More than a dozen fellow state representatives spoke in the House on Friday morning to firmly condemn Moore’s proposal to overturn the crime of loitering, which could allow sex offenders at schools, day care centers or anywhere children gather.
“I am not only embarrassed. The state should be embarrassed. This country could be embarrassed,” said Rep. John Meadows (R-Calhoun), chairman of the House Rules Committee. “I can assure you that (with) bills like this, when the author comes with others I’d be very suspect. It’d be awful to be the most ineffective person in this building.”
House Majority Leader Larry O’Neal (R-Bonaire) said he was shocked one of his fellow Republicans was proposing a bill that seemed so dangerous.
“In my personal opinion it’s the most irrational and egregious piece of legislation I’ve seen in my entire life,” O’Neal told the House.
Moore, who was sworn in last week after winning a runoff Feb. 4, said when interviewed he was baffled by the controversy, which he called political and not based in fact.
“There’s a lot of political fireworks going on right now, but politics is secondary to my job,” he said, adding that he doesn’t believe the bill is truly dangerous. “My job is to try to write, pass, vote on and work on legislation that we need and that protects (the Constitution). I don’t mind the politicalness of an election year and people wanting to be tough on child molesters. I get that, believe me.”
Moore said his cause and intent with the bill wasn’t to help anyone who might be a danger to children. Instead, House Bill 1033 was to protect Fifth Amendment rights to silence, because if a person is suspected of loitering, police officers have legal grounds to ask for their name, he said.
Moore added he’d already begun to get calls in support of his position against Georgia’s “vague” loitering law.
According to Moore, loitering is the only Georgia law that allows someone to be arrested for not giving their name. The sex offender restrictions had to go, he said, because they hinge on the offenders’ loitering. The law now says a person is loitering when his or her presence “warrant(s) a justifiable and reasonable alarm.” One cause for alarm listed in the law is if the person refuses to identify himself.
Moore said he believed other laws could stop sex offenders from going to schools. He cited one law that gives local school districts the option to bar sex offenders from school property. He said he wasn’t aware of any other law that would categorically ban offenders from school property statewide, but has asked legislative counsel to look into other laws on the books.
Moore said if it is proven to him that the bill truly poses a threat to children, he would be happy to change it. So far, no one had been able to do that, he said.
Even still, Moore says he isn’t against sex offenders going to schools, if they have served their time.
“My point is that there’s no immediate danger of someone driving onto (school property),” he said. “Now, believe me, I don’t want someone hanging out at a school. That’s creepy, but it’s up to the school to protect those kids and this doesn’t stop them from doing that. There’s no immediate danger of someone going to a school. I’m not saying I like it.”
Rep. Dustin Hightower (R-Carrollton) said on the floor Friday he understood Moore’s intent to protect the Constitution, but the bill was simply not thought out.
“I believe the bill that was introduced yesterday was just a little misguided,” Hightower told the House. “I understand the Constitution a little better than most. I don’t think this bill will do what it was intending to do. I think the ramifications of this possible legislation will truly harm many, many children in this state.”
Rep. Scot Turner (R-Holly Springs) read Moore’s bill aloud and said that although Moore’s intention might have been to protect the Fifth Amendment, the consequence would indeed be fewer restrictions on registered sex offenders.
“That’s exactly what this bill does,” he said. “No one wants to see government limited and our rights restored more than me … Folks, this is not what the fight for liberty looks like.”
Turner said the worst part of the bill was it damaged the debate on protecting the Fifth Amendment.
After speaking in the House on Friday morning, Rep. Ed Lindsey (R-Buckhead) released a statement to the Tribune saying he wasn’t in favor of the discussion Moore apparently wanted to have.
“The proponent of this bill has indicated that he introduced it to make a point and start a discussion,” Lindsey wrote. “In response, I would simply say that we do not play politics with children’s safety — end of discussion.”
Reps. Michael Caldwell (R-Woodstock) and Mandi Ballinger (R-Canton) also spoke out against the bill Friday in written statements. Ballinger, a longtime victim advocate, said she was “appalled and embarrassed.”
Moore’s opponent in the runoff also got in on the bashing Friday and said she was running against him in the May primary because of his actions. Moore easily won the seat covering parts of Cherokee, Forsyth and Fulton counties with 58 percent of the vote.
More bills in the works
As Moore’s bill was causing outrage in the House and a storm of debate on social media Friday, other bills the new state representative introduced this week were gaining attention as well.
Moore presented a law that would allow residents to use deadly force against police if officers violently enter a home without knocking and identifying themselves and their purpose. The bill would outlaw the practice known as “no-knock” search warrants. Another of his bills would bar officers from stopping someone from recording in public and yet another would nullify the Affordable Care Act.
Cherokee Sheriff Roger Garrison has a problem with doing away with no-knock search warrants—just as the sheriff did with the loitering measure, which he strongly condemned Thursday.
“No-knock search warrants are a very value tool for law enforcement,” Garrison said Friday. “We don’t do it that frequently. When we do it’s a very high-risk situation. But by the time we’ve reached the door, we’re already screaming who we are.”
Garrison said police have to present evidence to a judge to obtain such warrants and the practice is used to protect officers or preserve evidence that may be inside the home.
“His bill in my opinion is basically saying it’s open season on shooting police officers,” the sheriff said. “In my mind, it’s just as absurd as allowing sexual predators to roam around on school grounds.”
Moore, though, said eliminating such search warrants could save police officers’ lives, because if police suddenly burst into someone’s home with identifying themselves, the occupant could be armed and mistakenly fire on the officers.
“More people are armed these days,” the representative said. “If you have someone in their house (who is) armed, they’re expected to retaliate with deadly force, because they think they’re being attacked… It’s horrible the way it is now. It costs lives.”
Moore added he had more bills in the works that could cause controversy, but he said he wasn’t willing to back down simply because of the “target” that now seems to be on his back.