ATLANTA - Some parts of Gov. Brian Kemp’s anti-gang push are moving forward, but the centerpiece of the package is bottled up in the state Senate as the clock winds down on the 2020 legislative session.
The Republican governor said in his State of the State speech in January that gangs are “a statewide threat that undermines our safety and our future.” Several bills were introduced to move Kemp’s proposals forward.
On Friday, the House Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security voted to advance Senate Bill 393 to the full House. It would create a legal division under the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to provide prosecutors to help prosecute gang crimes or sex trafficking crimes. The Kemp administration says prosecutors with special expertise can help district attorneys fight those types of crimes. The measure says the GBI lawyers would work under the local prosecutor and not act on their own, as once discussed.
“One of the changes we made was confirming they were underneath that district attorney,” said Sen. Brian Strickland, a McDonough Republican.
Kemp is also seeking more money to fight gangs. Under the budget proposed for 2021, lawmakers would appropriate an additional $885,000 to allow the GBI to hire seven people for a gang task force despite billions in budget cuts.
But the most significant measure passed by the House is currently stuck in the Senate Committee on Assignments, meaning leaders haven’t released it for committee action.
House Bill 994 would let prosecutors ask juvenile judges to shift cases into adult courts and let them cite evidence of gang activity as a reason for the shift. It would also require children convicted of gang-related offenses as juveniles to be enrolled in an evidence-based intervention program that has been shown to decrease gang involvement.
It would also add human trafficking, some sex crimes and felony obstruction of justice as gang-related crimes, and require people convicted of gang-related sex crimes to be placed on the state’s sexual offender registry. The measure would also let judges order gang members to forfeit property.
Kemp’s push was already softened amid opposition. Removed was a proposal to make gang-related murders eligible for the death penalty. And provisions to charge juveniles aged 13 to 17 as adults for gang-related crimes were changed from automatic to requiring a juvenile judge’s approval.
A parallel push to combat human trafficking is encountering less resistance. Thursday, the Senate passed House Bill 823, which would ban people convicted of human-trafficking related offenses from ever getting a commercial driver’s license. It goes back to the House for more debate. Another Strickland bill, Senate Bill 435, would let victims ask judges to vacate convictions for crimes they committed while being trafficked.