Probation reform bill heads to governor

Georgia’s troubled misdemeanor probation system would be reformed under legislation given final passage Friday by the Georgia Senate.

House Bill 310, which also creates a new state agency to oversee felony probation and parole supervision, now needs only Gov. Nathan Deal's signature to become law.

The system currently is widely used by judges as a high-cost payment program for traffic fines. Most local courts across Georgia also outsource misdemeanor probation supervision to private probation companies. Critics say the profit motives of those companies have turned probation payment plans into predatory loans and led to illegal lock-ups of indigent Georgians who couldn’t afford probation payments.

The bill would impose new transparency requirements on probation companies. It would also limit fees in “pay only” cases and give judges the clear authority to waive fines and fees or order community service hours if the costs are beyond what an offender can afford.

Judges and probation providers also would get something they want: clear authority for judges to put a misdemeanor probation case on hold if someone stops reporting.