Stacey Abrams, the Democratic candidate in Georgia’s race for governor, faced criticism for not voting on a bill targeting sex trafficking during her time as state House minority leader. Abrams’ camp said the candidate didn’t like the bill’s sentencing limits, but a Republican lawmaker said she “lacked the guts to vote no” on the 2017 legislation. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
Photo: Alyssa Pointer
Photo: Alyssa Pointer

Georgia GOP assails Abrams for not voting on sex trafficking crackdown

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, said through a spokeswoman that she opposed the legislation because it limited the discretion of judges.

The new round of scrutiny was triggered by state Rep. Bert Reeves, a Kemp backer who said he listened to Abrams’ guidance and “accommodated her requests” to try to ensure bipartisan support when he was drafting the legislation in 2017.

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 168-1, and the vote on the final version was unanimous.

But one of the few lawmakers who skipped both the votes was Abrams, who was then the top Democrat in the chamber. Reeves wrote in an op-ed in The Marietta Daily Journal that he saw her leave her seat to begin “hovering near the side door” once the voting started.

“She lacked the guts to vote no,” he said at a press conference Monday at Kemp’s campaign headquarters. “And her judgment on this issue should give all of us concern.”

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

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.

“Abrams opposed HB 341 because it would have tied the hands of judges; judges, not politicians, should be the ones making sentencing decisions,” spokeswoman Abigail Collazo said.

Collazo added that “Abrams was proud to work with Governor (Nathan) 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 has called for ending cash bail, limiting mandatory minimum sentences and reducing penalties for some nonviolent offenses.

Republicans quickly signaled that they’ll continue to hammer Abrams on the issue through the November vote. Carmen Foskey Bergman, the Georgia GOP’s executive director, called Abrams’ stance on the measure “shameful and disqualifying.”

“When bad and dangerous people are buying and selling our children, there is no excuse that can explain why a person running for governor of Georgia would walk away,” Bergman said.

The Abrams campaign, meanwhile, pointed to support from Stephanie Davis, the former head of the organization Georgia Women for a Change, who called Reeves’ critique of Abrams “despicable.”

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

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