Freezing temperatures did little to slow down a hot day under the Gold Dome Tuesday, with the legislative session in full gear and some major pieces of legislation announced.
The headliner was Gov. Brian Kemp’s movement to overhaul the state’s citizen’s arrest law, which came under national scrutiny last year following the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick. As written, the 1863 law allows citizens who believe they have witnessed a crime to perform a citizen’s arrest if a crime “is committed in his presence or within his immediate knowledge.” The vague language was used by attorneys for the men who shot Arbery, but later disregarded when video of the incident was revealed by the GBI.
Critics, including the NAACP and the Georgia Democratic Party, called for the law to be repealed altogether. Supporters on the other hand argued that citizen’s arrest is rarely used as a defense in court, and is effective when warranted. So Kemp took the middle road in an overhaul effort that has gained bipartisan support and looks to fulfill one of the governor’s key legislative goals for the session.
The new bill, sponsored by Rep. Bert Reeves (R-Marietta), would still allow for citizen’s arrests, but require the police to be called immediately and close loopholes that might encourage vigilantism. It would also allow for off duty or out of jurisdiction law enforcement officers to make arrests if they see a crime being committed.
Lauded by Kemp and Republican allies, including AG Chris Carr and GBI Director Vic Reynolds, the bill already stood a good chance of passing. But it also has the support of some major Democratic lawmakers such as Rep. Calvin Smyre (D-Columbus), the Dean of the House.
“I support the repeal of the Georgia Citizen’s Arrest statute that has been on the law books of our state since 1863,” said Smyre Tuesday. The citizen’s arrest law is outdated and ripe for abuse by those untrained citizens where 911 is widely available for calling law enforcement to respond. As with the 2020 Anti-Hate Crimes Act, now is the time to remove this cloud over our State; we should not allow citizens to take the law into their own hands and senseless violence to take place. We must act now.”
Also dropped Tuesday was Sen. Lester Jackson’s (D-Savannah) SB 196, which looks to protect students from predators in supervisory positions other than teachers. Currently the protections extended to (17 year old or older) students from teachers do not include coaches, janitorial staff, substitutes, or organizational leaders, a loophole that according to Jackson has been abused in Georgia and other states. Protecting students is clearly Jackson’s imperative in 2021 – the bill, which dropped today, followed his SB 3 which would raise the high school drop-out age from 16 to 17.
The House Tuesday approved a bill that would give three weeks paid parental leave to all state employees and teachers. HB 146, sponsored by Rep. Houston Gaines (R-Athens) would cover more than 420,000 Georgia parents. A similar bill passed the House last year but died in the Senate – supporters hope this version finds better luck this time around.