Civil rights groups want Gov. Brian Kemp to veto a bill that establishes penalties for anyone who commits a crime against first responders, including police officers.
On Monday, protestors exressed their displeasure over the bill in front of the governor's mansion. The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, the NAACP and Fair Fight Action are among the groups asking the governor to take a close look at the bill, which they claim is flawed.
The ACLU also believes the bill actually hurts police officers because it weakens the penalties for serious crimes against police.
"In their haste to silence Georgians' demand for police accountability," said ACLU of Georgia Executive Director Andrea Young. "The state legislature has produced a severely flawed bill that may substantially reduce penalties for deliberately killing a police officer."
The Georgia General Assembly passed the legislation, House Bill 838, last week adding language that makes first responders a protected class. The bill establishes a penalty for hate crimes committed against a first responder based solely on their job.But, Senator Randy Robertson, R-Cataula, said there is confusion over the bill by some who believe it replaces previous penalties for crimes against law enforcement officers. He said HB 838 calls for a sentence “to run consecutively to any other sentence.”
In 2017, Georgia enacted a law referred to as the “Back the Badge Act,” which provides for several sentencing enhancements for crimes against public safety officers. It includes mandatory minimum sentences.
Robertson emphasized the new legislation does not include the word “hate” and is aimed at bias-based intimidation against a first responder.
Last week, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan urged both chambers to pass the legislation he called the "Law Enforcement Bill of Rights." Duncan said a law would provide much-needed protections for first responders.
"At a time when officers feel under siege when police fear politically motivated prosecution when extreme voices are calling to 'defund the police,' our state must stand up for those who put their lives on the line for us," Duncan said.
The measure narrowly passed in the Senate but helped sway some lawmakers to vote in favor of the hate crimes bill that business and community groups pressured legislators to pass before the session ended. Kemp signed the hate crimes legislation last Friday, and it goes into effect on July 1.