ATLANTA -- Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed a controversial proposal into law on Wednesday pushed by Republicans to grant police new protections despite stiff opposition from critics who said it creates a messy tangle of legal problems.
The measure, House Bill 838, was the most significant proposal left on Kemp's desk at the close of a 40-day period to sign or nullify bills.
In a statement, Kemp said he has attended the funerals of too many law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty since he was elected governor and that it was a "step forward as we work to protect those who are risking their lives to protect us."
"While some vilify, target and attack our men and women in uniform for personal or political gain, this legislation is a clear reminder that Georgia is a state that unapologetically backs the blue," Kemp said.
State Sen. Harold Jones, an Augusta Democrat who worked on the hate-crimes legislation in the Senate, was among the lawmakers who had urged Kemp to veto the measure.
"That's what happens when you rush through legislation when it doesn't have good intent," he said. "There could have been a better way to increase police protections, if they were needed and I'm not saying they were, in the next legislative session instead of rushing this through."
It was shoehorned into and then carved out of the landmark hate-crimes measure that won overwhelming approval after years of inaction in the Georgia Legislature, gaining traction only after graphic video emerged of the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man killed in Glynn County in what prosecutors say was a racist attack.
As part of the compromise, Senate Republicans demanded the passage of a separate proposal that would create the new offense of "bias motivated intimidation" of a police officer or other first responder.
While the hate-crimes legislation earned widespread support, the more polarizing companion piece passed on a party-line margin in the Senate -- and eked by with one vote to spare in the House -- over the objections of critics who saw it as unnecessary and tone deaf amid protests over police brutality. Many pointed to a 2017 law that added penalties for people who assault police officers.
It's supporters called it a crucial endorsement for law enforcement officials at a tumultuous moment.