Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp
(The Center Square) – Gov. Brian Kemp signed legislation that protects Georgia law enforcement officers from crimes targeting them and establishes new standards for when they can be investigated.
House Bill 838 allows officers to seek civil damages if they are wrongfully accused and creates a “bias-motivated intimidation” offense when a first responder is targeted.
The bias protections apply to police and correction officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians and state troopers.
“During my time as governor, I have attended the funerals of far too many law enforcement officers who were killed in the line of duty,” Kemp said in a statement Wednesday. “It’s absolutely heartbreaking, and we must act.”
According to the law, a person commits the offense of bias-motivated intimidation when he or she “maliciously and with the specific intent to intimidate, harass, or terrorize another person because of that person’s actual or perceived employment as a first responder.”
Anyone who harms an officer or causes damage to their property that exceeds $500 will be charged under the law and could face no less than one year to five years in prison and will be subject to a $5,000 fine.
“House Bill 838 is a step forward as we work to protect those who are risking their lives to protect us,” Kemp said. “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.”
The bill passed the General Assembly in late June and was introduced by Sen. John Albers, R-Roswell, during negotiations over a civilian hate crime bill.
Both bills were brought to the forefront after the killing of Ahmaud Aubrey in south Georgia and protests over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Arbery, a black man, was killed during an altercation in February. Three white men have been indicted by a grand jury for the killing.
Some of the protests that started in early June turned into violent demonstrations, which, at times, were aimed at police.
“In these challenging times with law enforcement all over the country being challenged in all sorts of ways, it was a breath of fresh air to see those in the General Assembly that pushed for this legislation,” Georgia Sheriffs’ Association Executive Director Terry Norris told the Georgia Recorder.
Civil rights organizations and Democratic lawmakers had urged Kemp to veto the measure.
The Georgia Legislative Black Caucus (GLBC) sent a letter to the governor in July that asked he strike the measure and consider working with members on new legislation.
“We are more than willing to work with the governor to craft new legislation that contributes to criminal justice reform and restoring public trust with law enforcement agencies,” GLBC chairwoman Rep. Karen Bennett, D-Stone Mountain, said in a statement.
Kemp also called Wednesday for a special session to clean up House Bill 105, legislation he signed that approves a tax break for farmers who were financially affected by Hurricane Michael.