By Jill Nolin, Georgia Recorder.
House lawmakers signed off on a controversial measure Tuesday that would increase the number of misdemeanor criminal offenses that require a cash or property bond to be released from jail.
With a 97-to-69 vote, the House approved a bill that Georgia Republicans say is intended to crack down on repeat offenders. But Democrats argue the changes will only hurt the poor.
The measure adds theft, criminal trespass and other offenses to the list of misdemeanors that require a cash or property bond after a second charge. Tuesday’s vote sends the bill to the governor’s desk.
“This legislation will make it clear that Georgia is not going down the path of failure seen by other states and communities that have eliminated cash bail. It’s been an unmitigated disaster,” said Rep. Houston Gaines, an Athens Republican who carried the bill in the House.
Misdemeanor marijuana possession is not one of the offenses that would require a cash or property bond under the bill, Gaines said.
Gaines also touted two other provisions in the measure that hold bail bondsmen responsible when a client is removed from the country and limit charitable groups to posting someone’s bail three times a year.
“Once they reach that threshold, these groups need to register properly as a bondsman. This doesn’t prevent a bail fund from operating. In fact, they can bail out as many folks as they want, but they need to do so under the same rules and regulations as bondsmen,” Gaines said.
Democrats blasted the bill as an attack on the poor that will lead to overcrowding in local jails and unwind the past progress made toward improving Georgia’s criminal justice system under former Republican Gov. Nathan Deal.
“These reforms were designed to contribute to public safety by helping people turn their lives around and not recidivate so that they can become contributing members to their communities and not simply more experienced criminals,” said Rep. Tanya F. Miller, an Atlanta Democrat.
Miller said the bill also targets churches who take up collections to bail out people on special occasions, like moms on Mother’s Day.
“What is most scary about this bill is the criminalization of churches and religious institutions that have historically been on the front lines of social justice and civil rights justice for Black and brown people in this country,” Miller said.
Organizers with a bail fund called the Atlanta Solidarity Fund were arrested last summer after using donations to bail out protesters fighting the planned Atlanta Public Safety Training Center. They were charged with money laundering and charity fraud charges, a move many criticized as payback for supporting the “Stop Cop City” movement and that raised First Amendment concerns.
Jill Nolin has spent nearly 15 years reporting on state and local government in four states, focusing on policy and political stories and tracking public spending. She has spent the last five years chasing stories in the halls of Georgia’s Gold Dome, earning recognition for her work showing the impact of rising opioid addiction on the state’s rural communities.