Rights Group Sues to Halt Ga. Sex Offender Law

The Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta has filed suit against Georgia over the state's tough new law severely restricting the lives and activities of sex offenders. Farai Chideya talks with attorney Lisa Kung, who filed the lawsuit, about why she thinks the law is unworkable and illegal.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

And there are other critics of the new law in Georgia who say that more than 10,000 registered sex offenders in that state will be virtually unable to live in urban and suburban areas.

As we mentioned, the legislation takes affect in just two days. It restricts convicted child molesters from residing, working or loitering just about anywhere that children gather, including school bus stops. Attorney Lisa Kung is Director of the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta. The group filed a federal lawsuit seeking to halt the law. Lisa joins us by phone with more on the judge's ruling this week. Hi, Lisa.

Ms. LISA KUNG (Director, Southern Center for Human Rights): Hi. Good to be one with you.

CHIDEYA: Thank you. So, as I understand it, a federal judge on Monday blocked Georgia from targeting just eight individuals, your clients, with this sweeping law. Tell us more about the ruling.

Ms. KUNG: Well, the first thing to know about what's happening here in Georgia is Georgia already has on its books one of the most restrictive sex offender laws in the country. It already makes it so that you can't live - if you're on the registry, you can't live within 1,000 feet of schools or playgrounds or a host of other things.

All the people on the registry who are in compliance have already moved away from schools and playgrounds. But then what happened was in this sort of moment of hysteria last session, the legislature here added on a number of other provisions and within those provisions, within those restrictions, they added school bus stop. And as you know, there is a school bus stop literally on every corner in most places.

What the judge did was he took a look at that and said this is not only too much, this is now tipped way over from being too tough to being - it wasn't his words - to being stupid.

CHIDEYA: So, Lisa, I hate to interrupt you, but we have so little time. I just want to quickly pepper you with a couple more questions.

Ms. KUNG: Of course.

CHIDEYA: How much of the law is actually going to be enforced on Saturday? And secondly, how precedent setting do you think this legal battle is?

Ms. KUNG: There are sheriffs who are coming out in the press and saying, very reluctantly, if the judge does not extend his TRO to all the members on the registry, that they very reluctantly are going to have to go out and kick people out of their homes.

CHIDEYA: The TRO being the temporary restraining order for your clients?

Ms. KUNG: That's right. They're not interested in doing that. What's been notable and unusual, just unexpected for us, is the outpouring of support that we've gotten from probation officers and sheriff's deputies. I mean, these are the people who know better than anyone that public safety is going to suffer if the new restrictions are allowed to go into effect this Saturday.

CHIDEYA: And what about the precedent of this? Do you think this will spread nationwide?

Ms. KUNG: I think what's going to happen is - we're pretty confident that this judge is going to come down eventually with a ruling after he has seen all of the evidence to say there is a point where you can't criminalize people's very existence. That's what has happened with the Georgia law.

CHIDEYA: Now, why this lawsuit? It seems to me that it really did just protect your clients. Was there no way to make it class action, or did you try?

Ms. KUNG: We absolutely did. The lawsuit was brought as a class action and it's still be litigated as a class action. What happens is it usually takes a little bit of time for a judge to get to the class certification. We've asked the judge to look at it on an expedited review schedule and he has agreed to do that. We have briefing finishing today. Hopefully, he will issue the right order tomorrow so that we won't have pandemonium in the streets on Saturday.

CHIDEYA: All right. Lisa Kung is Director of the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta, Georgia. Thank you for joining us.

Ms. KUNG: Thank you so much.

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