The Georgia General Assembly ended the 2019 legislative session a little after midnight on Tuesday, April 2nd and we are happy to report that our efforts, in collaboration with local and state partners, resulted in the passage of positive reforms that will improve the lives of Georgia communities impacted by incarceration. Specifically, the General Assembly passed legislation that will restore certain dignities to incarcerated pregnant women (HB 345), and that will create a study committee focused on the access and quality of behavioral health treatment throughout the state (HB 514). We also successfully stopped multiple attempts by the bail industry to protect wealth-based detention and preempt local bail reform (HB 340 and SB 164).
Below you will find information about the criminal justice bills passed by the General Assembly this session, the advocacy events we hosted and our expectations for 2020.
CRIMINAL JUSTICE BILLS PASSED IN 2019
Behavioral Health Reform Commission
HB 514 (Sponsor – Rep. Kevin Tanner) – Creates the Georgia Mental Health Reform and Innovation Commission to conduct a comprehensive review of the behavioral health system which will include the impact on the court systems and correctional system, and the legal and systemic barriers to the treatment of mental illnesses. STATUS: Awaiting the governor’s signature. (SCHR Position – SUPPORT).
Confinement Conditions for Pregnant Women
HB 345 (Sponsor – Rep. Sharon Cooper) – Prohibits shackling in the second and third trimester, squat and cough searches and solitary confinement.) STATUS: Awaiting the governor’s signature. (SCHR Position – SUPPORT).
Law Enforcement Accountability
HB 325 (Sponsor: Sen. Bill Heath) – Requires the records of peace officer investigations are kept by the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council for thirty years. STATUS: Awaiting the governor’s signature. (SCHR Position – SUPPORT).
Correctional Facilities and Drones
SB 6 (Sponsor: Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick) – Prohibits the use of unmanned aircraft systems to deliver or attempt to deliver contraband or photograph near a place of incarceration without permission. STATUS: Awaiting the governor’s signature. (SCHR Position – MONITOR).
DNA Collection for First Offenders
HB 470 (Sponsor: Rep. Steven Sainz) – Expands the collection of DNA to include people sentenced as first offenders; requires the DNA to be expunged after successful sentence completion. STATUS: Awaiting the governor’s signature. (SCHR Position – MONITOR).
Fines and Fees
SB 73 (Sponsor: Sen. Tyler Harper) Requires pretrial diversion program fees for the Peace Officers’ Annuity and Benefit Fund to be deducted and sent by the clerk to the secretary-treasurer of such fund. STATUS: Awaiting the governor’s signature. (SCHR’s Position – MONITOR).
Hit and Run
SB 1 (Sponsor: Sen. Elena Parent) – “CJ’s law” Creates penalties for hit and run that create serious injuries. STATUS: Awaiting the governor’s signature (SCHR Position – MONITOR).
HB 472 (Sponsor: Rep. Bert Reeves) – Expands the definition of “fictive kin” to include people without blood relations but who have a substantial and positive relationship with the child; requires juvenile courts to consider alternatives to foster care which includes ‘fictive kin’ before removing a child from her home. STATUS: Awaiting the governor’s signature. (SCHR Position – MONITOR).
Overtaking A School Bus
SB 25 (Sponsor: Sen. Bill Heath) – Clarifies the law on overtaking a school bus by specifically allowing drivers to pass when there is a median, unpaved area or physical barrier. STATUS: Signed by the governor on February 15th. (SCHR Position – MONITOR).
Public School Safety
SB 15 (Sponsor: Sen. John Albers) – Requires public schools perform certain threat assessments, prepare a school safety plan and conduct drills; creates ‘school safety coordinators’; and requires the Georgia Information Sharing and Analysis Center to track and share information through a smartphone application. STATUS: Awaiting the governor’s signature. (SCHR Position – Monitored).
