Senate to consider bill to extend use of ankle monitors for sex offenders

Rep. Steven Sainz, a Republican from Woodbine, says his House Bill 720 will give the state more ability for for lifetime tracking of some felon sex offenders. His bill was advanced on Crossover Day with a 98-63 vote. House Media Services photo

State lawmakers scrambled last year to close a loophole after the Georgia Supreme Court ruled the state was unconstitutionally requiring some sex offenders to wear ankle monitors after they completed their sentence.

Last week, Georgia House members sent House Bill 720 for the Senate to review just before the 2020 legislative session was suspended. It passed the House of Representatives with a 98-63 vote on Thursday’s Crossover Day over objections by Democrats that the proposed lengthy probation requirements are too harsh. The bill adds a list of felony sex offenses that would get mandatory lifetime probation in the case of a second conviction. 

The Supreme Court decision released 400 sexual offenders classified by the state as dangerous predators from state GPS monitoring. Rep. Steven Sainz said the crimes listed in his bill like sex trafficking, aggravated sodomy and enticing a child for indecent purposes are serious enough to warrant a lifetime of around-the-clock GPS tracking after the offender is released from prison.

The legislation has elicited strong opposition from Democrats who say it goes against criminal justice reform efforts by unfairly lumping some offenses together for a potential lifetime sentence of probation or 30 years in prison because of a probation violation.

A judicial review is called for after the first 10 years and subsequent five year periods to determine if the offender is rehabilitated enough to have their sentence reduced. 

Republican Chuck Efstration said the bill is consistent with the criminal justice reform push that he served on a council for during Gov. Nathan Deal’s administration. 

“We are saying that for the most serious offenders, where public safety is in jeopardy, we are going to allow oversight to ensure that the public is protected,” said Efstration, who lives in Gwinnett County.

Georgia law already requires life imprisonment or probation for anyone convicted of forcible rape, felony aggravated child molestation, felony aggravated sodomy and aggravated sexual battery.

Democrat Minority House Leader Bob Trammell says the proposed monitoring rules are overbearing. 

“This is a step backwards,” said the Luthersville resident. “If we decide that any of these crimes need to be sentenced in a more harsh manner, then we should deal with those crimes individually, but what we should not do, is tack on at the end probation for life.”

Rep. Gregg Kennard, a minister and director of a transitional reentry program, said the state already has safeguards in place such as the sexual offender registry and rules that prevent sex offenders them from living near schools.

“I find unduly punitive and stigmatizing research proves that the offending individual who is further penalized and stigmatized will cease to respond positively to treatment because there’s a sense of futility,” the Lawrenceville Democrat said.


Bill to end charging 17-year-old offenders as adults clears committee

The Georgia Senate now has the chance to weigh in on Marietta Republican Rep. Bert Reeves’ anti-gang legislation that adds to the list of offenses covered, including human trafficking, child molestation and enticing a child. It is backed by Gov. Brian Kemp, who campaigned in 2018 with promises to crackdown on gang activity in Georgia.. luoman/Getty Images

A Georgia House committee Monday recommended raising the age a teenager can be charged as an adult to 18 from 17, setting aside concerns that the change comes at a multi-million dollar cost to state agencies.

The so-called Raise the Age legislation that advanced through the House Juvenile Justice Committee Monday proposes to change the law to allow the majority of 17-year-olds to be processed in the juvenile court system instead of adult court. Treating 17-year-old offenders as juveniles could cost the state an additional $65 million annually, according to a state fiscal note attached to the bill.

That’s on top of a one-time $200 million expense Department of Juvenile Justice officials project it will cost to build four new juvenile detention centers to accommodate the influx of 18-year-olds.

State auditors project an additional $50 million annual operating cost for the juvenile justice agency, as well as another $15 million in new spending for mental health services and state-funded legal help.

Building four new jails shouldn’t be necessary when about 85% of the 17-year-olds are arrested for non-violent crimes and youth detention centers are already under capacity, said Sherrie Jefferson, executive director of the nonprofit African-American Juvenile Justice Project.

