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Legislative Update from SCHR

The Georgia General Assembly convened for the 2022 legislative session on Monday, January 10. This session, SCHR will continue to work with partners, lawmakers, and other stakeholders to promote racial justice, fight mass incarceration and the criminalization of poverty, and protect the dignity of those ensnared in the criminal legal system.  

In 2022, the second year of the biennial session, SCHR will advocate for data-informed policy reforms that are proven to promote safety in Georgia’s communities:

  • Promoting policies that will reduce harm caused by the deplorable conditions which incarcerated people have been forced to endure and that will improve accountability for Georgia’s prison system, which has seen disturbing rates of homicides, suicides, and other preventable deaths in the last two years.
  • Advocating for community-based behavioral and mental health resources to support people incarcerated in Georgia’s jails and prisons.
  • Defending against proposals that will exacerbate mass incarceration and wealth-based detention, including punitive gang legislation and expansions of mandatory cash bail.
  • Fighting state-sanctioned violence at the hands of racist vigilantes and state actors alike, by supporting reforms to Georgia’s Stand Your Ground law and opposing other proposals encouraging such violence.
  • Opposing laws criminalizing the exercise of the First Amendment and the right to vote.

In recent weeks, Governor Kemp has announced his budget and policy priorities for this legislative session, including many regressive legislative proposals that will not make our communities any safer but will instead aggravate the crisis in Georgia’s prisons as well as racial and wealth disparities in the criminal legal system:

  • $600 million to purchase and build two new prisons, using taxpayer dollars that would be better spent addressing the dire needs of the people who are currently incarcerated and supporting community-based programs that divert people from the criminal legal system at the front end
  • Increased funding and authority for state law enforcement agencies to prosecute gang activity, even though Georgia already has some of the toughest gang laws in the country
  • Expanding the list of offenses that automatically trigger mandatory cash bail, forcing judges to jail people who cannot afford to purchase their freedom

You can view Gov. Kemp’s 2022 State of the State Address here, read the transcript of the speech here, and review his budget proposal here to learn more about his priorities. This session, in collaboration with our partners, SCHR will engage legislators as they consider these budget and policy proposals to advocate meaningful and evidence-based reforms that will reduce mass incarceration, wealth-based detention, and racial injustice.

Last week, the state budget process continued as the House Appropriations subcommittees meet throughout the week to discuss the Amended Fiscal Year 2022 budget in greater detail. The House Appropriations Public Safety Subcommittee met twice to consider recommendations for the Georgia Public Defenders Council, the Georgia Department of Corrections, and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, among others.

Here’s a brief summary of notable budget recommendations for those agencies:

Georgia Department of Corrections

–       Amended Fiscal Year 2022 (AFY22)

o   $5,000 raises for full-time state employees

o   $38.6 million for replacing and purchasing vehicles, upgrading wireless infrastructure, and replacing radio communications systems at state prisons

o   $432 million to the Georgia Building Authority for two new prisons

–       Fiscal Year 2023 (FY23)

o   $6.7 million for technology projects for promoting health, safety, and security at state prisons

o   $45.7 million for capital maintenance and repairs at state prisons

o   $7.2 million to establish regional transportation hubs

o   $168 million in bond funds to the Georgia Building Authority for two new prisons

Georgia Bureau of Investigation

–       AFY22

o   $469,102 to investigate elections complaints

–       FY23

o   $504,116 to investigate elections complaints

Georgia Public Defender Council

–       AFY22 & FY23

o   $5,000 raises for full-time state employees

In addition to the appropriations work, House and Senate committees have begun to consider substantive legislation. On February 1, the Senate Judiciary Committee will convene at 4pm to consider Senate Bill 257. SB 257 cleans up some minor issues that have arisen in the implementation of SB 288, a bill passed in 2020 that allowed for expungement of old convictions. You can read more about this legislation here and watch the hearing here.

The committee hearing scheduled can be viewed on the legislature’s website and is updated regularly.

Finally, we already have several events planned this year to engage the public and lawmakers about criminal legal policy issues:  

  • Talk Justice Tuesdays Series (Jan. 25 – Mar. 22): The Justice Reform Partnership will host the Talk Justice Tuesday series again this year to bring people together on most Tuesdays during the session to discuss specific issues and thoughtful solutions about the things most important to communities impacted by criminal legal systems. These sessions will be virtual, and you can find more information on the Justice Reform Partnership website.
  • Justice Day 2022 – Moving Forward with Courage (Feb. 22): Join us for Justice Day 2022: Moving Forward with Courage on 2/22/22, from 10am-2pm to learn about criminal legal reform in Georgia and how to get involved in movements for change! Are we in the middle of a crime wave? What does the data actually say? How can we build alternatives to policing and punishment? What’s happening in Georgia’s prisons, and how can we fix it? How can I get involved in efforts for criminal legal reform where I live? These are questions on many Georgians’ minds, and we’ll be discussing all of them at Justice Day! Register here!