SB 9 (Sponsor: Sen. Harold Jones) – Creates the crime of sexual extortion punishable by a misdemeanor for the first offense and a felony for a second or subsequent offense; revises the crime of sexual assault by persons with supervisory or disciplinary authority to provide for varying degrees and punishment. STATUS: Awaiting the governor’s signature. (SCHR Position – Monitored).
HB 281 (Sponsor: Rep. Teri Anulewicz) – Increases the penalties for pimping and pandering from misdemeanor of high aggravated nature to a felony with a punishment of 1-10 years in prison. The bill does not create mandatory prison sentences. STATUS: Awaiting the governor’s signature. (SCHR Position – Monitored).
HB 282 (Sponsor: Scott Holcomb) – Extends the amount of time that sexual crimes evidence that relates to the identity of a perpetrator of an alleged sexual assault are stored from 10 to 50 years. STATUS: Awaiting the governor’s signature. (SCHR Position – Monitored).
HB 311 (Sponsor: Rep. Andy Welch) – Waives sovereign immunity to allow certain suits against the state for infringements of constitutional and statutory rights. STATUS: Awaiting the governor’s signature. (SCHR Position – Monitored).
2019 ADVOCACY EVENTS
Criminal Justice Reform Boot Camp
In partnership with the Social Justice Ministry at Ebenezer Baptist Church, we hosted a Criminal Justice Policy Reform Boot Camp for Georgia lawmakers on February 7th. More than twenty representatives and senators took a deep dive with us into past criminal justice reforms, current problems, and opportunities for reform in this and subsequent legislative sessions. Topics for discussion included decriminalization of minor offenses, community-based behavioral treatment and diversion programs, the assessment and collection of fines and fees, conditions of confinement, excessive prison and probation sentences and race and wealth disparities in the system. We received promising feedback from legislators who promised to continue positive criminal justice reform in Georgia.
Justice Day 2019
Over 450 people attended the 8th Annual Justice Day on February 26th. The event was co-sponsored by dozens of organizations that participate in the Georgia Justice Reform Partnership (JRP), the SCHR-led coalition of criminal justice reform advocates. Attendees were able to hear from local and national leaders, learn about the opportunities for reform in 2019 and participate in an array of advocacy activities. For the first time, in addition to calling lawmakers out to the ropes for in-person conversations, Justice Day participants also wrote letters to the children of incarcerated parents, participated in phone banking, and shared personal stories in a videotaped storytelling room.
Talk Justice Tuesdays
In addition to Justice Day, JRP hosted eight other advocacy events at the capitol during the session to provide weekly opportunities for people to advocate for specific reforms. The Talk Justice Tuesdays (TJT) series brought hundreds of people together to discuss issues important to communities impacted by incarceration and identify strategies for moving forward.
The 2019 Talk Justice Tuesdays Series included:
The Road to Criminal Justice Reform in 2019 (Jan. 22) – We hosted the first TJT where more than thirty people discussed expectations for reform in 2019, received information about legislative committee assignments and identified advocacy strategies.
Second Chance Day 2019 (Feb. 5) – Georgia Justice Project hosted this TJT focused on criminal records and expungement. Over 130 people attended and learned about efforts to pass legislation to allow the restriction of old convictions to improve opportunities for employment and housing.
Dignity for Incarcerated Women (Feb. 12) – RestoreHER hosted an advocacy day focused on the unique experiences of women who are in Georgia’s prisons and jails. Over 35 people attended to hear personal stories from women who have experienced incarceration, and to learn about legislative efforts. Specifically, attendees discussed strategies for supporting HB 345.
In Your Backyard: Housing and Criminal Justice (Feb. 19) – National Incarceration Association hosted this TJT to present an informative advocacy event about the challenges faced by people with a criminal history to access safe and affordable housing. More than 60 people participated in discussions about the current climate, the limited resources available for service providers and the possibility of legislative reforms.
