Georgia Senate demands cash bail for 53 more crimes

Georgia senators want to require cash bail for many more crimes than current law, a move the bill’s sponsor says will deter people from committing more crimes.

“These are not mistakes. These are not unintentional actions. These are people who choose to break the law,” Sen. Randy Robertson, a Cataula Republican, said of people he’s targeting with Senate Bill 63, which passed 31 to 21 mostly along party lines Thursday was passed. It will now go to the House of Representatives for further debate.

Currently, someone accused of a felony in Georgia must deposit cash or property to get out of jail for just seven felonies, including murder and rape. The measure adds 53 other offenses to the list, including passing a worthless check or misdemeanors such as reckless driving or fighting in a public place. It reverses parts of a 2018 law championed by former Gov. Nathan Deal that aimed to abolish cash bail for most offenses.
Opponents say the reversal means more poor people are in prison and risk losing their jobs and housing, even if they are accused of crimes they are unlikely to ever face prison for.

“The problem is that bail is the bluntest weapon we have to attack crime. And this is prison. Jail only,” said Sen. Josh McLaurin, a Sandy Springs Democrat.

The bill is part of a broader national Republican movement to oppose changes over the past two decades that have allowed more people to get out of prison without posting bail.

“It baffles me that so many people are concerned about prisoners and criminals and not citizens and victims,” ​​Senator John Albers, a Roswell Republican, said Thursday.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has said he wants more restrictive bail conditions. That jibes with how he and other Republicans last year criticized their Democratic opponents for being pro-crime. Kemp also supports other crime-fighting proposals coming up in Georgia this year, including longer prison sentences for some criminals.

“We’ve seen that cracking down on crime helps,” said Robertson, a leading crime-fighting advocate. “It works. Don’t be confused by those who only stand up for the criminals.”

Georgia’s bail policy states that no one convicted of three prior felonies or convicted of one felony within the prior seven years can be released from prison without posting bail in cash or property.

Robertson said that without such provisions, judges and prosecutors would make “exceptions” for people who don’t deserve them.

“They’re recidivists,” Robertson said. “These are people the system has been kind to.”

The bill also further limits a city or county’s ability to release someone from prison without bail, by stating that no one can automatically leave prison without posting bail unless they are in front of one judges appeared.

Judges should only acquit people on bail who are not seen as a danger to society and a threat to escape from trial. The bill would not overrule Georgia’s law, which states that judges must consider a person’s ability to pay when setting bail. But opponents said they believe Republicans are trying to pressure elected judges to set higher bail even when people can’t pay.

“This bill will essentially force more judges to choose prison more often because of the pressures they face,” McLaurin said.

Another part of the bill classifies domestic terrorism as a serious violent crime. That means anyone convicted of the crime must serve the entire sentence ordered by a judge, cannot be given a suspended sentence as a first-time offender, and cannot be paroled unless an offender has at least 30 years of age sat in prison.