ATLANTA — The Georgia House of Representatives has passed a bill that would prevent cities and counties from making deep cuts in local police budgets.
The measure highlighted divisions that drew protests in 2020, an emotional issue that mostly pitted Republicans against Democrats over police funding and police misconduct.
"Eric Gardner, Michael Brown," began state Rep. Renitta Shannon (D-Decatur), reading a list of 19 names connected to prominent cases associated with alleged misconduct by law enforcement. She was in the well of the House, was making the case against the Republican-sponsored bill.
But Republicans say that reform efforts that include "defunding" police departments threaten public safety.
"When we have local governments that are out of control and putting lives at risk in our state, we have to step in," state Rep. Houston Gaines (R-Athens) told House members Wednesday.
Gaines wrote the measure which would prevent cities and counties from cutting police budgets by more than 5 percent in a year -- or 5 percent over 10 years.
The bill "is really horribly written. It’s bad policy," said state Rep. Scott Holcomb (D-Atlanta). "And there’s so much that is just awful about it."
Democrats say that while Atlanta and Athens have considered budgets that shift funds away from law enforcement, none of them have passed. Democrats also argued that local jurisdictions shouldn't have to contend with state restrictions on their budgets.
"I think this is a weird PR campaign (by Republicans) to absolve themselves from domestic terrorists from their party who went up to the (US) Capitol January 6th and killed and maimed police officers," Shannon said, before reading the names connected to misconduct cases.
Gaines said that Atlanta and Athens city governments had considered large cuts to police funding, but those governments declined to enact them.
"What's interesting is there is no massive decline in funding for public safety or police that’s happening. So that raises the question – why do we need this?" Rep. Holcomb asked House colleagues.
One candid answer came from Rep. Alan Powell (R-Hartwell).
"It’s as much an answer to the politicization of an issue that has been made in the last year. 'Defund the police,'" Powell said. He is in support of the measure.
On a mostly party-line vote, the Republican-led House passed the measure to prevent deep financial cuts to local police budgets.
"This bill was a chasing-headlines bill," said state Rep. James Beverly (D-Macon), the House minority leader. "I get it. It’s red meat to their base."
Asked if the bill was political after it was passed, Gaines said, "Everything we do is a political issue. But ultimately, this is an issue of keeping families safe."
Democrats argued that the bill that passed the House unconstitutionally gives the state control over local budgets and local police funding. The measure now goes to the Republican-led state Senate for consideration.