Other states have shifted annual costs from their corrections departments budgets into juvenile justice when they increased the age of youthful offenders, Jefferson said.

However, Department of Juvenile Justice Commissioner Tyrone Oliver said at last month’s committee hearing his department’s $200 million estimate is based on the need to add capacity in populated areas where development costs are high.

New York spent $19 million on detention center facilities after raising the age for juvenile courts and offered to cover costs for local governments dealing with financial hardships. Connecticut’s juvenile justice budget decreased from $139 million in 2001-2002 to $137 million a decade later after raising the age to 18 for adult offenders, according to a Justice Institute Policy report.

“When (17-year-olds) are charged as an adult, you’re literally creating not just a school to prison pipeline, you’re adding to the delinquency and criminality of the child going forward,” Jefferson said.

Supporters of the change say when 17-year-olds are charged as juveniles they’re less likely to become repeat offenders with fewer barriers to education, military and jobs as a result of a criminal record.

A recent addition to the legislation is a proposed oversight committee to ease a transition from adult incarceration to juvenile supervision. 

The transfer of responsibility for 17-year-olds could take place in 2021, said Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver of Decatur, the lone Democratic sponsor of the bill.

“Nationally the numbers for implementation for ‘Raise the Age’ are not as large in any other state as they were predicted so everybody’s feeling more comfortable about the numbers,” she said.

Georgia, Texas and Wisconsin are the only states where 17-year-olds must go through adult courts and prison systems.

A 17-year-old in Georgia that commits a serious violent crime like a sex offense or armed robbery would still go through the normal adult court system if the legislation becomes law. 

Some juvenile court judges and attorney associations like the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia say they will need more resources to handle a higher caseload and services tailored to teenagers.

The strongest opposition to the bill is from the state’s police and sheriffs’ associations, which say rural Georgia counties will get stuck with higher costs of transporting more juveniles to youth detention centers, which can take hours to reach in rural areas.

In 2018, about 6,700 17-year-olds were arrested and as of February this year 66 were incarcerated by the state Department of Corrections.


House committee wants to restore lengthy GPS monitoring for sex offenders

Hundreds of Georgia sex offenders deemed dangerous enough that they were forced to wear ankle monitors last year are no longer tracked in the wake of a March 2019 Georgia Supreme Court decision. Mario Tama/Getty Images

Georgia legislation that would lead to a lifetime sentence for people convicted of at least two felony sexual offenses moved through a House committee on Thursday.

State Rep. Steven Sainz filed House Bill 720 in response to a state Supreme Court ruling in 2019 that found it unconstitutional for law enforcement agencies to force sex offenders to be electronically monitored after they served their sentence. The bill, however, continues to generate criticism about its fairness in mandating life sentences.

The legislation clears the way for law enforcement to use more ankle monitors to track offenders after they are released from jail or prison. 

Sainz said the proposed law could give state and local law enforcement more oversight to keep vulnerable Georgians safe from potentially dangerous people.  

The Supreme Court decision released 400 sexual offenders classified by the state as dangerous predators from state GPS monitoring.

The legislation also requires an automatic judicial review after the offender serves 10 years on probation.That’ll give a judge a chance to review enough information to see if the sentence should be relaxed, Sainz said at Thursday’s House committee meeting.

“We know a sex offender is most likely to re-offend within a period of five years,” he said. “This allows us to have applicable information to make sure we’re not taking a tool that allows the safety of Georgians away prematurely but also not continuing this life probation on individuals that aren’t seemed to be a risk for re-offense.”

However, a representative of the Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers says that the measure is still too harsh.

Georgia law already requires life imprisonment or probation for anyone convicted of forcible rape, felony aggravated child molestation, felony aggravated sodomy and aggravated sexual battery.

“We believe that ankle monitoring should remain a requirement only for the people determined to have the greatest risk to reoffend and should remain discretionary for everyone else,” media chair Amanda Clark-Palmer said by email.

The life sentence also raises questions about what would happen if the offender’s probation is revoked, putting their fate in the hands of a judge.

“The consequence of that is that the person is not eligible for parole until they’ve served 30 years,” Clark-Palmer said.

