Bill to teach drivers to interact with police passes House

Riley Bunch, The Valdosta Daily Times, Ga.
·3 min read

Mar. 31—Correction: A previous version of the story said that the bill had been approved for final passage. The Senate will need to vote on the House substitute before it is sent to the governor.

ATANTA — A bill that mandates new drivers learn how to interact with law-enforcement officers passed the House and heads to the Senate for final passage.

The measure requires the Department of Public Safety to create a curriculum in hand with the Georgia Public Safety Training Center that outlines "best practices" for drivers when interacting with law enforcement. The course would be included in all driver education programs.

Rep. Martin Momtahan, a Dallas Republican, who presented the bill before final passage in the House, said it aims to teach new drivers how to navigate being stopped by a police officer.

"Make no mistake, the sole purpose of Senate Bill 115, is to protect our families, our citizens and our officers, through education," he said. "To teach them what those expectations should be."

But the opponents decried the bill, calling it "one-sided" and a big step backward in repairing the relationship with law enforcement and people of color.

Democrat Rep. Kim Alexander of Hiram pointed out to her colleagues that just this week in Minneapolis, the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin began; he has been charged in the death of George Floyd.

"Mr. Floyd's murder was also reminder that past efforts to address problems with police have failed repeatedly," she said. "It is against the backdrop of these realities, including the backdrop of the start of the trial of a police officer who murdered Mr. Floyd, that I am deeply troubled by the provisions in Senate Bill 115."

Alexander said the bill emphasizes the role of civilians and shifts responsibility from law-enforcement officers. She also flagged the conflict of interest of having law enforcement craft the program.

"There is a long-standing adversarial relationship between police and the communities they serve — especially communities of color," she said. "And a training course for civilians being designed and potentially administered by the very people who have contributed to the brokenness of the police system, would do nothing to address the lack of trust between police and people of color."

Democrats also opposed the measure that does not directly require the curriculum to include teaching the rights of civilians.

"This bill sends the wrong message," Atlanta Democrat Bee Nguyen said. "It perpetuates the myth that civilians are the ones responsible for the way that law enforcement treats them."

Republicans pushed back that their colleagues across the aisle were "politicizing" a bill that provides additional education for new drivers.

"This just recognizes the fact that we as a community have a mutual responsibility to each other," Momtahan said. "For our mutual safety when it comes to traffic stops and law enforcement interaction."

The bill's sponsor Sen. Randy Robertson, R-Cataula, a former law enforcement officer, said during debate in the Senate that it aims to reduce confusion between drivers and law enforcement.

"I feel that a strong curriculum put throughout the state will reduce a lot of violence and a lot of confusion when citizens come in contact with law enforcement officers, especially during traffic stops," he said.