Working Together Works: Impact of Incarceration on Families (Mar. 5) – National Incarceration Association and ForeverFamily brought nearly 50 people together to discuss the impact incarceration has on the children and families of people who are incarcerated. Attendees heard mothers, children and siblings of incarcerated Georgians talk about the legal barriers that exists and how organizations are making a difference. Data about how many people in Georgia are impacted and relevant 2019 budgetary items were presented to the group, which provided a moment to discuss specific opportunities for positive and meaningful policy reform.
Marijuana and Racial Disparities in Criminal Justice (Mar. 12) – The ACLU of Georgia hosted this TJT focused on marijuana reform in Georgia. Nearly 50 people came to hear from lawmakers leading in the reform space, learn about relevant legislative efforts and get training on how to engage in reform.
Healthcare NOT Handcuffs (Mar. 19) – No Health = No Justice Campaign and the Atlanta/Fulton County Pre-Arrest Diversion Initiative co-hosted the TJT focused on local and statewide responses to behavioral health issues that support safe treatment instead of incarceration. More than 50 people learned about the history of behavioral health reforms in Georgia and heard the powerful stories of individuals from the RESPECT Institute who shared incredible journeys to recovery despite harsh criminal justice polices. There was also a panel of five lawmakers, Rep. Erick Allen, Rep. David Dreyer, Rep. Gregg Kennard, Rep. Shelley Hutchinson and Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver who actively listened and answered questions about the ways to be involved in policy reforms.
LOOKING AHEAD TO 2020
Through the JRP, we have been working for years to build political power at the grassroots and grass-tops levels to demand that proactive, comprehensive criminal justice reforms continue. This was the first of a two-year legislative session, which means that all the bills that were introduced this year can still become law if passed in 2020. In addition to monitoring the below bills that will be pending next session, we also hope to further legislative proposals that will improve jail and prisons, eliminate mandatory prison sentences and end the criminalization of poverty.
Here is a list of the bills we will be watching next year:
SCHR Will Support –
Reclassifying and Decriminalizing Minor Offenses
- HR 47 (Sponsor: Sandra Scott) – Proposes the creation of a House Study Committee on the Decriminalization of Traffic Violations to determine which offenses warrant classification as a misdemeanor offense and which should be downgraded to a civil infraction.
- HB 342 (Sponsor: Rep. Matt Dollar) – Allows an officer to issue a citation for a code violation relating to a traffic violation pertaining to registration, license plates, decals or storage of unlicensed vehicle to the owner of the vehicle as opposed to the operator if the owner is present at the time.
- HB 724 (Sponsor: Rep. Matthew Wilson) – Allows counties to adopt ordinances to expand the use of fines as penalties for ordinances governing the possession of one ounce or less of marijuana.
- SB 10 (Sponsor: Sen. Harold Jones) – Requires that possession of less than two ounces of marijuana constitute a misdemeanor offense punishable by less than one year in person and that possession of more than two ounces constitute felony possession with intent punishable by 1-10 years in prison.
Restricting the Death Penalty
- HB 267 (Sponsor: Rep. Billy Mitchell) – Prohibits the death penalty from being imposed in cases where the only evidence of defendant’s guilt is the testimony of one eyewitness.
- HB 702 (Sponsor: Rep. Brett Harrell) – Prohibits capital punishment in the state and commutes capital sentences to life without parole.
- HB 268 (Sponsor: Rep. Billy Mitchell) – Allows record restriction for individuals convicted of certain misdemeanors and felonies to petition the court to restrict access to criminal history; also changes to victim’s notification of defendant’s motion for new trial or release on bail.
- HB 309 (Sponsor: Gregg Kennard) – Requires automatic record restriction for certain misdemeanors and felonies upon sentence completion.
- HB 364 (Sponsor: Rep. William Boddie) – Allows a second opportunity for people to avoid conviction under the Conditional Discharge Act and the First Offender Act if the person benefited from these laws while under the age of 25.
- HB 415 (Sponsor: Rep. Gregg Kennard) – Issues personal identification cards to individuals completing a sentence of incarceration.
- HB 528 (Sponsor: Rep. Mandi Ballinger) – Restricts records for individuals convicted of certain felonies and misdemeanors with exceptions.
