This year, the General Assembly was very cautious on passing new criminal laws that would significantly affect Georgia.
However, three important bills will soon become law. Other bills, that will likely be introduced again, failed to get approval from both chambers. The three most important bills that passed are:
PROSECUTOR OVERSIGHT: Senate Bill 92 creates a commission to discipline or remove district attorneys and county solicitors general who are involved in misconduct, unethical behavior, or violate the law.
This bill is well written and needed. While the vast majority of prosecutors seek what they believe is justice, there are a handful of folks who tend to abuse their power. SB 92 provides the oversight and accountability that was needed.
GANGS: Senate Bill 44 further strengthens the gang statute by adding a mandatory 10 years to prison sentences for anyone convicted of recruiting minors into a gang and make it harder for judges to avoid giving anyone convicted of gang activity at least five more years in prison.
SB 44 was not needed. The “Gang Statute” is already extremely broad, takes sentencing discretion away from elected judges, and may be unconstitutional.
SAFE SCHOOLS: House Bill 147 requires schools to submit their safety plans to the state annually, requires an active shooter drill at each school by Oct. 1 each year and creates a school safety and anti-gang training program for teachers.
This may be the best law that was passed during the legislative session. Although the bill should have been stronger, the schools in our state are now more difficult targets for predators who seek to kill.
What bills failed this year in Georgia?
CRIMES AGAINST INFRASTRUCTURE: House Bill 227 would have made it a crime to use electronic or physical means to attack systems providing electricity, water, sewer, internet, public transportation, emergency services and health care. This did not pass because such activities are already considered crimes in Georgia. We need less laws; not more.
SPORTS BETTING: House Bill 237 would have legalized sports betting under the state lottery, without a statewide vote on a constitutional amendment. Tax revenue would have flowed to college scholarships and state-funded preschool.
Legislating morality has never worked in the history of civilization. HB 237 should have been passed. Whether you like it or not, gambling has always existed. If someone is going to buy lottery tickets, they are likely to be interested in other gaming. This law could have significantly contributed to the coffers of the state.
ANTISEMITISM: House Bill 144 would have created a definition of anti-Semitism that could be referred to in hate crime prosecutions. The bill failed because opponents successfully argued that it could be used to censor criticism of Israel.
Almost all violent crimes are a product of hate. “Hate Crimes” legislation is just unnecessary and emotionally based. Anti-Semitism, like other racially based hatred, does not need to be defined. It is rather clear.
JUVENILE CRIMES: House Bill 462 would have raised the age for filing adult criminal charges against people from 17 to 18 for most crimes.
Yes, there are violent juveniles. But, a child’s brain does not fully develop until their early to mid 20’s. I have also seen many children in juvenile court who turned their lives around close to the 18 year mark. HB 462 would have provided a 12 month opportunity for young people to get their lives together. I expect a similar bill to pass in 2024.
FELONY RIOT: House Bill 505 would have made the crime of rioting a felony instead of a misdemeanor.
This was also a well written bill, but probably unnecessary. Most riots occur in jails and prisons. When that happens, the authorities usually address the problem thoroughly.
I would like to thank our members of the House and Senate, the Governor’s Office, and particularly our local legislators for their service and commitment to keeping Georgia the example that other states look up to.