PG A.M.: Legal threat looms over Georgia cash bail legislation

Your daily jolt of news and analysis from the AJC politics team
The ACLU of Georgia is preparing to challenge a controversial cash bail overhaul in court if Gov. Brian Kemp signs it into law. (Natrice Miller/ natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

The ACLU of Georgia is preparing to challenge a controversial cash bail overhaul in court if Gov. Brian Kemp signs it into law. (Natrice Miller/ natrice.miller@ajc.com)

The ACLU of Georgia is preparing to challenge a controversial cash bail overhaul in court if Gov. Brian Kemp signs it into law.

The civil rights group’s officials issued the legal threat a day after the House voted along party lines to give final approval to Senate Bill 63, which would require bail for dozens of additional crimes.

“Not only is SB 63 bad policy, it is illegal,” ACLU of Georgia legal director Cory Isaacson told the AJC’s Maya T. Prabhu.

“It unconstitutionally criminalizes poverty and restricts conduct protected by the First Amendment, and the ACLU of Georgia will sue if the governor signs this bill into law.”

State Sen. Randy Robertson, R-Catalula, sponsor of Senate Bill 63, gives a thumbs up following a vote at the Capitol in Atlanta on Feb. 1, 2024. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

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Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Randy Robertson, R-Cataula, would add low-level crimes such as trespassing and failure to appear for a traffic citation on the second offense to the list of violations that require bail.

It also restricts charitable funds or individuals from bailing anyone out anywhere in the state more than three times. That provision was inspired by frustration with bail funds that helped spring Atlanta Public Safety Training Center protesters from jail.

The measure’s GOP supporters say it will help stop violent criminals from being released on signature bonds only to be arrested soon after on another charge. The ACLU says the law would dramatically increase the number of Georgians “languishing in our jails.”

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State Rep. Sam Park, one of the Georgia House’s top Democrats, has introduced a measure to eliminate some political fundraising vehicles (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

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Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

CAMPAIGN FUNDS. State Democrats are taking aim at leadership committees that let the governor and a limited number of other leaders in both parties create funds that can raise unlimited contributions and coordinate directly with campaigns.

State Rep. Sam Park, one of the Georgia House’s top Democrats, introduced a measure Thursday to eliminate the fundraising vehicles. The Lawrenceville lawmaker called it a “stand against the corrosive influence of unlimited money in Georgia politics.”

The new fundraising vehicles have quickly reshaped Georgia campaigns since Kemp signed it into law in 2021, prompted by worries that Democrat Stacey Abrams fundraising machine would put GOP leaders at a disadvantage. Leadership committees allow elected officials to raise and spend unlimited contributions from donors.

Kemp’s leadership committee has quickly morphed into a parallel fundraising and voter turnout structure that has filled a void left by the Georgia GOP.

Park’s bill won’t gain traction in the Republican-dominated Legislature but signals that Democrats will make eliminating the committees a staple of their 2024 agenda.

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The Georgia State Capitol. (Casey Sykes for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Casey Sykes

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Credit: Casey Sykes

UNDER THE GOLD DOME, Legislative Day 17:

  • 7 a.m.: Committee meetings begin.
  • 10 a.m.: The House convenes.
  • 10 a.m.: The Senate gavels in.

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Rep. Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta, sponsored a bill to make opioid-reversal drugs like Narcan available through vending machines around the state. (Natrice Miller/ Natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

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Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

OUT OF THE HOPPER: The House and Senate are having a busy week. On Wednesday:

  • The full House approved the 2024 midyear budget by a vote of 161-2. The measure will add $5 billion in new spending, including money for a new medical school at the University of Georgia, roads, rural airports, local water and sewer projects, and rural economic development programs.
  • House and Senate leaders announced Wednesday that a special committee to review Georgia’s many lucrative tax breaks for various industries is wrapping up its work. Likely to take a cut are data center companies, which House Speaker Jon Burns, R-Newington, noted use a disproportionate share of energy supplies, and the film industry, which has exploded in the state, thanks in part to the tax breaks the state gives. The AJC’s James Salzer has the numerous numerical details.
  • The state House passed HB 1035, which would make opioid-reversal drugs like Narcan available through vending machines around the state. The measure is from state Rep. Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta, who said the bill isn’t encouraging drug use, it’s saving lives.

