Domestic terrorism bill passes Senate, heads to govenor’s desk

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Domestic terrorism bill passes Senate, heads to govenor’s desk

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Mar. 30, 2017 - Atlanta - Senator Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, heads to a conference committee meeting. The 40th and final legislative day of the 2017 General Assembly. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

The Georgia Senate agreed with a House amendment Thursday that would give judicial discretion in domestic terrorism cases.

House Bill 452, which requires the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to publicly post information about unauthorized immigrants who commit certain crimes, was a compromise between leadership in both chambers for increase public safety legislation — a top Senate GOP priority.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Cowsert used the bill’s hearing in his chamber as an opportunity to insert language from Senate Bill 1, which expanded the definitions of domestic terrorism and created a separate agency for a state Department of Homeland Security, after portions were removed in a House committee.

House members voted against Cowsert’s effort not once but twice Tuesday, rejecting the mandatory minimum sentencing required for individuals who violated the law.

House Majority Whip Christian Coomer, in an effort to revive the bill, presented an amendment Thursday that would allow courts to use discretion and “suspend, stay, probate, defer, or withhold” part of a sentence when the prosecuting attorney and defendant agree.

“I refer to that as the safety valve to the mandatory minimum requirements,” said Coomer, a Republican from Cartersville.

Civil rights groups viewed language in Senate Bill 1 as a threat to personal security and a target toward groups based on ethnicity and national origin. House members viewed the bill as a broad overreach and unneccesary growth of government. The measure would separate the agency that’s currently housed in the Georgia Emergency Management Agency and create new agency positions.

“This is a watered-down, much more responsible version of what came across as Senate Bill 1,” Coomer told House members in urging for their favorable vote. “This is not the same bill that we voted on twice two days ago.”

Democratic legislators were unmoved by the changes.

“Twice chewed tobacco never tastes good, this amendment doesn’t taste any better,” said State Rep. Robert Trammell.

While the language that would have created a separate agency was stripped, Cowsert still supported the bill.

“I think it gives flexibility to ensure that the law is fairly enforced,” he said.

The bill, which passed 35-16, now goes to the governor.

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