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Bill to block defunding police in Georgia advances in state House

A bill aimed at preventing Georgia city and county governments from making deep cuts in the budgets of their local police agencies advanced in the Georgia House of Representatives Tuesday.

Sponsored by state Rep. Houston Gaines, RAthens, the bill would limit local governments from reducing funds for police by more than 5% over a 10year span. It includes exemptions for smaller jurisdictions and for spending on equipment purchases.

Gaines highlighted recent failed attempts by some Athens and Atlanta elected officials to slice millions of dollars from their police budgets amid protests over police brutality and racial injustice that swept across Georgia and the country last summer.

“These efforts are underway in our state and certainly something I think we need to fight against,” Gaines said. “We all recognize that supporting law enforcement is of the utmost importance and, in my opinion, the most important role that our local governments have.” Gaines’ bill cleared the House Governmental Affairs General Government Subcommittee on a partyline vote. It heads to the full committee for another vote before potentially moving to the House floor. The bill comes after last summer’s protests following high-profile killings of Black men by police officers, including the deaths of George Floyd in Minnesota and Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta. Property destruction and violence at some of those protests sparked a backlash from conservative leaders over a push by some progressive officials to curb police funding, dubbed “defund the police.” The subject took center stage as an issue for both political parties in the 2020 election cycle.

Opposition to the bill came Tuesday from the Georgia Municipal Association and the Association County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG), which represent city and county governments. Decisions on police funding should be left to local officials, said Todd Edwards, ACCG’s deputy legislative director.

“Police power is one of our inherent or supplemental powers under the constitution,” Edwards said. “We’d like to maintain our flexibility to fund and manage police forces how our local elected officials — those accountable to the public — feel is the best use of taxpayer dollars.”

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