Georgia Legislature approves law banning cities from cutting police funding

Protesters march past the Atlanta Police Department with heavy police presence as they march to the CNN Center in September.  (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Protesters march past the Atlanta Police Department with heavy police presence as they march to the CNN Center in September. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

In response to two Georgia municipalities considering but deciding against cutting their police budgets last year, the General Assembly on Wednesday approved a bill that would prohibit local governments from substantially decreasing funding for law enforcement.

The measure was filed after national criminal justice advocates called for the reallocation of money spent on police forces to fund services such as mental health treatment or education.

House Bill 286 would bar cities and counties from reducing their law enforcement budgets by more than 5% in one year or cumulatively across five years. The House approved the measure 100-73, and the legislation now heads to Gov. Brian Kemp’s desk for his consideration.

“It’s absolutely critical we get this legislation done and we continue to protect families in this state,” said state Rep. Houston Gaines, an Athens Republican who sponsored the bill.

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Local elected officials in Atlanta and Athens-Clarke County considered drastically cutting their police budgets last year but ultimately did not.

HB 286 includes exemptions for police forces with fewer than 25 officers, for one-time spending on equipment or facility purchases, and if the local government sees a decline in revenue.

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

But Gaines said it is up to the state to step in when local governments could in the future take steps that he said put “lives at risk.” Gaines did not cite any examples of local governments in Georgia putting “lives at risk” by cutting police spending.

Staff writer Mark Niesse contributed to this article.

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