Governor Deal and a bipartisan General Assembly continued this year in improving Georgia’s criminal justice system. As the 2015 legislative session ended last week, three bills were passed by both houses and are expected to be signed by the governor. Here is a very brief summary of the most important aspects of each piece of legislation soon to be enacted:
HB 310 – This was the most significant bill for those in our community who have had an isolated brush with the law. It centers around Georgia’s First Offender Act. The First Offender Act, sometimes referred to as Georgia’s “second chance law” was first enacted in 1968 and allows certain people charged with their first offense to avoid a conviction if they successfully complete his or her sentence. Unfortunately, many who are eligible for first offender treatment are not informed of such by their attorney when the case is resolved. HB 310 will require that all Georgians who are eligible for a second chance under the First Offender Act be informed before it is too late and that those who were not informed can still get their second chance. However, HB 310 does not make first offender records private or prevent employment discrimination on the basis of the case.
HB 328 – This legislation was based on some of the recommendations by the Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform involving adult offenders. The key provision provides a state remedy against private background checking companies that provide inaccurate information to employers. The bill also tightens up rules around accuracy and notification of ex-offenders reentering society when consumer reporting agencies report to potential employers. Additionally, the bill expands conditions for consideration for parole for certain offenders serving 12 years to life. The bill adds provisions around drug court graduation, probationary business licenses. It also increases the floor for felony fraud in public assistance, food stamps or Medicaid from $500 to $1500.
HB 361 – This is the juvenile bill. It clarifies the criteria around transfer of juveniles from superior court to juvenile court. This is important because it adds and subtracts language that should assist superior court judges when making a transfer to the juvenile court (which is always a good thing for a child charged as an adult). Additionally, the bill allows prosecutors to file a complaint alleging a child is in need of services or intervene in such matter to represent the child when the child is a ward of the state. It also adds prosecuting attorneys to the list of people who can request termination of proceedings for children who have run away for the first time. Most important, the bill also provides new time limits on juvenile courts which will mean less detention time for delinquent children waiting on their cases to be adjudicated while in detention.
For the fifth year in a row, the governor, Republicans, Democrats, liberals, conservatives, prosecutors, and defense attorneys have cooperated enough to pass excellent legislation that benefits all Georgians in many different ways.
It is refreshing to see people with different ideological views work together in order to benefit our great State.