Georgia Senate backs governor’s bill to change bail system

The Georgia Senate unanimously approved a proposal from Gov. Nathan Deal to loosen requirements for cash bail and give local authorities more leeway to issue citations for low-level crimes.

State Sen. Brian Strickland, R-McDonough, told senators the changes would improve the state's criminal justice system while reducing the number of people who have to sit in jail because of they don't have the money to make bail.

“This provides flexibility for local law enforcement to decide when they want to actually arrest someone and when they want to issue a citation,” he said. “So it avoids the bail system all together.”

The legislation, Senate Bill 407, would let judges consider a defendant's ability to pay in setting bail and give law enforcement officials the ability to issue citations instead of criminal charges.

The state now gives judges little flexibility in setting bail for most defendants. While the law allows judges to forgo bond for some defendants facing felonies, it requires judges to set bail for those facing misdemeanor charges.

Civil rights groups claim jailing poor people because they lack money for bond is unconstitutional, and several lawsuits in Atlanta and elsewhere have challenged the practice.

Supporters of the bill said it was a step away from imprisoning people for minor offenses because they can’t afford to pay a cash bail.

The measure now heads to the House for its consideration.