The bill also proposes to allow local law enforcement agencies to post signs outside homes of sex offenders to warn trick-or-treaters to stay on away on Halloween.

A group of registered sex offenders filed a lawsuit against the Butts County Sheriff’s Office in 2019 for placing signs outside of sex offenders home, that included claims that the signs violated constitutional rights against forced speech.

Rep. Ed Setzler, a member of the committee, said that issue should be resolved by having state law give local jurisidcations the discretion to place the signs outside a sex offender’s residence.


Lawmakers seek sex predator tracking bill that’s constitutional

Hundreds of Georgia sex offenders deemed dangerous enough that they were forced to wear ankle monitors last year are no longer tracked in the wake of a March 2019 Georgia Supreme Court decision. Mario Tama/Getty Images

Georgia legislators aim to close a loophole that’s now preventing the state from using ankle monitors to track more than 400 sex offenders.

Some House and Senate lawmakers are backing legislation that would give judges the ability to impose lifetime electronic monitoring as part of someone’s sentence if a sex offender is deemed to have a strong chance of reoffending.

The proposals follow a Georgia Supreme Court ruling that it is unconstitutional for the state to require around-the-clock GPS tracking after the felony sex offender has completed their sentence.

The 2019 ruling forced the state to stop using ankle monitors on 412 of the 1,054 people classified by a governor-appointed state review board as “sexually dangerous” predators.

The court’s decision, however, does not prevent legislators from changing the law so lifetime electronic monitoring can still be mandated when the worst culprits are sentenced in court.

State Sen. Randy Robertson said he plans to file legislation this session giving judges the authority to determine the length of electronic surveillance.

That was the recommendation of a Senate study committee that the Cataula Republican served on last year.

“We’re working on some legislation that will address some of the gaps we feel are in the way of state monitoring,” Robertson said last week. “Our intent is to make our laws regarding monitoring sex offenders probably some of the toughest in the country.”

While Robertson and some of his colleagues work on their own legislation, a bill introduced late in the House last session remains alive this year.

House Bill 720, sponsored by Rep. Steven Sainz, a Woodbine Republican, would continue allowing the state’s Sex Offender Registration Review Board to evaluate whether an offender should be classified as a sexually dangerous predator, but it would leave the final decision to judges.

Critics of giving the state review board sole-discretion derided its lack of transparency and for the panel sometimes classifying someone as a dangerous sexual predator long after the person is initially sentenced.

However, if the law was changed so that all felony sex offenses could have a lifetime probation sentence, it could lead to another unconstitutional result, says attorney Mark Yurachek, who was involved in last year’s Supreme Court case.

In that proceeding, Yurachek represented a man convicted of child molestation and sexual exploitation of a minor who fought the legality of having to wear an ankle monitor once his sentence was over.

Georgia law already requires life imprisonment or probation for anyone convicted of forcible rape, felony aggravated child molestation, felony aggravated sodomy and aggravated sexual battery.

Yurachek said empowering a judge to impose lifetime probation for all felony sex offenses could result in overzealous judges giving the maxiumum to a 19-year-old convicted of statutory rape for having sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend.

“There are judges in this state who would not consider the weight of the gravity of the circumstances,” he said. “Not only does it seem ridiculous to give someone a life sentence for engaging in that behavior, it also, in my opinion, demeans the severity of other crimes.”

However, letting a judge make that decision in an open courtroom is better than the current process, said Yurachek and attorney Jason Sheffield, who was also involved in the state Supreme Court case.

“The best case scenario is where the law builds in a process to have this designation reviewed after awhile to afford him due process to come back in court with his own experts, to allow testimony to show how that person has reformed through counseling,” Sheffield said.

Yurachek also says lawmakers need to better define what is considered a sexually dangerous predator.

“The state’s current definition of sexually dangerous predator is potentially unconstitutionally vague,” he said.


