By Dave Williams, Capitol Beat News Service
ATLANTA — Controversial laws mandating mandatory minimum prison sentences for gang recruits in Georgia go into effect July 1.
Senate Bill 44 is one of dozens of bills passed by the General Assembly this year that will take effect at the start of a new fiscal year.
Passed by a majority of Republicans in House along party lines, the bill requires judges to impose at least five years in prison on those convicted of recruiting gang members. It also provides for harsher penalties for recruiting anyone under the age of 17 or with a disability into a gang, requiring a minimum of 10 years in prison.
“Get after our kids and we’ll be after you,” Gov. Brian Kemp warned in January during his annual State of the State address to members of the Georgia House and Senate.
The governor made Senate Bill 44 part of his agenda for this year’s legislative session and signed it into law during a ceremony in April.
“There’s no place for street gangs in Georgia,” said Sen. Bo Hatchett, R-Cornelia, one of Kemp’s Senate chairmen, as the bill was debated in the Senate in March. “[Senate Bill 44] will help prosecutors across the state. It will help children. There will be severe penalties for anyone trying to recruit a child into a life of crime by encouraging them to join a street gang.”
When the bill reached the House of Representatives, Republican leaders amended the bill to limit judges’ ability to release suspects without bail for certain crimes if they were charged with “bond jumping” within the past five years. have been convicted or where there is a court order for failure to appear in court has been issued within the last five years.
Judges must also consider the suspect’s criminal record before allowing non-cash bail.
Senate Democrats objected that the amendment expanded the bill beyond its original purpose of cracking down on gang activity.
“Let’s say you miss court for some reason, and there are many reasons to miss court,” said Sen. Josh McLaurin, D-Sandy Springs. “All of a sudden, for five years, the judge has no discretion to let you go on your own. You must put a cash value in dollars on your deposit.”
Hatchett dismissed these concerns as unrealistic.
“If you don’t show up in court and you have an arrest warrant — let’s say you had a job — and then you go back to court, you tell them, ‘Hey, I didn’t show up.’ Then the arrest warrant will be withdrawn,” he said. “Once the arrest warrant is withdrawn, the five-year period no longer applies. That’s what the bill says.”
More new laws – Lemonade stands for children are tax-free
Not all—or even the majority—of the bills passed by the General Assembly each year follow party lines. The following four measures, which will come into force on July 1, received bipartisan support:
– House Bill 31 ensures that money going into the state’s Hazardous Waste Trust Fund is used to clean up hazardous waste sites and is not diverted to other uses.
– House Bill 383 increases penalties for criminal suspects accused of assaulting medical staff or hospital peacekeeping officials on a hospital campus.
– Senate Bill 55, the Lemonade Stand Bill, allows Georgians under the age of 18 to sell non-consumable goods, packaged foods, and soft drinks on private property without requiring a permit, license, or paying a tax.
– Senate Bill 220 will create a program to fund pre-development agricultural land preservation.