Kemp, Jones eye new crime crackdowns in 2023

221208-Atlanta-Lt. Gov. elect Burt Jones (R-Jackson), left, and House Speaker Jan Jones (R-Milton) flank Gov. Brian Kemp as he announces some of his Legislative agenda during a press conference Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022 at the State Capitol. (Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray for the AJC

Credit: Ben Gray for the AJC

221208-Atlanta-Lt. Gov. elect Burt Jones (R-Jackson), left, and House Speaker Jan Jones (R-Milton) flank Gov. Brian Kemp as he announces some of his Legislative agenda during a press conference Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022 at the State Capitol. (Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Gov. Brian Kemp hasn’t said much about his top legislative priorities for his second term. And incoming Lt. Gov. Burt Jones hasn’t yet outlined his first steps when he is sworn in next week as one of the state’s most powerful politicians.

But in separate tweets over the holiday break, both underlined their plans to target violent crime when the legislative session starts next week.

Kemp highlighted an Athens Banner Herald story documenting how a county judge recently dismissed a sexual assault indictment after local prosecutors failed to meet his speedy trial demand. The prosecutor’s office said a “time mistake” was partly to blame for the delays.

“Far-left local prosecutors are failing their constituents and making our communities less safe,” Kemp tweeted, adding that he plans to “address it this session” with the help of state legislators and Attorney General Chris Carr.

And Jones mourned the shooting death of an off-duty Fulton County sheriff’s deputy with a social media post also promising swift action during the 40-day legislative session.

“Enough is enough,” he said in the tweet. “As Lieutenant Governor, we’re going to tackle this issue head on and work to restore law and order to our streets starting very soon.”

Democrats have called for immediate changes of their own, namely a reversal of permissive gun laws they say have contributed to violent crime. That prospect seems a non-starter after Kemp’s sweeping victory over Stacey Abrams, who advocated for new firearms limits.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, a Democrat, is pushing a different strategy.

She told The New York Times that lawmakers should consider empowering prosecutors to bring charges in cases such as the one involving Rico Marley, who was arrested at a Publix in Midtown in March 2021 while wearing body armor and carrying six loaded weapons.

Willis told the newspaper her office investigated the case but had not found “provable felonies under Georgia law” against Marley, whose attorney has noted he hadn’t made any threats, fired any shots or obtained the weapons illegally.

“Georgia’s General Assembly must examine our statutes governing this type of behavior,” Willis said. “Respecting the right to bear arms should not require that we tolerate people entering public places with assault rifles and body armor.”

It’s not clear what additional steps Kemp will take, but during the campaign he endorsed new crackdowns on human trafficking and gang violence, along with proposals to limit no-cash bail and boost the ranks of law enforcement officers and medical examiners.

It’s part of a public safety platform that has shifted from his GOP predecessor, Nathan Deal, who embarked on an eight-year overhaul that focused primarily on steering more nonviolent offenders from prison cells to treatment centers.

While Deal pursued his criminal justice shakeup at a time when many Republicans were embracing a reform movement, Kemp’s agenda reflects a national GOP strategy that highlights the party’s return to tough-on-crime measures.

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