ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia senators want to require cash bail for many more crimes than under current law, a move that the bill's sponsor says will keep people from committing additional crimes.
“These are not mistakes. These are not unintentional acts. These are people choosing to violate the law," Sen. Randy Robertson, a Cataula Republican said of people he is targeting with Senate Bill 63, which passed on a 31-21 vote Thursday mostly along party lines. It will now advance to the House for more debate.
Currently, someone accused of a crime in Georgia is required to post cash or property to get out of jail for only seven severe crimes, such as murder or rape. The measure adds 53 additional crimes to the list, including passing a worthless check, or misdemeanors such as reckless driving or fighting in a public place. It undoes parts of a 2018 law championed by former Gov. Nathan Deal that sought to eliminate cash bail for most misdemeanor crimes.
Opponents say the reversal means more poor people will sit in jail and risk losing their jobs and housing, including when accused of crimes for which they're unlikely to ever go to prison.
“The problem is cash bail uses the most blunt weapon that we have to try to attack crime. And that’s jail. Just jail,” said Sen. Josh McLaurin, a Sandy Springs Democrat.
The bill is part of a broad national move by Republicans to push back against changes over the last two decades that let more people get out of jail without posting bail.
“It mystifies me that so many folks are concerned about prisoners and criminals and not citizens and victims," Sen. John Albers, a Roswell Republican, said Thursday.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has said he wants more restrictive bail conditions. That's in line with how he and other Republicans bashed their Democratic opponents last year as soft on crime. Kemp is also backing other anti-crime proposals being put forward in Georgia this year, including longer sentences for some criminals.
“We have seen that being tough on crime helps," said Robertson, one of the leading proponents of cracking down on crime. "It’s working. Don’t be confused by those championing just for the criminals.”
The Georgia bail measure states no one who has been convicted of three prior felonies, or has been convicted of any felony within the preceding seven years, can be let out of jail without posting cash or property bail.
Robertson said that without such provisions, judges and prosecutors would “make exceptions” for people who don't deserve them
“They’re recidivists," Robertson said. "These are individuals who the system has been kind to.”
The bill also further restricts a city or county's ability to release someone from jail without bail, saying that no one could be automatically allowed to leave jail without being required to post bail unless they have appeared before a judge.
Judges are only supposed to grant bail to people who aren't considered a threat to society and a threat to flee before trial. The bill wouldn't override Georgia law that says judges must consider a person's ability to pay in setting bail. But opponents said they believe Republicans are trying to pressure elected judges into setting higher bails even when people can't pay.
“This bill is essentially going to force more judges to choose jail more often because of the pressures they face," McLaurin said.
Another part of the bill classifies domestic terrorism as a serious violent felony. That means anyone convicted of the crime must serve the entire sentence ordered by a judge, can't be sentenced to probation as a first offender and can't be paroled unless an offender has served at least 30 years in prison.
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