- SB 11 (Sponsor: Sen. Harold Jones) – Provides that people convicted of felony drug possession offenses shall not constitute felonies involving moral turpitude and shall not have their voting rights restricted.
- SR 153 (Sponsor: Sen. Harold Jones) – Creates a Senate Study Committee on Revising Voting rights for nonviolent felony offenders.
Improving Behavioral Health Treatment
- HB 178 (Sponsor: Don Hogan) – Creates a unit within the Dept. of Behavioral Health which would study the current practices and act as an advisory council to research several issues regarding mental health including providing service and treatment plans.
Regulating Private Prisons
- HB 308 (Sponsor: Rep. Jason Ridley) – Prohibits any agency from entering into a contract with any private entity which would allow the entity to exclusively hold public records which are subject to disclosure.
- HB 403 (Sponsor: Rep. Scott Holcomb) – Prohibits any private entity from operating a detention facility in the state.
Improving the Juvenile Justice System
- HB 318/HB 441 (Sponsor: Rep. Roger Bruce) – Creates a “safe care” program within the Juvenile Code that young people can voluntarily enter into for access to drug treatment professionals, social programs, and local and state government agencies.
- HB 438 (Sponsor: Rep. Mandi Ballinger) – Eliminates the use of restraints on children while in court with exceptions.
- HB 440 (Sponsor: Rep. Mandi Ballinger) – Raises the age under which a young person has the Juvenile Code as opposed to the adult code applied to their charge from 17 to 18.
Expanding Access to Veterans’ Court
- HB 82 (Sponsor: Rep. Mandi Ballinger) – Allows judges to send people to veterans’ court without the consent of the prosecutor.
Compensation for People Wrongfully Convicted
- HB 172 (Sponsor: Rep. Carolyn Hugley) – Creates a claim advisory board to consider and make recommendations to the General Assembly concerning payment of compensation to those wrongfully convicted and imprisoned.
SCHR Will Oppose –
Attacks on Cash Bail Reform
- HB 340 (Sponsor: Rep. Micah Gravley) – Mandates cash bail for immediate release from incarceration; would preempt existing bail reform in City of Atlanta and prevent any other jurisdiction from ending cash bail for any offense.
- SB 164 (Sponsor: Sen. Bill Cowsert) – Mandates cash bail for immediate release from incarceration; would preempt existing bail reform in City of Atlanta and prevent any other jurisdiction from ending cash bail for any offense.
Excessive Punishment & Longer Sentences
- HB 720 (Sponsor: Rep. Steven Sainz) – increases the use of probation for people convicted of sexual offenses; allows probation for life for felony offenses and outlines a risk assessment tier system.
- SB 64 (Sponsor: Sen. William Ligon) – Adds “terroristic threats” to the list of felonies in the Juvenile code when the threat is directed toward individuals at or against a public or private elementary school, secondary school, technical school, college, etc.
- HB 202 (Sponsor: Rep. Jesse Petrea) – Requires the commissioner of corrections to report certain information regarding the immigration status, offenses and home countries of persons who are confined under the authority of the Department of Corrections every 9 days.
SCHR Will Monitor –
- HB 17 (Sponsor: Rep. Sandra Scott) – Creates the misdemeanor crime of smoking in a vehicle while a child under the age of 13 is present; punishable by a $100 fine.
- HB 19 (Sponsor: Sandra Scott) – Seeks to protect individuals from discrimination in housing, public accommodations, and employment based on sexual orientation, gender identity and age.
- HB 20 (Sponsor: Rep. Debra Bazemore) – Prohibits persons convicted of family violence offenses from possessing or carrying firearms punishable by 5 – 10 years in prison.
- HB 38 (Sponsor: Rep. Rhonda Burnough) – Defines the term “conviction” in the theft statutes.
- HB 73 (Sponsor: Rep. Marc Morris) – Allows state elected officials to engage in the bail bonds industry.
