Bill would make it illegal for child to be awarded to sex offender

Published: Apr. 16, 2012 at 9:20 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 26, 2012 at 9:20 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Late last summer, a Charleston County judge awarded custody of a little girl to her father, a man investigators say had a sex assault conviction on his record.

The conviction happened in New Jersey and authorities say it involved one of the man's children. State Rep. Chip Limehouse found out about it, but it was too late.

"Clearly we have lapses in judgment in court and courts are human beings and they're imperfect and we see imperfect decisions everyday," Limehouse said.

Limehouse drafted a bill that would make it illegal for any child custody case or adoption to be awarded to a convicted sex offender.

Department of Social Services regulations prohibit that already, but Limehouse says his bill would go one step further by making it a crime.

"If judge and juries are going to be awarding custody of a child to an individual, there ought to be some level of standard," Limehouse said.

Limehouse wrote the state's sex offender registry law in the mid-90s. It allows the public to see every sex offender in the state -- their addresses, pictures, and up-to-date registry information.

The Charleston County case, according to Limehouse, exposed a dangerous loophole, one he says he never thought anyone in the judicial system would allow to happen.

"This will make it illegal, in fact, to award the custody of a child to an individual on the sex offender registry," Limehouse said.

"It will protect our children's safety directly, so, in my view, it is vitally important that we pass this into law this year."

In February, the bill passed the house 115 to 0. It's sitting in a Senate committee right now, but Limehouse says he's sure the Senate will pass it and the governor will sign it this year.

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