That message was strongly backed by Senate leaders including Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who said they had made a deliberate choice to back measures designed to show full support for law enforcement officers and their families.
Several Democrats questioned whether the bill, which they called well-intentioned, went too far, given the nationwide trend toward allowing judges more discretion in sentencing. Georgia, too, has turned away from mandatory minimum sentencing as a way to save money.
"In my experience, judges take very seriously their job in protecting the law enforcement community," said Senate Minority Leader Steve Henson, D-Tucker, who argued the bill took that discretion away.
Others, including state Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, questioned whether the bill curbed the rights of protesters to peacefully assemble.
Harper responded that it did nothing to harm protesters and “only deals with individuals who do not go through proper channels to hold a protest” such as giving notice and applying for a permit. “We do respect your right to protest, we do respect your right to rally,” Harper said, “but we ask that you do so through the proper channels.
SB 160 passed along party lines on a 40-12 vote. Similarly, the chamber also backed Senate Bill 154, which among other things would impose a new $5,000 fine of people convicted of aggravated assault or aggravated battery against officers.
Less controversial were other measures that would create a statewide commission to study local police pay (Senate Bill 155) and create a new "Back the Badge" specialty state license plate (Senate Bill 169).
All the measures now head to the state House for consideration.