State Rep. Micah Gravley, R-Douglasville. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com

The Jolt: A GOP bill to curtail Atlanta’s no-bail policy

The bipartisan alliance that successfully pushed criminal justice reform measures through the Legislature during the Nathan Deal years is about to find out whether it can survive without its gubernatorial sponsor. 

Democrats and civil rights groups are rallying against a measure that could block cities from eliminating a cash bond requirement for some low-level offenders. 

House Bill 340, authored by state Rep. Micah Gravley, R-Douglasville, appears to sharply curtail legislation adopted by the Atlanta City Council last year that abandons a cash bail system for those charged with some traffic offenses and other minor violations.

It was approved unanimously over the objection of the bail bond industry.

We’ve got a call into Gravley, but it appears that his legislation:

-- Would empower judges in any court to include “violations of local ordinances” in written guidelines for bail amounts required for those charged with specific crimes;

-- Would bar anyone charged with a felony from being released on his or her recognizance “for any reason”;

-- And would not allow those charged to be released from jail before appearances before a judge.

The Atlanta ordinance, adopted a year ago, gives the Atlanta Detention Center the authority to release on their own recognizance people with pending non-violent misdemeanor charges or city ordinance violations.

Supporters of the reform argue that scheduling a bail appearance before a judge can be one of the primary reasons that keep an individual behind bars.

In his 2018 campaign, Gov. Brian Kemp emphasized a tougher approach on crime. None of his floor leaders have signed onto the legislation, however, Gravley is vice-chairman of the House Republican caucus, and Majority Leader Jon Burns of Newington is listed as the No. 2 sponsor. So the measure has some clout behind it. 

The Southern Center for Human Rights and the Georgia chapter of the ACLU both vigorously oppose the measure. 

So does Democrat Stacey Abrams. She said the bill is “a step in the wrong direction, a clear indication that our state is moving backward on criminal justice reform,” Abrams tweeted. “It is wrong for people charged with nonviolent offenses to sit in jail simply because they cannot afford bail.” 

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The Republican-backed voting overhaul, HB 316, hits the floor of the Georgia House later today. And we’re expecting Democrats to stick together in a bloc to oppose the changes, which include a move to switch to voting machines that spit out printed ballots rather than devices favored by cybersecurity experts that let voters bubble in their options.

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Meanwhile, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has riled up opponents to the Republican voting machine measure, to be taken up today on the House floor. From an interview with Johnny Kauffman of WABE (90.1FM):

[Raffersperger] said those raising security concerns about the ballot-marking devices “are in the minority” and “out of the mainstream.”

Raffensperger cited a poll conducted by Landmark Communications, a political consulting firm based in metro Atlanta, saying Georgians favor ballot-marking devices like those described in the legislation.

Kauffman correctly notes the unusual wording in the Landmark results:

Of 500 Georgians surveyed in the poll, 79 percent of respondents favored “a touch screen electronic voting machine with a verifiable printed ballot” over “a paper-only ballot marked by pencil.”

As we’ve noted before, it’s that word “pencil” that shapes the result – and presents a choice that many would argue isn’t realistic. An AJC poll in January found that 55 percent of Georgians favor “paper ballots filled in by voters,” while 35 percent favored “paper ballots printed by computer.”

Moreover, Landmark Communications served as a primary consultant in Raffensperger’s successful Republican campaign for secretary of state last year. Landmark vice president Jordan Fuchs is now Raffensperger’s deputy secretary.

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Authorities have sent word that the Johns Creek City Council on Monday night unanimously passed a resolution opposing House Bill 302, which would bar local governments from requiring local homeowners conform to certain aesthetics, such as house color or architectural design.

The Cobb County Commission is set to take up a similar resolution tonight, sponsored by Republicans Bob Ott and Keli Gambrill. From Ott, via the Marietta Daily Journal: “I agree if a local government is dictating paint color and stuff like that, but for a local government to say, ‘We want a mixture of stone, brick, or whatever,’ that’s local control.” 

***

It’ll be a busy day in Washington D.C., too.. We’ve got our eyes on the U.S. House vote to disapprove of President Trump’s national disaster declaration (we’ll have more on that later this morning), David Perdue and Johnny Isakson’s Hurricane Michael bill, as well as a new effort to shore up the Voting Rights Act.

Regarding the latter, U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Atlanta, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and host of other House Democrats will be on hand this afternoon at an event to ceremonially introduce legislation reinstating the 1965 law’s preclearance formula for Georgia and other states with a history of voting discrimination. Democrats hosted a field hearing in Georgia last week that included testimony from former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams and other voting rights activists who are pushing for far-reaching changes to the state’s electoral system. 

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This comes as Gov. Brian Kemp wraps up a swing through D.C. with most of the nation’s governors. The Republican was at the White House yesterday for a series of policy sessions with Trump administration officials. Kemp sat in on meetings about workforce development with Ivanka Trump, who recently visited a UPS facility in Gwinnett with the governor; infrastructure; and investing in low-income communities. 

***

As the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, didn’t have the votes to stop Democrats from advancing a pair of universal background checks bills earlier this month. Now he’s out with his own attempt to stem gun violence -- as Democrats ready their legislation for a House floor vote.

The Mass Violence Prevention Act seeks to enhance the sharing of information among federal, state and local law enforcement in order to more quickly respond to threats. It would also steepen penalties for stealing guns, which Collins said would help stem the flow of firearms entering the black market.

“It’s cruel to advance legislation that ignores the factors contributing to gun violence when tragedies like Columbine, Parkland and Aurora, Illinois have showed us again and again what we need to do to keep communities safe," Collins said. Democrats are unlikely to take up his legislation as they focus on their own gun control proposals. 

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