“We are opposed to any legislation that would enhance penalties, create felonies for people who are involved in protest is directly affected at impeding people’s right to be hear and to express their political views,” Young said.
Harper, the bill’s sponsor, said he does not intend for the legislation to discriminate or deter peaceful protest.
“If you abide by the law, nothing in this bill will affect you,” said Harper, a Republican from Ocilla. “This is not pointed at anybody. It doesn’t stop anybody from exercising their first amendment rights. I believe this is an appropriate part of this legislation.”
Still, committee members voted 6-4 to adopt an amendment proposed by state Rep. Robert Trammell, D-Luthersville, to remove the section in the bill.
"I think in practice it cracks down on civil disobedience," said state Rep. Ed Setzler, R-Acworth. "I dont want to enable civil disobedience or turn a blind eye to it, but I just think there's a lot of first amendment things right on the line that I wrestle with on this that I don't know existing law isn't already handling."
Lawmakers also voted to decrease the fine that violators could be required to pay from $5,000 to $2,000.
"A $5,000 may be more on the unrealistic side. That may even dissaude somebody under terms of probation from ever even attempting to make payments on that because it's more than they could possibly afford," said state Rep. Bert Reeves, chairman of the subcommittee.
With this victory, Aisha Yaqoob, policy director for AAAJ of Atlanta, said she is shifting focus to Senate Bill 1, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Bill Cowsert, which broadly rewrites Georgia's domestic terrorism law to give the state attorney general more power, by overseeing multi-jurisdictional investigations, to prosecute alleged terrorists.
SB 1 will continue to be heard Thursday morning.