Georgia Lawmakers Try Again With Prosecutor Oversight Bill That Could Override Voters

Georgia Lawmakers Try Again With Prosecutor Oversight Bill That Could Override Voters

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The Republican-controlled Georgia House of Representatives approved legislation Monday that would let a newly created oversight board for prosecutors set its own rules.

House Bill 881, which passed 95-75 along party lines, is a follow-up to legislation the General Assembly’s GOP majorities passed last year creating the Prosecuting Attorneys Qualifications Commission to investigate complaints lodged against local district attorneys.

The panel will have the power to remove prosecutors it deems guilty of a variety of offenses including mental or physical incapacity, willful misconduct or failure to perform the duties of the office, conviction of a crime of moral turpitude, or conduct that brings the office into disrepute.

But the commission has been stalled since the state Supreme Court ruled last fall that it does not have the authority to review the rules the commission adopts, as the bill provides.

Instead, the new bill turns over that authority to the commission itself.

House Democrats charged Monday that taking the Supreme Court out of the equation would give the commission carte blanche to make up its own rules without any checks on its power.

“Who will police this commission?” asked Rep. Tanya Miller, D-Atlanta. “Who will they be accountable to?”

Other Democrats argued that letting a panel of unelected officials remove district attorneys duly elected by local voters would represent a blow to democracy.

“This arrogance that we know more than the voters of this state is dangerous for people we represent,,” said Rep. Shea Roberts, D-Atlanta.

But Republicans cited instances throughout the state where Democratic district attorneys have failed to prosecute cases because they’ve decided non-violent crimes aren’t worth pursuing.

“The ones who suffer are homeowners and citizens who get their cars and homes broken into,” said Rep. Matt Reeves, R-Duluth. “Public safety shouldn’t be watered down by partisan politics. Georgians deserved to be safe in their homes and businesses.”

Democrats also accused Republicans of pushing the bill to target Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis for leading an investigation into then-President Donald Trump’s alleged attempts to overturn the 2020 president election results in Georgia. The probe led to a grand jury indictment of Trump and 18 others last August.

Republicans questioned why Democrats would oppose House Bill 881 when Democratic lawmakers put forth similar legislation four years ago targeting GOP prosecutors who dragged their feet after Black jogger Ahmaud Arbery was murdered near Brunswick by two white men who chased him down the street in a pickup truck.

“We’re here to have oversight of our rogue district attorneys, to make sure they’re doing the job they were elected to do,” said Rep. Joseph Gullett, R-Dallas, the bill’s chief sponsor.

House Bill 881 now heads to the state Senate.

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