A controversial Republican-backed bill that would criminalize state bail funds and expand the list of charges that require cash or property bail has been signed into law by Gov. Brian Kemp.

“This bill carries out important bail reforms that will ensure dangerous individuals cannot walk our streets and commit further crimes,” said Kemp, in statements provided by his office concerning the signing of the bill.

The legislative move comes amid ongoing protests against the construction of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, dubbed “Cop City” by its critics, which will be used for specialized training for both law enforcement and fire department service workers.

The bill adds roughly 30 charges that would be ineligible for release without a property or cash bond. These charges include unlawful assembly and obstruction of a law enforcement officer, and racketeering and conspiracy — charges that have been made against several “Cop City” protesters.

At least 61 people have been charged for allegedly violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act in connection with protests over the controversial training center. Three activists involved in a bail fund, the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, that posted bond for protesters arrested in connection to “Cop City” were also recently charged with charities fraud and money laundering for allegedly “misleading contributors by using funds collected through the Network for Strong Communities, which runs the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, to fund the actions of Defend the Atlanta Forest,” according to the Associated Press.

The bill would also make it a misdemeanor for “any individual, corporation, organization, charity, nonprofit corporation, or group in any jurisdiction” to submit more than three cash bonds per year. Bail is the money a defendant must pay to get out of jail while they await a trial, according to legal research database Justia. It’s collateral for the court to ensure that the defendant will return for the remainder of their criminal trial.

This bill could make it harder for local advocacy organizations like Southerners On New Ground to bail out Black mothers and caregivers on Mother’s Day or for groups like the Atlanta Solidarity Fund to bail out protesters who have been arrested during demonstrations, according to legislators who oppose the bill.

PHOTO: In this Nov. 6, 2023, file photo, "Stop Cop City" demonstrators protest outside the Fulton County Courthouse as 61 fellow protesters are arraigned on state RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) charges in Atlanta.

In this Nov. 6, 2023, file photo, “Stop Cop City” demonstrators protest outside the Fulton County Courthouse as 61 fellow protesters are arraigned on state RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) charges in Atlanta.

Erik S. Lesser/EPA via Shutterstock, FILE

When Sen. Kim Jackson asked if the bill would impact her church congregation’s ability to post bail as a charity, Sen. Josh McLaurin said that it would, according to the language of the legislation.

PHOTO: In this Jan. 11, 2024, file photo, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp delivers the State of the State speech, in Atlanta.

In this Jan. 11, 2024, file photo, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp delivers the State of the State speech, in Atlanta.

Brynn Anderson/AP, FILE

McLaurin – who is opposed to the bill – argued that this would force judges to set bail even in cases in which defendants would have otherwise been released on their own recognizance, including those who are charged with low-level or non-violent offenses. He added that it could worsen conditions in Georgia jails.

“We have to remember somebody is innocent until proven guilty when they’re held pretrial,” said McLaurin. “So, what that means is it is unconstitutional to use cash bail or pretrial procedure as punishment.”

Republican Sen. Randy Robertson argued the legislation would make communities feel safer and address concerns about violence.

“Our county jails are not overpopulated with misdemeanants who cannot afford to make bond,” he said, according to the local news outlet Georgia Recorder.

He also cited the Supreme Court case – Citizens United v. FEC – which ruled that restrictions on “independent expenditures” is a ban on speech.



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