The Jolt: As protests continue, legislators float new measures to address racial disparities

News and analysis from the AJC politics team

The push for a hate-crimes law might be soaking up all the attention at the Capitol, but it's far from the only criminal justice measure that advocates are pressing now during the rebooted legislative session.

The protests demanding racial justice call for more sweeping change, and we have two new initiatives in Georgia that could address some of the concerns.

The first is a measure by state Rep. Jeff Jones, R-Brunswick, that would scale back Georgia's citizens arrest law. It would reduce arrest powers for citizens and severely limit the use of deadly force during a lawful citizen's detainment.

Georgia has allowed residents to arrest one another since the 1860s, but critics have intensified their calls for its repeal since a prosecutor invoked the law to justify the killing of Ahmaud Arbery near Brunswick.

Jones’ measure has a significant opponent. The Georgia NAACP, which organized Monday’s rally at the Capitol, whose president James Woodall called it “harmful legislation under the disguise of helping black Georgians.”

Woodall said Jones’ measure doesn’t go far enough because it doesn’t repeal the current civil arrest statute, and among other issues, fears that it could create a “lawful fight to the death” by allowing someone who believes they were improperly detained to resist.

“The people of Georgia deserve better and we are looking forward to working with those -- on either side of the aisle -- who are willing to help save the lives of our people,” said Woodall.

The second is a still-fuzzy proposal that Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan brought up in a Fox News appearance about the shooting death of Rayshard Brooks by an Atlanta police officer outside of a Wendy's on Friday.

The Republican said Georgia must “look for a way to create a more uniform definition of the use of deadly force and create more and more clarity.”

Duncan also told CNN this morning that he would release a "strong" draft of a new hate-crimes bill later Tuesday that includes a stand-alone charge for a hate crime.

And House Rules Committee Chairman Richard Smith said this morning that lawmakers are “morally required to pass” the hate crimes bill.

Stay tuned.

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U.S. Sen. David Perdue's campaign seized on a remark by Democratic nominee Jon Ossoff about federal law enforcement policy to make the case he wants to "defund the police."

Ossoff told the Rashad Richey Show that there needs to be "national standards for the use of force."

He continued:

“You’ve got to be able to hold individual officers and entire departments accountable and there also has to be funding for those departments on the line.” 

That brought a response from Perdue, a Republican who has tried to tie Ossoff to the “defund” movement to scale back law enforcement that’s gained traction in some communities amid the spate of protests against police brutality.

“Defunding the police is an outrageous idea, yet my opponent still refuses to say if he supports this radical movement,” Perdue said. “I have called for police reform to ensure our laws are enforced fairly for all members of our community.”

Ossoff told us last week that he backs "reforming and demilitarizing policing in America." He struck a similar tone in an interview with WSB radio two days after the election. Said Ossoff:

“No, the answer is not to defund police. The answer is to reform police. And the answer is to demilitarize police. Far too many local police departments are heavily equipped with armored vehicles and military equipment, and when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” 

His campaign said his approach mirrors presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s stance.

"No, I don't support defunding the police," the former vice president said in a recent interview.

“I support conditioning federal aid to police based on whether or not they meet certain basic standards of decency and honorableness -- and in fact are able to demonstrate they can protect the community.”

US Senate candidate Jon Ossoff speaks as protesters gather at the Georgia State Capitol Building in downtown Atlanta for March on Georgia, a protest hosted by the Georgia chapter for the NAACP, on Monday, June 15, 2020. (REBECCA WRIGHT FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)
US Senate candidate Jon Ossoff speaks as protesters gather at the Georgia State Capitol Building in downtown Atlanta for March on Georgia, a protest hosted by the Georgia chapter for the NAACP, on Monday, June 15, 2020. (REBECCA WRIGHT FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)

Credit: Rebecca Wright

Credit: Rebecca Wright

***

Comedian Jon Stewart said his new movie, "Irresistible," was inspired in part by the record-breaking special election in 2017 when Karen Handel defeated Jon Ossoff. He raised more than $30 million in that unsuccessful bid for the congressional seat.

Stewart’s movie is a political satire about Republican and Democratic operatives who descend on a small-town mayoral race in Wisconsin they deemed a national bellwether. Sound familiar?

