Senate approves legislation to ban Georgia cities from cutting police funding

The Georgia Capitol. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM
The Georgia Capitol. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

The Georgia Senate 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. Senators voted 36-15 to approve the measure mostly along party lines, with Republicans in support of the measure. Democratic state Sens. Ed Harbison of Columbus, Michael “Doc” Rhett of Marietta, Valencia Seay of Riverdale and Freddie Powell Simms of Albany voted for the bill.

“This bill is addressing the issue of two municipalities in the state of Georgia where some radical commissions attempted to defund law enforcement without any citizen input,” said state Sen. Randy Robertson, a Cataula Republican and former police officer who sponsored the bill in the Senate.

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

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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.

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.

Because changes were made by senators to the legislation after it passed the House, it will have to go back to that chamber for its approval.

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

“We’re actually not elected to manage the local budgets,” said state Sen. Elena Parent, an Atlanta Democrat. “This is very ‘Big Brother.’ We’re saying, ‘we know what you need better than you know what you need.’ ”

Robertson disagreed.

“What we’re elected to do is serve the 11 million Georgians in this state,” he said. “We have to take steps and use the authority we have to protect those individuals.”

What’s next

Because changes were made by senators to the legislation after it passed the House, it will have to go back to that chamber for its approval.

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