A bill that bans counties and municipalities in Georgia from reducing their police department budgets by more than 5% has passed the Georgia Senate and will be sent back to the House.
Sen. Randy Robertson, R-Cataula, a law enforcement veteran, said the legislation, House Bill 286, is a response to local efforts to “defund the police.”
“I think everyone sees the things that are going on around our country right now related to law enforcement, and what this does is just guarantee the citizens of any community that they’re not caught up in the politics that revolves around policing and offers protection,” said Robertson, who sponsored the bill.
The legislation cleared the Senate, 36-15, on Thursday and must be sent back to the House for concurrence. The House first passed the measure, 101-69, on Feb. 24. Republicans have filed similar bills in other states.
National protests erupted in late May after George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, was killed by a Minneapolis police officer on Memorial Day. The spotlight on police brutality soon grew to calls for less government funding for law enforcement. Minneapolis has since has slashed its police funding.
Atlanta and Athens-Clarke County have considered proposals to reduce fudning for their police departments but have not moved forward with cuts.
State and local governments spend about $4.8 billion a year on police and corrections, according to the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.
Governments that seek assistance from other law enforcement agencies or have been ordered by a court to modify public services would be exempt from the policy. Any local government moves forward with a budget cut above 5% would have to advertise the budget hearing. The exemptions, however, do not apply to law enforcement agencies with less than 25 full-time or part-time officers.
HB 286 also requires the state and local governments to provide insurance to law enforcement employees to ensure protection from civil or other legal action caused by their roles.
The bill has received support from Georgia’s Police Benevolent Association.
Some lawmakers said the bill imposes on local government’s home rule powers. The Association County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG) also has lobbied against the bill, claiming it blocks local control.
According to the Home Rule Act of Georgia’s Constitution, “the governing authority of each municipal corporation shall have legislative power to adopt clearly reasonable ordinances, resolutions, or regulations relating to its property, affairs, and local government for which no provision has been made by general law and which are not inconsistent with the Constitution or any charter provision applicable thereto.”
During Senate debate Thursday over the bill, Robertson said he is confident the measure complies with the Home Rule Act.
The House must now agree to the changes in the bill before it is sent to Gov. Brian Kemp.
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Nyamekye Daniel is a regular contributor to The Center Square. She was the managing editor for the South Florida Media Network and a staff writer for The Miami Times.
Photo “Randy Robertson” by Matt Gillespie CC 4.0.