The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Georgia threatened to sue the state over a bill expanding the number of crimes requiring cash bail.
In a press release issued on Thursday, several days after the Georgia General Assembly passed the bill, the ACLU affiliate said it would sue if Governor Brian Kemp (R-GA) didn’t veto the bill. The organization claimed that requiring those accused of a crime to remain in jail would endanger the community, and that black individuals would be more likely to be affected by the legislation.
“[This bill] will dramatically increase the number of Georgians languishing in our jails and make our communities less safe,” stated the organization. “Already, 51% of the people in Georgia’s jails are black, while just 30% of the state’s overall population is black.”
The contested legislation, Senate Bill 63, expanded the definition of bail-restricted offenses to 30 new offenses, including fleeing or attempting to elude police, identity fraud, domestic terrorism, and rioting.
ACLU of Georgia’s legal director, Cory Isaacson, said that the bill was an unconstitutional criminalization of poverty and restriction of the First Amendment.
???? Georgia Senate Bill 63, which forces people who can’t afford to pay bail to languish in jail, is unlawful and the ACLU of Georgia will sue if the governor signs it into law. https://t.co/gKXWUoWHUf pic.twitter.com/KlTcmQ8PPB
— ACLU of Georgia (@ACLUofGA) February 8, 2024
Georgia Lt. Governor Burt Jones praised the bill’s passage. Jones predicted it would remove violent, repeat criminals from the public.
“Senate Bill 63 protects Georgia families by keeping violent and repeat offenders off our streets,” said Jones.
Senate Bill 63 protects Georgia families by keeping violent and repeat offenders off our streets. I appreciate the House adopting the conference committee report on this legislation. #gapol https://t.co/7FqZzvgZF2
— Lt. Governor Burt Jones (@LtGovJonesGA) February 7, 2024
Kemp hasn’t issued a comment on the bill’s passage.
State Sen. Randy Robertson, the bill sponsor, explained in the Senate Public Safety Committee hearing on the bill early last year that there was a need to expand cash bail due to a continued rise in crime.
“[We’re] continuing to put these guardrails up to ensure that we take the revolving doors off the jails and the 159 counties throughout Georgia,” said Robertson. “Being indigent and having no money does not excuse anyone from committing a crime.”
Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum testified to the committee that his officers dealt with almost 900 repeat offenders with nearly 29,000 prior arrests between them in 2022.
A little over 6,000 of those prior arrests were felonies; 33% of those felons were carrying firearms when arrested again, even though state law prohibits convicted felons from owning firearms, and 57% of those repeat offenders were on probation or parole. Well over 200 were gang members.
In response to criticisms that some of the bail-restricted offenses in the bill included “minor” crimes such as criminal trespass, reckless driving, and obstruction of justice, Robertson noted during the committee hearing that those offenses were usually tied to other, more serious offenses, such as domestic terrorism and rioting. Robertson further added that judges had the discretion to set bonds as low as they desired based on the facts of the case.
“What we found in many of the domestic terrorism cases that we looked at, and many of the cases of the 2020 riots and destruction, not only here in our capital city but around the country, all had those charges associated with them,” said Robertson.
Additionally, the bill restricted unlimited bail posting to bail bond companies. All others — including Charitable bail funds, nonprofit organizations, and individuals — would be limited to posting bail to three or fewer individuals annually.
The bill also prohibited the release without bond of any individual charged with a bail-restricted offense, as well as individuals with prior felony arrests within the preceding seven years.
The annual fee for continuing education programs for bail recovery agents was also doubled.