At first glance, Kemp would seem assured to support it. He’s taken the side of law enforcement officials, called out the National Guard to protect state buildings after the State Patrol’s headquarters was vandalized and released a video message in support of police immediately following sickout protests by droves of Atlanta officers.
But civil rights groups and legislators have raised concerns that the hastily-written legislation could weaken protections for police officers in some cases and have other unintended consequences.
For one, the ACLU of Georgia argues that the measure would reduce potential prison sentences for the murder of a police officer from mandatory life in prison to a maximum of five years behind bars because of a conflict in the law.
Other critics fear that it could give police officers new powers to chase down street protesters in the state’s civil courts by granting them broad authority to sue people, groups or corporations that infringe on their civil rights.
June 26, 2020 Atlanta - Activists holds sign to protest before Gov. Brian Kemp signs HB 426, hate-crimes legislation, into law on the last day of the legislative session at Georgia State Capitol on Friday, June 26, 2020. Gov. Brian Kemp signed hate-crimes legislation into law on Friday after state lawmakers brokered a compromise over the proposal after 16 years of debate over whether to extend protections to people who are targeted because of biases. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
And state Sen. Jen Jordan, D-Atlanta, notes that even the term “civil rights” in the legislation is never defined, leaving it to the courts to interpret the meaning.
Other bills on the desk
Kemp, a first-term Republican, wasn’t shy about using the red pen last year when he nixed 14 measures, including one that would have required elementary schools to schedule recess each day and another that would have mandated that school systems to update safety plans and conduct drills.
He echoed a tone set by his predecessor, Gov. Nathan Deal, who was not afraid to send measures to the scrap heap. Deal vetoed both a "religious liberty" measure and a campus gun proposal in 2016, and in 2018 he nullified 21 bills — the most of his eight-year tenure.
Aside from the police law, he’s also set to decide whether to approve a pandemic-inspired measure that would curtail the ability of people to sue businesses and health care providers if they are diagnosed with COVID-19.
And he must determine whether to back proposals to dissolve the Glynn County Police Department, which were introduced in January in response to years of alleged problems at the agency but earned more support after Arbery’s death.
He’s already signed into law the other highest-profile measures.
Beyond the hate-crimes legislation, he’s also approved measures to extend the time some new mothers can receive Medicaid benefits, cut down on “surprise” medical bills and allow stores to deliver beer, wine and booze to Georgians’ homes.