Georgia lawmakers won’t require cash bail for more crimes after all, failing to pass a bill that would have imposed bail for offenses including misdemeanor marijuana possession.
The Georgia House voted 95-81 on Wednesday to pass Senate Bill 63, which would have required cash or property bail for 31 additional crimes, including some misdemeanors. But the House and Senate could not agree on a final version, and the measure failed to pass as the 2023 session ended just after midnight Thursday.
The bill could still be considered when lawmakers return in 2024.
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Supporters said that bail is needed to guarantee people show back up for trial and to respect victims.
“This measure establishes Georgia as a state that won’t accept the soft-on-crime policies that we’ve seen in placed like New York, California, Illinois, or catch-and-release,” said Rep. Houston Gaines, an Athens Republican.
Georgia already requires defendants to post cash or property to get out of jail for seven severe crimes, such as murder or rape. The measure would have added crimes to the list, including passing a worthless check, or misdemeanors such as reckless driving or unlawful assembly. Parts of a 2018 law championed by then- Gov. Nathan Deal sought to eliminate cash bail for most misdemeanor crimes.
Mostly Democratic opponents of the measure said many more poor people would sit in jail, causing them to lose their jobs, housing or even custody of their children, while costing local taxpayers much more money to fund their jailing.
“This bill will harm poor people. This bill will create a two-tiered criminal legal system in the state of Georgia, one for those who can afford bond and one for those who cannot,” said House Democratic Whip Sam Park, of Lawrenceville. “We cannot simply lock poor people up as a solution to building safer communities.”
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Rep. Anne Allen Westbrook, a Savannah Democrat, noted that it costs $74.51 a day to house a prisoner in the Chatham County jail.
Recent Democratic overhaul measures in states such as Illinois and New York have sought to eliminate cash bail and lessen pretrial detention on the premise they do more harm than good, especially to marginalized groups.
But Republican lawmakers in at least 14 states have introduced some 20 bills so far this year to do just the opposite. Their proposals include increasing the number of non-bailable offenses, requiring more people to pay cash bail and encouraging or requiring judges to consider a defendant’s criminal record when setting bail.
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Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has said he wants more restrictive bail conditions. That’s in line with how he and other Republicans bashed their Democratic opponents last year as soft on crime. Kemp is also backing other anti-crime proposals being put forward in Georgia this year, including longer sentences for some criminals.
Judges are only supposed to grant bail to people who aren’t considered a threat to society and a threat to flee before trial.