State Senate passes bill aimed at no-cash bail

Feb. 27—ATLANTA — The Republican-controlled state Senate has passed legislation that would mostly do away with the granting of no-cash bail to criminal suspects in Georgia.

Senate Bill 63, which passed 31-23 largely along party lines, would prohibit judges from ordering no-cash bail unless the accused has been charged with a crime that does not carry a jail or prison sentence. No-cash bail would apply to a long list of violent and non-violent crimes, from murder and rape to possession of marijuana.

"The legislation is aimed at a rise in crime across Georgia that cities and counties aren't doing enough to combat," Sen. Randy Robertson, R-Cataula, the bill's chief sponsor and a former law enforcement officer, said. "The individuals going out and committing these crimes are not new criminals. The vast majority are recidivists, individuals the system has been kind to."

But Democrats argued the bill would be counterproductive. Sen. Josh McLaurin, D-Sandy Springs, cited studies showing that the longer a criminal suspect sits in jail, the more likely that person is to become a repeat offender.

"This bill is mean-spirited," Sen. Nabilah Islam, D-Lawrenceville, said. "It unfairly targets Georgia's poor ... and makes Georgia less safe by making it more likely people will end up back in the criminal justice system."

McLaurin praised former Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican, for his efforts to enact criminal justice reform in Georgia through initiatives including accountability courts aimed at keeping people out of jail.

"If you're in jail, you can't go to your job, take care of your family, get treatment for a medical condition," McLaurin said. "Gov. Nathan Deal understood that. We are moving in the opposite direction Gov. Deal took us."

But Sen. John Albers, R-Roswell, chairman of the Senate Public Safety Committee, said Democrats' arguments against the bill were more concerned about criminals than their victims.

"We should be mortified that people are afraid to leave their homes," he said. "We have a responsibility to protect the people of this state."

Senators approved an amendment to the bill brought by Sen. Ed Setzler, R-Acworth. Under the change he proposed, a person charged with a crime who fails to appear in court would be denied cash bail on their "second or subsequent offense" rather than after the first.

The bill now moves to the Georgia House of Representatives.