Wednesday afternoon, House Bill 286, aimed at preventing Georgia city and county governments from sharply cutting the budgets of their local police agencies passed in the Georgia House of Representatives.
Sponsored by state Rep. Houston Gaines, R-Athens, the bill would limit local governments from reducing funds for police by more than 5% over a 10-year span. It includes exemptions for smaller jurisdictions and for spending on equipment purchases.
The bill passed 101-69 nearly along party lines, with three Democrats voting in favor.
“We feel like we’ve seen calls to defund the police in Athens and Atlanta,” said Gaines. “And we can’t let that happen in our state. And so this is an important measure, it’s going to keep families safe. And, and so we feel really good about excited that we got the bill passed and looking forward to continuing to work into the process.”
Last year, there were indeed calls to defund the police in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the murder of Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta. However, such measures did not pass.
Democrats accused Georgia Republicans of running a public relations campaign attempting to throw red meat at their base.
“And I think this is a weird PR campaign by Republicans to absolve themselves of the fact that domestic terrorists from their party went up to the Capitol on Jan. 6 and killed and maimed police officers,” said State Rep. Renitta Shannon, D-Decatur.
Shannon would later read a list of individuals who were killed by the police.
“This bill is not about us defending the police never was, it’s a bad narrative,” said Minority Leader James Beverly. “This bill is about struggling with the opportunity that we have right now as a nation at this moment to figure out what do we do with brown and black communities across the state and across this nation when the police have not been absolutely fair in kind?”
Gaines countered, saying adequate police funding provides a basic level of safety in communities around Georgia.
“When a victim calls 911, we need quick response times,” said Gaines. “‘Defunding’ the police is a radical idea that will slow response times for victims and put our families and communities at risk.”
State Rep. Bee Nguyen, D-Atlanta, would invoke the name of Anthony Hill, a military veteran who was killed by the police in 2015.
“We did see proposals to transfer funding from police departments to other areas of need, and they did not pass either in Athens-Clarke County or the city of Atlanta,” said Nguyen. “Just as we are beginning to address the systemic flaws in policing, this bill would shut down the necessary discourse that elected officials are having with members of their communities.”
Nguyen invoked the name of Anthony Hill, a military veteran in DeKalb County who was shot and killed by police during a mental health crisis in 2015.
Meanwhile, Beverly referred to the measure as a “headline chasing bill” and if passed, would place Republican lawmakers above the Georgia Consitution.
“But the reality is, is that we really need to struggle with the reality of what we deal with right now in society,” said Beverly. “And that is, how can we make policing safer in all neighborhoods, especially if the police are the people who got the most afraid
It now heads to the state Senate.