Bill to increase penalties for pimps, ‘johns’ clears Georgia Senate

Credit: Natrice Miller /

Credit: Natrice Miller /

A bill that would vastly increase the minimum sentence for those who pay people for sexual acts and those who collect the money cleared the Georgia Senate on Tuesday.

Senate Bill 36, sponsored by Senate Republican Whip Randy Robertson, would bump up the sentence for people convicted of pimping or pandering from days to at least a year in jail. The bill passed 33-16 on a mostly party-line vote, with state Sen. Jason Esteves, an Atlanta Democrat, voting with Republicans.

“This legislation is very clear,” said Robertson, a former sheriff’s deputy. “What it does is it tells the supplier and that person who feeds off of that supply that we’re not going to stand around and allow them to shop and to sell human flesh anymore.”

SB 36 would require people convicted of arranging for someone to perform sex acts for money or something else of value, known as “pimping,” to serve no less than one year and up to 10 years in prison upon their first conviction. Currently, judges can choose to suspend all but three days of a sentence. The proposed legislation would not bar judges from suspending sentences.

Under current law, those convicted of pimping for the first time are charged with a “misdemeanor of high and aggravated nature.” SB 36 would make pimping a felony act.

If SB 36 becomes law, a second pimping conviction would require the pimp to serve no less than one year in prison with no opportunities for a reduced sentence due to good behavior.

People convicted of paying someone in exchange for sex acts, known as “pandering,” also would be guilty of a felony and face one to 10 years in prison under the proposed legislation. The people who commit the act of pandering are often referred to as “johns.” Current law also allows judges to suspend all but three days of the sentence of a person convicted of pandering, which as of now is a misdemeanor offense of a high and aggravated nature.

The legislation is part of a trend set mostly by Republican lawmakers who say they want to write mandatory-minimum sentences into state law to tamp down on crime.

Opponents of the legislation said bills such as SB 36 are a departure from the overhaul of Georgia’s criminal justice system under then-Gov. Nathan Deal, which included taking a step back from state laws dictating sentencing.

Senate Democratic Whip Harold Jones of Augusta said studies show that mandatory-minimum sentences don’t curb crime.

“Mandatory minimums do not work. There is no evidence to show that it actually does,” said Jones, an attorney who previously served as a solicitor general in Richmond County. “It’s just anecdotal, ‘Well, my gut tells me if you make it mandatory, the person won’t do it.’ Any time a person commits an offense, their main concern is getting caught. They truly believe once they get caught, no matter what the offense is, they’re probably going to jail.”

The measure now heads to the House for its consideration.