Larry O’Neal, the state House majority leader, is generally a low-key power player in Atlanta.
Not on Friday.
“A member in my party actually wants to submit Georgia’s schoolchildren to convicted sex offenders on the school grounds? My party in no way, shape or form supports that proposition,” the Bonaire Republican said on the House floor, addressing House Bill 1033, which would decriminalize loitering, including any done by sex offenders on school grounds.
O’Neal, R-Bonaire, generally acts as a GOP grandee, squeezing his caucus into accord behind the scenes as well as tending to arcane tax questions.
But when he stepped to the podium Friday, hundreds of faces turned his way.
This is “the most egregious form of legislation I’ve ever seen in my life,” said O’Neal, in what was probably the most polite vilification of a bill by state Rep. Sam Moore, a Cherokee County Republican who took his seat last week after a special election.
Moore said his bill is about solidifying Fifth Amendment protections.
“The only way that I could do that in Georgia is remove laws that violate that right, the right to silence,” said Moore. And loitering laws, he said, do that.
It turns out the state’s sex offender law relies on loitering provisions to bar convicted offenders from school zones.
Moore chose to file his bill anyway, even though it would gut that key part of the sex offender law.
Children are protected by other laws, Moore said, who added, “I don’t see it as removing child protection.”
His fellow lawmakers saw it differently.
“This legislation will never, ever see the light of day. It’s abominable to me to think this legislation would ever receive a single vote,” said state Rep. Matt Hatchett, R-Dublin, during the nearly hourlong beat down.
Or take Rules Committee Chairman John Meadows, R-Calhoun: “You mess with my grandkids. … Ask the Marine Corps. I’m a damn good shot.”
No hearing is expected.