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Rep. Dale Washburn, R-Macon, is reportedly abandoning an effort to keep Georgia on standard time all year round. (Natrice Miller / Natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

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Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

TIME OUT. Bad news if you hate changing your clocks twice a year. State Rep. Dale Washburn tells WABE’s Rahul Bali he’s abandoning this year’s effort to pass a bill to keep Georgia on standard time all year round. The Macon Republican’s bill, HB 870, would have required several states, including Florida, to join in, which was looking unlikely.

As a reminder, your clocks will spring forward on Sunday, March 10 and on the second Sunday of March for the foreseeable future. Thank a Floridian.

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Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael P. Boggs delivers the annual state of the judiciary address to Georgia legislators on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

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Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

STATE OF THE JUDICIARY. Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael P. Boggs had a stark warning for lawmakers Wednesday during his annual State of the Judiciary address to the General Assembly: namely, that the judiciary is under increased, often physical threat.

Boggs listed some of the most brazen threats against jurists and said lawmakers need to act to help protect judges’ personal information, including home addresses, phone numbers and their families’ personal information.

“We know that y’all are dealing with similar challenges which have become all too real for too many of you in recent weeks,” Boggs told legislators. “We all hope that you will find these recommendations reasonable and responsive to a growing threat.”

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Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justices, including Andrew Pinson (center), walk into House chambers for the annual state of the judiciary address on Feb. 7, 2024. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

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Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

CLEAR THE BENCH. Apparently, it’s the season for push opinion polls.

A day after someone distributed a survey chock-full of questions critical of Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, we caught wind of another one apparently gauging whether Georgia Supreme Court Justice Andrew Pinson is vulnerable.

Pinson was Gov. Brian Kemp’s surprise pick for a vacancy on Georgia’s top court in 2022. He’s up for a full term in November.

Notably, the poll highlighted Pinson’s stint as a clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, a Georgia native whose financial ties to wealthy conservatives have come under intense scrutiny.

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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., discusses next steps for the foreign aid package for Ukraine and Israel at the Capitol in Washington on Feb. 7, 2024. (J. Scott Applewhite / AP)

Credit: J. Scott Applewhite/AP

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Credit: J. Scott Applewhite/AP

BORDER SECURITY DIES. U.S. Senate Republicans, plus a handful of Democrats, voted against moving forward on legislation to provide emergency funding to Israel and Ukraine while also overhauling border policies in hopes of stemming the influx of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Although Senate Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., took steps that would allow him to bring the measure up for reconsideration, there really is no path forward on the bill with House Republicans saying it would be “dead on arrival” in that chamber.

Meanwhile, the Senate also took another vote Wednesday that was essentially a trial run for Plan B — funding for Ukraine and Israel with most of the border security language removed. That bill did not get enough support to meet the 60-vote threshold to guarantee it could move forward.

Schumer adjourned the Senate on Wednesday to give Republicans time to discuss among themselves if or how they would be willing to compromise with Democrats on foreign aid and border security reforms.

Senators are scheduled to begin a two-week recess on Friday.

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DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond is a guest on the "Politically Georgia" show this week. (Steve Schaefer / steve.schaefer@ajc.com)

Credit: Steve Schaefer/AJC

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Credit: Steve Schaefer/AJC

LISTEN UP. DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond and Georgia State University professor Anthony Michael Kreis joined the “Politically Georgia” radio show Wednesday to discuss the failed House impeachment vote against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

They also previewed the many court proceedings involving former President Donald Trump, including today’s U.S. Supreme Court hearings about whether Trump can be tossed from the ballot in Colorado under the Constitution’s insurrection clause.

Joining the show today are state Rep. Derrick Jackson, D-Tyrone, who has introduced the Oath Act, a measure to keep Trump off the Georgia ballot, and Emory University Professor Fred Smith, who is also a former Supreme Court clerk.

Listen at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. And listen to Thursday’s show live at 10 a.m. on WABE 90.1 FM, at AJC.com and at WABE.org.

