Georgia House backs bill to require bail for 31 more crimes

Georgia lawmakers are moving to require cash bail for many more crimes, including misdemeanor marijuana possession.

The Georgia House voted 95-81 Wednesday to pass Senate Bill 63, which would require cash or property bail for 31 additional crimes, including some misdemeanors.

Supporters say that bail is needed to guarantee people show back up for trial and to respect victims.

"This measure establishes Georgia as a state that won't accept the soft-on-crime policies that we've seen in placed like New York, California, Illinois, or catch-and-release," said Rep. Houston Gaines, an Athens Republican.

The measure moves on to the Senate for more debate. The Senate earlier passed a more restrictive version of the bill.

Georgia requires defendants to post cash or property to get out of jail for only seven severe crimes, such as murder or rape. The measure adds crimes to the list, including passing a worthless check, or misdemeanors such as reckless driving or unlawful assembly. It undoes  parts of a 2018 law championed by former Gov. Nathan Deal that sought to eliminate cash bail for most misdemeanor crimes. 

Mostly Democratic opponents of the measure say that many more poor people will sit in jail, causing them to lose their jobs, housing or even custody of their children, while costing local taxpayers much more money to fund their jailing.

"This bill will harm poor people. This bill will create a two-tiered criminal legal system in the state of Georgia, one for those who can afford bond and one for those who cannot," said House Democratic Whip Sam Park, of Lawrenceville. "We cannot simply lock poor people up as a solution to building safer communities."
Rep. Anne Allen Westbrook, a Savannah Democrat, noted that it costs $74.51 a day to house a prisoner in the Chatham County jail.

"Innocent until proven guilty is a bedrock constitutional principle," Westbrook said, "This bill has nothing to do with that constitutional purpose. It is plainly punitive."

Recent Democratic overhaul measures in states such as Illinois and New York have sought to eliminate cash bail and lessen pretrial detention on the premise they do more harm than good, especially to marginalized groups.

But  Republican lawmakers in at least 14 states have introduced some 20 bills so far this year to do just the opposite. Their proposals include increasing the number of non-bailable offenses, requiring more people to pay cash bail and encouraging or requiring judges to consider a defendant's criminal record when setting bail. 

"The jail has become a revolving door for a group of individuals and we need to say, 'No.' We need to put a stop to this," said Rep. J. Collins, a Villa Rica Republican. "And we need to speak up for victims of crime."

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has said he wants more restrictive bail conditions. That's in line with how he and other Republicans  bashed their Democratic opponents last year as soft on crime. Kemp is also backing other anti-crime proposals being put forward in Georgia this year, including  longer sentences for some criminals . 
The Georgia bail measure states no one who has been convicted of three prior felonies, or has been convicted of any felony within the preceding seven years, can be let out of jail without posting cash or property bail.

The bill also further restricts a city or county's ability to release someone from jail without bail, saying that no one could be automatically allowed to leave jail without being required to post bail unless they have appeared before a judge.

Judges are only supposed to grant bail to people who aren't considered a threat to society and a threat to flee before trial. The bill wouldn't override Georgia law that says judges must consider a person's ability to pay in setting bail. But opponents rejected the claims of supporters that judges would set bails of $1 or one penny.

"The jail is too full of people who never got a second chance because they didn't have the influence to wiggle around the system," said Rep. Al Williams, a Midway Democrat. "We ain't got a problem with locking people up. We never have."
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