This past Monday, a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee heard HB 340, a bill which would overturn bail reform in Atlanta, and preclude any other city or county in Georgia from ending cash bail. The legislation would force burdensome costs on Georgians; it would continue to criminalize poverty and race; it would compromise public safety; and, finally, it would be unconstitutional. The only beneficiaries of the legislation would be the bail industry. The bill’s sponsor, Representative Micah Gravley, presented the legislation while flanked by four individuals from the bail industry.
Rep. Gravley told the subcommittee that he introduced the legislation due to alleged problems with individuals being released on signature bonds for violent felonies — and then he turned it over to the bail industry. For the next 25 minutes, two bail industry representatives dominated the discussion and misled the committee. The representatives of the bail industry introduced themselves as “concerned citizens,” only admitting to being in the industry when pressed by members of the subcommittee. One of the bail industry representatives, from Athens, provided copies of several recognizance bonds given to people charged with crimes like armed robbery and rape, claiming that the Athens community wants the law to be changed. SCHR has since learned, however, that in one of the cases the judge issued an OR bond after a hung jury (in which the jury was 11-1 in favor of acquittal) and, in another, the prosecutor agreed to the OR bond, due to a lack of evidence. Bondsman Corey Dunlap stated that a Georgia State Trooper was killed by someone who was out on an OR (own recognizance) bond. When challenged with the AJC’s reporting that the defendant was out of jail on $19,000 bond, Dunlap claimed that he didn’t remember the facts of the case.
The chairman then opened up the hearing for public comment, allowing 60 seconds for each person. Nearly every person who testified was in opposition to the bill. The first voices to speak against the bill were Megan Middleton, a lobbyist from the City of Atlanta, Matthew McCord, a judge who sat on the bail subcommittee of Gov. Deal’s Council on Criminal Justice Reform, and Matt Westmoreland, an at-large member of the Atlanta City Council. SCHR’s Public Policy Director Marissa Dodson continued the opposition testimony, along with Bronson Elliot from Ebenezer Baptist Church, Billy Honor from New Georgia Project, Mary Hooks from SONG, SCHR’s Sarah Geraghty, and Devin Barrington-Ward from Black Futurists Group.
The aggregate testimony against HB 340 was compelling, and some Republican subcommittee members could be seen nodding in agreement with the positions taken. Many members, again including Republicans, recognized the predatory motives of the bail industry and the injustice of forcing extended incarceration, particularly for local ordinance violations and misdemeanor offenses. The subcommittee did not vote on the bill.
SCHR is continuing to monitor HB 340 — which, as of this writing, has not been scheduled for another hearing — while we also track SB 164, a similar bill introduced by Bill Cowsert that has been assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee but not yet scheduled for a hearing.