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A recent Biden administration decision on liquid natural gas, or LNG, exports has stalled plans to expand Southern LNG’s Elba Island terminal. (AJC file photo)

Credit: AJC file photo

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Credit: AJC file photo

LNG LIMITS. Your insiders told you earlier this week about a private port terminal planned in Savannah that has drawn the ire of the Ports Authority. An existing marine cargo facility located next door to the private port site is facing challenges of its own.

A recent Biden administration decision on liquid natural gas, or LNG, exports has stalled plans to expand Southern LNG’s Elba Island terminal. One of only two LNG export facilities on the East Coast, Elba has seen exports spike since the fracking boom started a decade ago.

U.S. Rep. Rick Allen (right) is among the Republicans pushing back on the Biden administration's suspension of LNG facility expansion requests. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC

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Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC

But according to reporting by the Savannah Morning News, Elba is a major greenhouse gas emitter. LNG transfer facilities burn natural gas to keep LNG in a stable state, contributing emissions equal to what is produced by 31,000 passengers vehicles annually.

Biden announced on Jan. 26 the suspension of LNG facility expansion requests, such as the one at Elba, while a review is conducted. Republicans in Congress are pushing back, led by Rep. Rick Allen of Augusta. Speaking Monday on the House floor, Allen called Biden’s actions “blatantly political” and a threat to U.S. energy security.

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U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen testifies today before the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee. (Yuri Gripas/Abaca Press/TNS)

Credit: TNS

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Credit: TNS

TODAY IN WASHINGTON:

  • President Joe Biden delivers remarks at the House Democratic Caucus Issues Conference in Leesburg, Virginia.
  • The U.S. House has no more votes this week.
  • The Senate is in session but has no scheduled votes.
  • U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen testifies before the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee.

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Atlanta Dream guard Haley Jones (13) stopped by the state Capitol on Feb. 7, 2024, to chat with legislators about increasing girls' participation in sports. (Miguel Martinez / miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com)

Credit: Miguel Martinez/AJC

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Credit: Miguel Martinez/AJC

SPORTS ADVOCACY. The Atlanta Dream’s All-Rookie First Team player Haley Jones and franchise president Morgan Shaw Parker stopped by the Capitol yesterday to chat with legislators about increasing girls’ participation in sports.

They spoke with our AJC colleague Maya T. Prabhu before heading out. Parker said every legislator they met with brought in their young female interns and staff members so they could meet Jones. Jones was also announced on Wednesday as one of 12 WNBA athletes to participate in a new collaboration between the league’s Changemaker Collective and the Voice In Sport Foundation to mentor young women.

“And it’s important for (girls and young women) to see … them as role models,” Parker said. “The cool thing about our athletes is they want to be in that light. A lot of other sports shy away from it, specifically men’s sports, but women know they need to lean in to make sure that we have more fans. We always have to do a little bit more work. And you know what? We enjoy it.”

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Bob Barker calls the AJC’s Shane Backler his person. (Courtesy photo)

Credit: Courtesy photo

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Credit: Courtesy photo

DOG OF THE DAY. It’s time to meet a beloved member of the AJC family, Bob Barker Schoenbachler, the loyal companion of Politically Georgia audio honcho, Shane Backler.

Bob Barker is not only Shane’s best pal, but also his home-office desk mate. And despite his name, Bob Barker is quiet as a mouse during PG tapings. His hobbies include voting on the show’s weekly “Who’s Up/ Who’s Down” segment. Who’s Up this week for Bob Barker? Tennis balls. Who’s Down? The mail carrier.

You’re our Who’s Up, Bob Barker! And our Dog of the Day.

Send us your dogs of any political persuasion and location, and cats on a cat-by-cat basis, to patricia.murphy@ajc.com, or DM us at @MurphyAJC.

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AS ALWAYS, Politically Georgia readers are some of our favorite tipsters. Send your best scoop, gossip and insider info to greg.bluestein@ajc.com, tia.mitchell@ajc.com, patricia.murphy@ajc.com, and adam.vanbrimmer@ajc.com.