Georgia House backs bill to block cities from cutting deeply into police funding

The Georgia House approved a bill Wednesday that would bar cities and counties from reducing their law enforcement budgets by more than 5% in one year or cumulatively across 10 years.
The Georgia House approved a bill Wednesday that would bar cities and counties from reducing their law enforcement budgets by more than 5% in one year or cumulatively across 10 years.

Credit: File Photo

Credit: File Photo

As national criminal justice advocates have called for the reallocation of money spent on police forces, the Georgia House of Representatives approved a bill that would block local governments from substantially decreasing funding for law enforcement.

House Bill 286 would bar cities and counties from reducing their law enforcement budgets by more than 5% in one year or cumulatively across 10 years. The House approved the measure, mostly on a party-line vote, 101-69. Three Democrats, state Reps. Patty Bentley of Butler, Mike Glanton of Jonesboro and Mesha Mainor of Atlanta, voted in favor of the legislation. No Republicans voted against the measure.

The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Houston Gaines, an Athens Republican, called “keeping our community safe” the most important role of law enforcement. He pointed to discussions in Athens and Atlanta to decrease spending on their police forces. The departments weren’t actually cut.

“We have heard in our state and in parts of our nation calls to defund the police (or) slash police budgets,” Gaines said. “This is a dangerous idea that will harm those who most need protections and put victims at risk.”

But state Rep. Bee Nguyen, an Atlanta Democrat, said the law is not enforced in all communities the same way.

“I think every member in this body would agree that all Georgians want to live in safe communities, but we also recognize the presence of law enforcement does not make all communities safer,” she said. “If you are Black or brown, whether armed or unarmed, you are more likely to be killed by law enforcement than our (white counterparts).”

A Yale University study released in October found that people of color were killed by police at “significantly higher rates” than white people, whether or not the person was armed. For example, of people who were armed, Black people were killed at 2.6 times the rate of white people.

After a summer of protests over racial injustice and police brutality, activists in Georgia and across the country have backed efforts to “defund the police” by diverting money from law enforcement budgets to programs that would address other issues, such as mental health, addiction and homelessness.

“What do we do when the police that we call don’t come in asking us how to help, but sometimes they come in with their guns drawn?” House Democratic Leader James Beverly of Macon said. “That’s a problem. So (Black and brown communities) struggle with that question and what’s the most appropriate way to do it.”

HB 286 includes exemptions for police forces of fewer than 10 officers, for one-time spending on equipment purchases and if the local government sees a decline in revenue.

Democrats said the legislation goes against an often-stated Republican principle of allowing local governments control of local issues.

Gaines pushed back.

“When we have local governments who are out of control and putting lives at risk we have to step in,” Gaines said. “Lives are at risk in communities that are making those kind of proposals.”

Gaines did not cite any examples of local governments in Georgia “putting lives at risk” by cutting police spending.

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