Democratic state lawmakers in Georgia unveiled a broad package of criminal justice reform measures Thursday aimed at ending the state’s stand-your-ground law, punishing police officers for racial profiling and creating a group able to discipline district attorneys for abuses of power.
The package, called “Justice for All,” comes as an ambitious set of 12 different bills responding to recent instances of police violence and racial injustice, including the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery near Brunswick, George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ky.
Member of the Georgia House Democratic Caucus met Thursday to outline the package ahead of the resumption next week of the 2020 legislative session, which was suspended in March as concerns mounted over the coronavirus pandemic.
“These measures go to the core of combating the disparities that exist in the administration of criminal justice in Georgia,” said House Minority Leader Bob Trammell, D-Luthersville.
“We can no longer be content with a system that only provides for justice for some,” he added. “We must work and strive to make sure that we have justice for all.”
The bills, which would be introduced once the General Assembly reconvenes on June 15, are poised to include:
- Repealing Georgia’s stand-your-ground law and citizen’s arrest protections.
- Prohibiting officers from racial profiling and requiring annual statistics on traffic stops, searches and data collections to be published by Georgia’s attorney general.
- Implementing “anti-choke hold” rules that bar officers from applying pressure to a suspect’s throat or windpipe during an arrest.
- Banning no-knock search warrants.
- Ending qualified immunity for officers and the ability of officers to attend grand jury proceedings for crimes they are accused of committing.
- Requiring body-worn cameras to be used by all law enforcement agencies in Georgia.
- Creating an oversight committee able to recommend punishments – including removals or forced retirements – for district attorneys who engage in improper conduct.
- Allowing appointed district attorneys to ask for a recusal if they have a conflict of interest.
The reform package also calls for passing a hate-crimes bill, House Bill 426, that stalled in the Georgia Senate last year but which has gained renewed support from Democratic and Republican lawmakers in recent weeks. Top Republicans including Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and others have backed the bill by Republican Rep. Chuck Efstration, R-Dacula.
Additionally, the package calls for passing a measure, House Bill 636, introduced last year in the General Assembly to create a public database of all officer use-of-force reports.
Democratic lawmakers in the Georgia Senate also put forth their own slate of bills Thursday, called the “Georgia Justice Act,” that mirrors much of what House Democrats are seeking. Many of those have already been filed in the session, while others would be introduced next week.
According to a news release, the Senate package also includes measures to:
- Limit police chases and restrict the use of rubber bullets;
- Boost officer training for arrests involving persons with post-traumatic stress disorder;
- Create a special prosecutor and statewide licensure for police officers;
- Revise state cannabis laws;
- Restore voting rights for felons; and
- “De-militarizing police forces.”
The bills face a tough road in the Republican-controlled General Assembly, particularly with little time left in the 2020 session and much attention being put to drafting a budget for the upcoming fiscal year that will require deep spending cuts due to coronavirus.
On Thursday, Trammell said the short timeframe should not discourage lawmakers from taking up bills in the coming weeks and that they should make the most of the extra time for bill-wrangling brought by the delayed session.
“We have the power of the General Assembly to make this happen,” he said. “And we cannot hide behind procedural rules as an excuse to delay justice for all.”
Senate Democratic leaders echoed that, noting many of their bills have been on the table for more than a year already without being schedule for a committee hearing.
“Too many of our citizens have died or been injured, while politics are at play,” said Sen. Gloria Butler, D-Stone Mountain, who chairs the Georgia Senate Democratic Caucus. “That time is over.”
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