State Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta. 

Abrams’ non-vote on human trafficking crackdown under scrutiny 

‘I do not understand why she walked.’ 

The Republican sponsor of a crackdown on sex trafficking said Democrat Stacey Abrams “deliberately avoided taking a public position” on the debate, highlighting her decision twice not to vote on the measure even though she was at the Capitol. 

Abrams, who faces Republican Brian Kemp in November’s race for governor, responded through a spokeswoman that she was concerned the legislation limited the discretion of judges. 

State Rep. Bert Reeves, who backs Kemp, wrote about his attempts to earn Abrams’ support for the legislation in an op-ed published Sunday in the Marietta Daily Journal, and he said that he listened to her guidance and “accommodated her requests” to try to ensure bipartisan approval.

He got that for his proposal, which allowed prosecutors to charge people soliciting a victim of sex trafficking with human trafficking violations. House Bill 341 initially passed the House by a 168-1 margin and the vote on the final version was unanimous. 

Poll conducted by the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs, for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

But he noted one of the few lawmakers who skipped both the votes was Abrams, who was then the top Democrat in the chamber. When he presented the legislation in February 2017, he wrote, Abrams left her seat to begin “hovering near the side door” before returning to the front-and-center spot later. 

From Reeves’ piece: 

Missing a vote is not completely uncommon. On busy days, legislators are often off the floor, sometimes in the Senate, sometimes meeting with persons and constituents outside the House floor. It happens. But the House rules are clear: if you are on the floor, you are required to vote. From what I saw with my own eyes, Abrams simply got up and walked away from her desk to avoid casting a vote on this bill. The official House record indicates Abrams was not excused.

HB341 passed 168-1. It was a bill free of partisan disagreements. I do not understand why she “walked.” It didn’t make sense. I specifically sought her input, received it, altered my bill, but in the end she refused to take a position on the important, bipartisan issue of trying to end sex slavery. Later in the legislative session, the House voted on HB341 yet again (passing 169-0), and although I did not watch her, the voting record indicates that once again, she chose not to vote on this issue. Again she was not excused.

Abrams zeroed in on the part of the legislation that outlines sentencing ranges of 10 to 20 years for those convicted on human trafficking charges. The legislation requires that the sentence for the offenses to be at least 10 years, though it gives judges an option to require probation for that term. 

Said spokeswoman Abigail Collazo:

“Abrams opposed HB 341 because it would have tied the hands of judges; judges, not politicians, should be the ones making sentencing decisions. Abrams was proud to work with Governor Deal to reform our criminal justice system – important reforms that Brian Kemp would oppose.”

Kemp has said he backs the governor’s criminal justice overhaul but would focus the next phase on expanding law enforcement resources to target gang crime. Abrams calls for the end of cash bail and would seek to loosen mandatory minimum sentences and reduce penalties for some nonviolent offenses.

The campaign also spotlighted a quote from Stephanie Davis, the former head of the Georgia Women for a Change organization, who called Reeves’ op-ed “despicable.”

“I worked closely with Stacey Abrams for over a decade to combat sex trafficking. She was always the single best advocate we had,” said Davis. “She consistently worked to hold perpetrators accountable and make sure survivors received the services they deserved.”

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.