ATLANTA — Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has signed a law aimed at blocking “defund the police” efforts in larger Georgia cities and counties, saying it’s unfair to “condemn and demonize” police officers.
“This far-left movement will endanger our communities and our law enforcement officers and leave our most vulnerable at risk,” the Republican Kemp said Friday while speaking at the Barrow County Sheriff’s Office gun range in Bethlehem, flanked by a number of sheriffs and police chiefs.
The law would limit governments’ ability to cut police funding by more than 5% a year after Atlanta and Athens-Clarke County officials debated but rejected plans to cut or redirect spending following racial-injustice protests last year. The death of George Floyd, a black man killed in police custody in Minneapolis last year, launched demonstrations that were also fueled by the death of Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta.
The measure is a rejection of arguments by protesters nationwide that minority communities are suffering from over policing. The critics argue that governments should spend less on law enforcement and more on social services to address problems.
Rep. Houston Gaines, an Athens Republican who sponsored the bill, said lawmakers “won’t allow the defund the police movement to take a foothold in Georgia,” saying instead that local governments should be hiring more officers and paying them more to fight a spike in crime.
“Listen, I support local control, but when you have local governments that are out of control, I knew we had to act,” Gaines said of Athens-Clarke and Atlanta. “While we’re fortunate these proposals didn’t pass the first time around, we can’t let it happen.”
Most Democrats opposed restricting local control and said Republicans were grandstanding to score political points.
A similar measure has become law in Florida, while other states are considering them.
Defunding the police was debated extensively across the country, including during the presidential race, but not much action followed. An Associated Press review found that while some local governments trimmed police budgets, cuts were mostly modest. In Minneapolis, despite efforts to transform policing, the city is planning to spend $6.4 million to try to fill vacancies.
Under the Georgia measure, cities and counties can cut more than 5% if local revenues decline by more than that, and cities and counties with fewer than 25 officers are exempt.
There’s also a provision to allow governments to make larger capital expenditures for a year and not get locked in to higher levels of spending. Cities also could abolish their police forces and contract with counties for law enforcement if they guarantee equivalent levels of protection.
It’s unclear what the penalty would be for a government that defies the law. Gaines has said decreases of more than 5% could be challenged in court.
A court also ruled that Kemp legally appointed a former state senator as a superior court judge, rejecting a lawsuit by an attorney who said there should have been an election and that Kemp waited too long.
Senior Judge Michael Karpf ruled Thursday that Jesse Stone can remain a judge in the Augusta Judicial Circuit.
Former judge Michael Annis retired in February 2020, but the Republican governor didn’t name Stone to the bench until Feb. 21 of this year.
Lawyer Maureen Floyd filed suit in Burke County claiming that Kemp had waited too long because Annis’ term expired at the end of 2020.
Karpf ruled that Kemp had not violated the state constitution’s requirement that Kemp fill the vacancy “promptly” and wrote that it didn’t matter that Annis’ term had run out because previous caselaw stated that judicial terms of office are eliminated when judges resign.
The judge also rejected Floyd’s claims that Kemp manipulated the appointment process to give Stone a longer period in office before he had to face voters.
Karpf noted that Stone will face voters in a nonpartisan election next year, the same time he would have gone before voters even if Kemp had appointed him in February 2020, because state law requires at least a six-month delay before an appointed judge faces voters. Judicial elections generally take place in May, not on the November ballot that includes partisan elected officials.