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Monday August 2nd, 2021 11:46AM

Georgia lawmakers move to ban 'defund the police' efforts

By The Associated Press

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia lawmakers moved Wednesday to block “defund the police” efforts in the state's counties and cities, saying local governments seeking to redirect or cut spending following racial injustice protests last year would endanger their residents.

“I think it’s absolutely critical to get this legislation done to continue to protect families in this state," said Rep. Houston Gaines, an Athens Republican, minutes before House members gave final passage to House Bill 286 on a 100-73 vote.

The measure now goes to Gov. Brian Kemp for his signature or veto.

The law would 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. The death of George Floyd, a Black man killed in police custody in Minneapolis last year, launched demonstrations that were also fueled by the death of Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta.

The measure is a rejection of arguments by protesters nationwide that minority communities are suffering from overpolicing. The critics argue 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. Gaines, though, argued that more funding for police departments could support some of those goals.

Most Democrats opposed the bill, saying lawmakers shouldn't strip powers from local governments.

“Everyone wants to live in a safe community and these local governments know best how to keep their communities safe,” said Rep. Teri Anulewicz, a Smyrna Democrat.

Rep. Josh McLaurin, a Sandy Springs Democrat, said Republicans were backing the bill to score political points.

“What we'd like to do as a body, if it were possible, is have a more comprehensive discussion about public safety, that included a thoughtful analysis of root causes ... and not just limit our review to a handful of bills that accomplish political messaging at the hands of more comprehensive strategy,” McLaurin said.

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.

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.

“If there’s a responsible need to reduce spending they can do so," Gaines said. “But we’re not going to slash their police departments just to put families at risk.”

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 also could abolish their police forces and contract with counties for law enforcement if they guarantee equivalent levels of protection.

___

Follow Jeff Amy on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jeffamy.

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP Online Headlines - Washington, AP Online Congress News, AP Online - Georgia News, AP Online Headlines - Georgia News
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