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Kemp signs Georgia 'police protections' measure into law

Greg Bluestein and Maya T. Prabhu, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on

Published in News & Features

"It's disappointing that supporting law enforcement has become a partisan issue," said House Speaker David Ralston. "We value and stand with the men and women who wear the badge in Georgia, and House Bill 838 demonstrates that unequivocally."

At first glance, Kemp would seem assured to support it. He's taken the side of law enforcement officials during demonstrations over police brutality, deployed the National Guard after the State Patrol's headquarters was vandalized and released a video message in support of police immediately following sickout protests by Atlanta officers.

But civil rights groups and legislators raised concerns that the hastily written legislation could weaken protections for police officers in some cases and have other unintended consequences.

For one, the ACLU of Georgia has argued that the measure could reduce potential prison sentences for the murder of a police officer from mandatory life in prison to a maximum of five years behind bars because of a conflict in the law.

Other critics fear that it could give police officers new powers to chase down street protesters in the state's civil courts by granting them broad authority to sue people, groups or corporations that infringe on their civil rights.

"We are deeply disappointed that the governor would allow legislation of this sort to go into law," said Andrea Jones, the ACLU of Georgia's executive director, who said Georgia law already includes "sufficient protections" for law enforcement officers.

"HB 838 was hastily drafted as a direct swipe at Georgians participating in the Black Lives Matter protests who were asserting their constitutional rights."

Kemp, a first-term Republican, wasn't shy about using the red pen last year when he nixed 14 measures, including one that would have required elementary schools to schedule recess each day and another that would have mandated that school systems update safety plans and conduct drills.

He echoed a tone set by his predecessor, Gov. Nathan Deal, who was not afraid to send measures to the scrap heap. Deal vetoed both a "religious liberty" measure and a campus gun proposal in 2016, and in 2018 he nullified 21 bills -- the most of his eight-year tenure.


Aside from the police law, Kemp was also set to decide whether to approve a pandemic-inspired measure that would curtail the ability of people to sue businesses and health care providers if they are diagnosed with COVID-19.

And he was to determine whether to back proposals to dissolve the Glynn County Police Department, which were introduced in January in response to years of alleged problems at the agency but earned more support after Arbery's death.

It was not immediately clear whether he signed or vetoed them.

He's already signed into law the other highest-profile measures that lawmakers adopted this session.

Beyond the hate-crimes legislation, he's also approved bills to extend the time some new mothers can receive Medicaid benefits, cut down on "surprise" medical bills and allow stores to deliver beer, wine and booze to Georgians' homes.

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