Fighting uphill battles is nothing new to the Southern Center for Human Rights, and the 2018 Georgia Legislative Session certainly brought its share of challenges. The efforts of SCHR and our partners persisted into the final minutes of the session – with the Georgia General Assembly adjourning, sine die – after midnight on March 30th. Despite the continued influence of the damaging rhetoric and policies from the federal administration, SCHR fiercely advocated for legislative changes consistent with our commitment to those affected by Georgia’s unduly harsh criminal (justice?) system. A list of criminal justice bills that passed the legislature can be found at the bottom of the blog.
Notably, we are pleased to share that SB 407, Governor Deal (and his Criminal Justice Reform Council’s) bill, achieved final passage in both chambers with unanimous votes. SB 407 includes many reforms, including changes to misdemeanor bail, increased ability for courts to convert fines and fees to community service, expanded access to retroactive first offender treatment, and improvements to behavioral incentive dates that shorten sentences.
We worked closely with lawmakers who introduced the following proactive, progressive legislative proposals that did not make it to the finish line in 2018, but will continue to be pursued in the coming years:
- HB 768 – to ensure that people with intellectual disability are not executed in Georgia by improving the process for determining intellectual disability in death penalty cases. There was one hearing on the bill with impeccable testimony from Patrick Mulvaney, the managing attorney for SCHR’s capital litigation unit, and Lauren Lucas, GSU Law professor and director of the Center for Access to Justice.
- HB 802 – to allow parole eligibility for people who were under the age of 18 when sentenced to life in prison and ensure compliance with recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions.
- HB 857 – to require that: 1) women who are incarcerated have access to feminine hygiene products and medical information; 2) pregnant women who are incarcerated are excluded from “squat and cough” searches; 3) male correctional staff are prohibited from showers and other dressing areas; 4) only female correctional staff conduct pat-down searches of incarcerated women; and 5) the location of family members be considered when making facility placement decisions for women who are incarcerated.
- HR 1416 – to create a House Study Committee on Bail Reform consistent with the recommendation of the Council on Criminal Justice Reform to study statutory alternatives to money bond. The resolution was passed by the House Public Safety Committee but unfortunately did not make it to the House floor for a vote in time.
This year, we also had to battle several destructive measures that were wholly inconsistent with the “smart on crime” reforms passed in prior legislative sessions. This included attempts to create new crimes, increase sentence lengths, expand mandatory minimums, and try more children as adults. Disturbingly, there was also a last-minute, but unsuccessful, attempt to threaten the success of Governor Deal’s criminal justice reform efforts and preempt local bail reform in cities like Atlanta. In partnership with our allies in the Justice Reform Partnership, SCHR researched and explained the impact of proposed legislation, testified at hearings, drafted amendments, mobilized impacted communities, lessening the impact of some of these bad bills and causing others to fail.
SCHR is proud to be the convening organization for the Georgia Criminal Justice Reform Partnership. The Partnership is a statewide coalition made up of over 50 organizations and individuals from across the political and issue spectrum that unite in our pursuit to pass common sense, proactive criminal justice reform legislation at the state and local level. This year, more than thirty partners co-sponsored “Justice Day at the Capitol,” bringing more than 600 Georgians from across the state to Atlanta to advocate for meaningful and effective criminal justice reform.
SCHR is grateful for the support of all our friends and partners who share our vision for a system that promotes equality, dignity, and justice. If you or your organization are interested in joining the Justice Reform Partnership, send an email to [email protected]. Together, let us build a better Georgia.
CRIMINAL JUSTICE BILLS THAT PASSED IN 2018
- HB 657 – Makes it a felony to knowingly give a firearm to any person convicted of a felony or on first offender probation. (SCHR’s position – opposed)
- HB 673 – Distracted Driving Bill that requires hands-free use of cell phones and other technology. (SCHR’s position: monitored)
- HB 732 – Expands definition of sex trafficking and increases the penalty. (SCHR’s position: opposed)
- HB 751 – Creates the Georgia Emergency Communications Authority. (SCHR’s position: monitored)
- HB 765 – CJ’s Law – increases penalties for hit and run accidents that result in death or serious injury. (SCHR’s position: monitored)
- HB 803 – Prohibits trafficking a disabled adult, elder person, or resident. (SCHR’s position: monitored)
- HB 890 – Creates penalties for using a fire exit after shoplifting. (SCHR’s position: opposed)
- HB 834 – Provides for the termination of a lease when the lessee is the victim of family violence. (SCHR’s position: monitored)
- HR 913 – House Study Committee on Incorporating Law Enforcement in the Pathway to Treatment and Social Services for Persons Having Challenges with Drug Use and Mental Health. (SCHR’s position: supported)
- SB 315 – Creates the new crime of unauthorized computer access. (SCHR’s position: monitored)
- SB 369 – Requires $5 of pretrial diversion fees be given to the Peace Officers’ Annuity and Benefit Fund. (SCHR’s position: opposed)
- SB 407 – Reforms to misdemeanor bail, conversion of fines and fees to community service, retroactive first offender, behavioral incentive dates and sentencing enhancements for certain firearm offenses. (SCHR’s position: supported)
- SR 146 – Marsy’s Law – proposes an amendment to the state’s constitution to acknowledge certain rights of crime victims. (SCHR’s position: monitored)
- HB 740 – Prohibits the expulsion or suspension of any child (preschool – 3rd grade) for more than 5 consecutive days unless drugs or weapons were involved. (SCHR’s position: supported)
- SB 336 – Prohibits the provider of electronic communications services from notifying a customer about a subpoena for records used in furtherance of crimes against minors. (SCHR’s position: monitored)