- HB 82 (Sponsor: Rep. Mandi Ballinger) – Allows judges to send individuals to people to veterans’ court without the consent of the prosecutor.
- HB 88 (Sponsor: Rep. Mable Thomas) – “CJ’s law” Creates penalties for hit and run that create serious injuries.
- HB 129 (Sponsor: Rep. Ron Stephens) – Creates an exception to the prohibition on selling or furnishing knuckles to person under 18.
- HB 179 (Sponsor: Rep. Colton Moore) – Changes the criteria for school climate rating to no longer include discipline data on behavior indicators.
- HB 258 (Sponsor: Rep. William Boddie) – Adds offenses of aggravated sexual battery to the list of offenses for which the statute of limitations is tolled is the victim is under 16.
- HB 259 (Sponsor: Rep. Mandi Ballinger) – Requires Georgia Crime Information Center to provide criminal history record information to the Sexual Offender Registration Board upon request.
- HB 260 (Sponsor: Rep. Mandi Ballinger) – Adds a section to home invasion in the first degree to include “intent to commit family violence battery” to the unlawful entering of a dwelling house while it is occupied.
- HB 262 (Sponsor: Rep. Sheila Nelson) – Adds the instance of “death while receiving compensated care” to times when medical examiner is authorized to conduct investigation into suspicious death.
- HB 270 (Sponsor: Rep. Jeff Jones) – Prohibits drivers licenses or photo ID that would otherwise be proper identification for voting if the ID was issued to a non-citizen. Requires participation in the E-Verify program of United States Dept. of Homeland Security.
- HB 280 (Sponsor: Rep. Teri Anulewicz) – Prohibits mechanical restraints, including handcuffs and shackles, on an inmate during labor or during delivery with exceptions.
- HB 331 (Sponsor: Rep. Mandi Ballinger) – Adds dating relationship and persons through whom a past of present pregnancy developed to definition of ‘family violence battery’.
- HB 489 (Sponsor: Rep. Darlene Taylor) – Creates the crime of traveling to meet a minor for indecent purposes.
- HB 605 (Sponsor: Rep. Patty Bentley) – Requires applicants to nursing homes to disclose whether they are listed on the state sexual offender registry.
- HB 636 (Sponsor: Rep. Renitta Shannon) – Requires all law enforcement officers to report in writing every use of force against any person.
- HB 670 (Sponsor: Rep. Bee Nguyen) – Broadens access to driving cards to noncitizens and individuals who lack traditional forms of ID such as birth certificates.
- SB 35 (Sponsor: Sen. Lester Jackson) – Prohibits people required to register on the Sex Offender Registry from living within 2000 feet of the victim or the victim’s immediate family.
- SB 150 (Sponsor: Sen. Jennifer Jordan) – Prohibits persons convicted of misdemeanor crimes of family violence from receiving, possessing, or transporting a firearm and to prohibit persons subject to family violence protective orders from receiving, possessing, or transporting a firearm.
- SB 166 (Sponsor: Sen. Lester Jackson) – “Georgia Enhanced Penalties for Hate Crimes Act” outlines sentencing of defendants who commit certain crimes which target a victim because of the victim’s race, color, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, or ethnicity.
- SB 187 (Sponsor: Sen. Elena Parent) – Provides for a judicial procedure for purging a person’s involuntary hospitalization information.
- SB 222 (Sponsor: Sen. Jesse Stone) – Allows law enforcement agencies to issue citations without having to collect fingerprints and requires the GBI to develop a uniform misdemeanor citation form. The bill was introduced to create governor’s Council on Criminal Justice Reform, but the language was removed by the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee.
- SB 229 (Sponsor: Sen. Randy Robertson) – Creates a ‘parental accountability court’ under the jurisdiction of the Council of Accountability Court Judges of Georgia.
- SB 269 (Sponsor: Sen. Chuck Payne) – Provides a penalty for persons who are classified as ‘sexually dangerous predators’ who fail to report and update registration information.