Stewart told the New York Times Magazine more about the Handel-Ossoff race contributed to the movie:

“It arose from a couple things. One was the Jon Ossoff campaign in Georgia; the incredibly outsize importance placed on this one little race that became emblematic of the future for red and blue. The national parties spent $50 million dollars in one district in Georgia on this weird off-year congressional race.”

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A poll commissioned by the left-leaning  End Citizens United/Let America Vote found U.S. Sen. David Perdue locked in a tight race with Democrat Jon Ossoff.

The survey by Public Policy Polling pegged Ossoff with 45% of the vote and Perdue at 44%, within the margin of error.

The race for president was deadlocked, too, with Joe Biden at 48% and President Donald Trump at 46%.

It also showed that 57% of voters support expanding vote by mail, and a slim majority back a ban on senators owning individual stocks.

ExploreSee the poll here.

***

With the primary in the rear-view mirror, Democrats are clear to more aggressively attack their Republican opponents. And a prime example is the swipe leveled at Rich McCormick, the GOP nominee for the 7th Congressional District.

After the FDA withdrew certain authorizations for hydroxychloroquine, the Democratic Campaign Congressional Committee said McCormick, an emergency room physician, owed an apology for endorsing its use for coronavirus patients.

“McCormick is a quack and he should beg Georgia seniors and families to forgive him after downplaying the coronavirus threat, peddling a dangerous drug and pledging to strip away pre-existing condition protections,” said DCCC spokesman Avery Jaffe.

McCormick’s campaign spokesman John Simpson shot back:

"I can’t think of a better metaphor for the takeover of healthcare and socialized medicine that Democrats want to force on Seventh District families than a Washington DC political operative telling a Georgia licensed physician how to practice medicine."

***

U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler looks at her phone before the beginning of the roundtable discussion at the Waffle House corporate offices in Norcross on Friday, May 22, 2020. The event was held as part of VIce President Mike Pence's trip to metro Atlanta. (Photo: JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM)
U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler looks at her phone before the beginning of the roundtable discussion at the Waffle House corporate offices in Norcross on Friday, May 22, 2020. The event was held as part of VIce President Mike Pence's trip to metro Atlanta. (Photo: JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler's campaign launched a "What Kind of Conservative?" digital ad series this week targeting her top Republican rival, U.S. Rep. Doug Collins.

"What kind of conservative would oppose term limits? Supported Barack Obama's big spending budgets? And the largest tax increase in Georgia history? This kind: career politician Doug Collins,” a narrator says. “He only plays a conservative on TV."

The campaign cites Collins’ votes in 2014 and 2015 for federal spending plans, as well as his support in 2009 when he was a state legislator for a tax overhaul. While he's said previously he isn’t in favor of term limits, he last week signed a two-term pledge.

ExploreWatch the ad here.

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A big name has joined the open letter from a bipartisan group of state politicians arguing for a hate-crimes measure: Former President Jimmy Carter.

Ex-Gov. Roy Barnes sent word that the Georgia native has signed the letter, which was also endorsed by a group of former Republican officials that includes Nathan Deal, Johnny Isakson, Casey Cagle and Sam Olens.

ExploreCatch up here. 

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The Fair Fight Action group founded by Stacey Abrams is taking over Selena Gomez's Instagram account (she has roughly 180 million followers) on Tuesday, a week after using Lady Gaga's account to get its message out.

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Another voting rights group is poised to make a splash in Georgia.

The Southern Poverty Law Center said today it would invest up to $30 million from its endowment in voter outreach organizations in several Southern states to increase voter registration and participation among people of color who often skip elections.

The “Vote Your Voice” initiative is focused on increasing turnout in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi starting this election cycle.

“Voting won’t solve this problem come November 4, but to begin to dismantle white supremacy, we need to ensure that every voter of color is able to cast their ballot without interference or hardship,” said Margaret Huang, the center’s executive director.

***

Kim Jackson is expected to become the first openly gay member of Georgia's State Senate after drawing a majority of votes in her Democratic primary.

As counties have updated vote totals to reflect absentee ballots, it appears that Jackson won’t require a runoff against one of three other candidates in Senate District 41.

The seat, formerly held by retiring Senate Democratic Leader Steve Henson, includes parts of DeKalb and Gwinnett counties.

An Episcopal priest, Jackson will be the favorite to win the general election in a district where voters overwhelmingly support Democrats.

The LGBTQ Victory Fund says statewide there are currently 19 elected officials who are openly LGBTQ.

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