Law Passed By Georgia House Limits How Much Cities Can Cut Police Department Budgets

Republican state Rep. Houston Gaines’ bill would prevent local governments from cutting more than 5% from their police budget.

Emil Moffatt / WABE

The Georgia House of Representatives has passed a bill that would prohibit local communities from reducing funding for police by more than 5% in a year.

The bill passed 101-69 with scores of Democrats voting against the measure.

The bill’s sponsor, Republican state Rep. Houston Gaines, says the legislation is in direct response to efforts to reallocate police funding following social justice movements that have gained momentum in the past year.

Gaines says adequate police funding provides a basic level of safety in communities around Georgia.

“When a victim calls 911, we need quick response times,” said Gaines. “‘Defunding’ the police is a radical idea that will slow response times for victims and put our families and communities at risk.”

In proposing the bill, Gaines noted efforts in Atlanta and Athens-Clarke County to reduce funding for police departments.

“Our bill will ensure that that never happens in our state and will protect Georgia families,” said Gaines.

But Democrats say the system continues as is.

“We did see proposals to transfer funding from police departments to other areas of need, and they did not pass either in Athens-Clarke County or the city of Atlanta,” said Rep. Bee Nguyen, a Democrat from Atlanta. “Just as we are beginning to address the systemic flaws in policing, this bill would shut down the necessary discourse that elected officials are having with members of their communities.”

Nguyen invoked the name of Anthony Hill, a military veteran in DeKalb County who was shot and killed by police during a mental health crisis in 2015.

“Law enforcement’s job is not to handle mental health, and they are simply not equipped to do it,” said Nguyen.

The bill has exemptions when cities’ revenues drop by more than 5% and for police departments with fewer than 10 officers.

“These bills are being filed across the country by Republicans,” said Rep. Renitta Shannon, a Democrat. “And I think this is a weird PR campaign by Republicans to absolve themselves of the fact that domestic terrorists from their party went up to the Capitol on Jan. 6 and killed and maimed police officers.”

Shannon then read a list of more than a dozen names of Black people who have been killed in the hands of law enforcement.

But Shannon wasn’t the only member of the House who cited the politics of the matter.

“This is a politicalized issue, and it’s politicalized to play to the base of one of the political parties,” said Republican Rep. Alan Powell. “But at the end of the day, public safety is out there for both political parties and should serve both equally.”

House Minority Leader James Beverly called the bill a “headline chasing bill” and said that it attempts to put lawmakers above the state constitution.

“It’s going to go to court, and, in the courts, local governments, if they hold the constitution up, they have a fight to say, ‘We get to set our own budget, y’all can’t do that in the General Assembly,” said Beverly.