ATLANTA (AP) — A Republican backed bill to block “defund the police” movements in Georgia cities and counties is nearing final passage in the General Assembly.
Senators voted 36-15 on Thursday to limit governments' ability to cut police funding by more than 5% a year after Atlanta and Athens-Clarke County officials debated plans to cut or redirect spending following racial injustice protests last year.
Because the Senate made changes to the bill, it goes back to the House for more debate. The House can agree to the changes and send the measure to Gov. Brian Kemp, or demand talks to work out differences.
The measure is a response to arguments by protesters nationwide that minority communities are suffering from overpolicing and that governments should spend less on law enforcement and more on social service workers who could help address problems, but without guns and arrest powers.
“I think everyone sees the things going on around our country right now related to law enforcement and what this does is just guarantee the citizens of any community that they're not caught up in the politics that revolves around policing,” said Sen. Randy Robertson, a Cataula Republican. "It offers protection.”
Some senators questioned whether it's a good idea for lawmakers to intervene in local budgeting decisions.
“We're not elected to manage local budgets,” said Sen. Elena Parent, an Atlanta Democrat.
Robertson, though said the measure doesn’t violate Georgia Constitution’s guarantee of local government home rule.
“There are times when we have to take steps and use the authority that we have to protect those individuals, and I think in the last recent year we've seen two examples, for sure, where communities have attempted to negatively impact the public safety of their citizens," Robertson said.
Some Democrats voted for the bill, saying that while they think changes are needed in policing, they need more money, not less.
Similar bills have been offered in Arizona, Indiana, Iowa, North Carolina and Florida, among other states.
Defunding the police was debated extensively across the country, including during the presidential race, but not much action followed. An Associated Press review found that while some local governments trimmed police budgets, cuts were mostly modest. In Minneapolis, despite efforts to transform policing, the city is planning to spend $6.4 million to try to fill vacancies.
The Athens-Clarke County Commission debated a 50% cut in police funding over the summer before rejecting it. Supporters wanted to shift money toward mental health, housing and medical funding, saying they wanted a more holistic public safety policy.
The proposal is supported by the Police Benevolent Association, the largest police group in Georgia.
Cities and counties can cut more than 5% if local revenues decline by more than that, and cities and counties with fewer than 25 officers are exempt.
There's also a provision to allow governments to make larger capital expenditures for a year and not get locked in to higher levels of spending. Cities could also abolish their police forces and contract with counties for law enforcement if they guarantee equivalent levels of protection.
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