APTOPIX America Protests Atlanta

A police officer embraces a protester who helped disperse a crowd of people during a demonstration Monday, June 1, 2020, in Atlanta.

(The Center Square) – The Georgia House has approved a bill that would block local governments from cutting local police funding.

House Bill 286 bans counties and municipalities from reducing their police department budgets by more than 5% unless they are facing revenue shortages or other budget strains.

The bill cleared the House on Wednesday on a 101-69 vote.

One of the bill's sponsors, Rep. Houston Gaines R- Athens, said the legislation is a response to national outcry after the death of George Floyd to "defund the police." Similar bills have been filed by Republicans in other states.

"Our state believes in and has championed criminal justice reform, but defunding the police is a dangerous idea that will harm those who most need protection and put victims at risk," Gaines said.

National protests erupted in late May after Floyd, an unarmed Black man, was killed by a Minneapolis police officer on Memorial Day. The spotlight on police brutality soon grew to calls for less government funding for law enforcement. Minneapolis since has slashed its police funding.

During debate over the bill Wednesday, Rep. Renitta Shannon, D-Decatur, went down a list of victims killed by police. The measure also ignited a debate over local control and its constitutionality.

According to a study by personal finance website MoneyGeek, Georgia spends about 5.7% of its budget, or $5 billion, on law enforcement. Researchers said per capita spending in Georgia on police and corrections is about $476.

Rep. Bee Nguyen, D-Atlanta, said the bill would shut down local community progress in response to the civil unrest in 2020. Atlanta and Athens-Clarke County have considered proposals to defund their police departments but have not moved forward with cuts.

Nguyen said the rallying for defunding is about redirecting the funds to reduce homelessness, addiction, domestic violence, poverty, systemic racism and incarceration.

Nguyen and other Democrats also argued that HB 286 violates Georgia's home rule provision.

According to the Home Rule Act of Georgia's Constitution, "the governing authority of each municipal corporation shall have legislative power to adopt clearly reasonable ordinances, resolutions, or regulations relating to its property, affairs, and local government for which no provision has been made by general law and which are not inconsistent with the Constitution or any charter provision applicable thereto."

Gaines said the state has a duty to step in when local governments put Georgia residents' public safety at risk. Rep. Steven Sainz, R-Woodbine, a former deputy sheriff, said the bill sets a "minimum standard" for public safety in the state.

"This bill does not dictate how Georgia communities can structure their departments or what equipment they feel necessary for their officers to have, what mental health services that they should provide," Sainz said.

HB 286 has received support from Georgia's Police Benevolent Association. It now heads to the Senate for consideration.

Staff Reporter

Nyamekye Daniel has been a journalist for five years. She was the managing editor for the South Florida Media Network and a staff writer for The Miami Times. Daniel's work has also appeared in the Sun-Sentinel, Miami Herald and The New York Times.