Nearly 2,700 S.C. residents are listed in the sex-offender registry. The list includes sex criminals convicted or released from prison since 1994, meaning thousands of felons don't have to tell anyone where they live.

The House passed Limehouse's bill on Tuesday. Senators passed the bill Thursday about 10 minutes before ending their regular session.

Laura Hudson, executive director of the nonprofit S.C. Victims Assistance Network, called the bill a victory for crime victims.

"I've been a little concerned that principals and other people who should know haven't been using the Internet to find out who's near them," she said. "Now that the sheriffs are coming to them, they'll have no excuse not to know."

The bill would remedy one of the problems with the sex-offender registry pointed out by a series in The State newspaper published May 30.

One story noted that 1-in-5 registered child molesters in Richland County live within four blocks of a public school, but none of the school principals knew about the 13 men until contacted by the newspaper.

The new notification requirement isn't as tough as Limehouse first proposed. He wanted deputies to notify everyone living within four blocks of a registered offender, but the bill ran into opposition from the S.C. Sheriff's Association. The group said sheriffs didn't have staff or money to handle that much work.

Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, amended the bill on June 3 to require deputies to notify public- and private-school principals and operators of day-care centers within a half mile of a registered offender.

The bill also requires sheriff's departments to give the registry to newspapers, although lawmakers can't force newspapers to publish the list.

"Some of the folks on the (judiciary) committee knew I was disappointed we couldn't get active notification passed," Limehouse said. "Now we've got it. The school principals can send out notices if they want. It's a great amendment."

But not everyone is pleased. Lexington County Sheriff James Metts said he appreciates the intent of the bill, but said it will be an "administrative nightmare."

"We will abide by the law, but it'll require procedures and personnel and money to do it," said Metts, whose county has nearly 100 people on the list. "We're already maxed out now by legislative mandates.

"I for one am getting tired of being told by the Legislature what to do without them providing the resources to do it," Metts said.

Contact Database Editor Chris Roberts at (803) 771-8595 or by e-mail at mcroberts@thestate.com.



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