Georgia senators voted 30-17 on Thursday to require cash bail for 30 additional crimes, with more than half being misdemeanors, a move that could strand poor defendants in jail, reports the Associated Press. The measure would also reserve the right to bail individuals out only to those who meet legal requirements to use bail bond companies. It could also increase overcrowding in Georgia’s county lockups, and erodes almost unanimously approved 2018 reforms under Republican Gov. Nathan Deal allowing judges to release most people accused of misdemeanors without bail. Republican Sen. Randy Robertson of Cataula, a longtime sheriff’s deputy and former state president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said that the measure is about “making our communities safer.” Roy Copeland, a Valdosta lawyer who served on Deal’s Criminal Justice Reform Council, said the measure will cause people accused of misdemeanors to lose their jobs, homes and custody of their children when they get stuck in jail and can’t afford bail.
It’s not the first time Republicans expanded the list of crimes in Georgia where the accused is required to post cash or property bail, and Gov. Brian Kemp has said he wants more restrictive conditions. With state lawmakers, but not Kemp, facing voters this year, it could be a sign that Republicans intend to bash their Democratic opponents as soft on crime as they did in 2022. Kemp has also backed other anti-crime proposals, including longer terms for some criminals. Some Republican supporters of Deal’s policies say the new bill is not a betrayal of those years of efforts, noting that a Deal-backed provision requiring judges to take account of a person’s ability to pay in setting bail remains in law. The Bail Project, a fund which says it has bailed more than 1,500 Georgians out of jail since 2019, questioned the decision to limit individuals' ability to bail out people, saying it is "like placing restrictions on a food pantry while claiming to solve hunger."