Kemps, law enforcement escalate sex trafficking fight

At the state Capitol on Tuesday, Georgia First Lady Marty Kemp outlined some anti-sex-trafficking legislation that her husband Gov. Brian Kemp will propose. Maggie Lee/Georgia Recorder

Georgia’s first couple has made a priority of fighting the selling of children for sex almost since the day they entered the governor’s mansion in 2019. But it’s the kind of evil that needs fighting — and healing — from a number of angles.

Gov. Brian Kemp and First Lady Marty Kemp announced this week that new legislation is coming that would tighten up restrictions on sex traffickers and offer some new relief to victims.

Children who tend to be vulnerable to being sold for sex include runaways or those graduating out of foster care, according to Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Vic Reynolds. Though Reynolds has also seen middle-class and well-off victims too. The vast majority of victims are relatively young females, he said, though the GBI does see males being trafficked.

The Kemps’ proposed legislation would have people register as sex offenders if they have a felony conviction for pimping, pandering, or keeping a place of prostitution if the victim is under the age of 18.

Another new law would close what Marty Kemp called a “loophole” by banning sexual contact between a foster parent and a minor foster child. Right now it’s only a crime if the child is under 17. Kemp also wants to ban anybody from having a commercial drivers license if they have used a commercial vehicle to commit sex or labor trafficking.

“We must strengthen our laws to hold the bad actors accountable and aid our survivors and their path to healing,” said Marty Kemp this week at a Capitol press conference. Marty Kemp co-chairs the Georgians for Refuge, Action, Compassion, and Education Commission, which she put together about a year ago to look at ways to combat sex trafficking in the state.

The legal understanding of the difference between adults and children and prostitution and trafficking is changing in Georgia. After years of some legislators asking for the change, a 2019 Georgia law now prevents minors from being charged with prostitution. And according to Reynolds, law enforcement are now more inclined to recognize someone as a trafficking victim whereas before they often saw the person as a criminal defendant.

The Kemps also want legislation to give victims the right to restrict access to any criminal record they got while being trafficked, or to have any judgement against them set aside.

“Victims of sex trafficking are pretty much under the complete control of their traffickers,” said Susan Norris, founder and executive director of Rescuing Hope, a Marietta-based nonprofit that’s working to eradicate sex trafficking and which advised Gov. Kemp’s office on the legislation.

The victim “could be stopped at a traffic stop where their trafficker has drugs or guns in the car, and he’s going to shove all that on their lap and tell them, ‘This is yours,’” Norris said.

The legislation is focused mostly on what’s happened in the past, Norris said, because now more and more law enforcement has gone through training from the victim’s perspective. Officers are learning how to recognize victims’ behavior and how to help.

The GBI’s Reynolds also said that law enforcement has to make a more concentrated effort on the demand side.

“In my opinion, that’s how to stop this, is you is you go after the individuals who are paying for sex,” Reynolds said.

State and federal agencies are important, in part, because they can work across the county and city lines that limit local police jurisdiction.

“We have a unit inside the GBI that works exploitation cases against children,” Reynolds said. “I expect that to morph into some agents who work only trafficking cases.”

Prosecutors, too, are on board with the GRACE Commission’s work and fighting across jurisdiction lines, said the director of the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia.

“As prosecutors, we will work together with the Attorney General’s office to ensure that county lines are not barriers to pursuing criminals,” said the council’s executive director, Peter Skandalakis.

Norris said there is still a need for services for victims, and a big one right now is transitional housing for survivors, the kind of places where people can get services to help them deal with trauma and put their lives together.

“If you are taken into ‘the life’ (of sexual servitude) at a young age and you do not finish your education, you don’t have your GED, it’s hard to get a job,” Norris said. “If you have charges on your record, it’s hard to get a job, it’s hard to get housing, it’s hard to get scholarships for schooling.”

For younger people, there is residential housing for girls who are sex trafficking victims, Norris said, but no designated place for boys or LGBTQ youth.

She also said there’s also a need for more public education, starting young. Rescuing Hope has a pilot curriculum it’s putting in front of sixth-grade students.


Lawmakers to tackle ‘Raise the age’ bill to charge 17-year-olds as juveniles

Floyd County Juvenile Court Judge Greg Price says some of his fellow jurists worry they won’t have proper resources if Georgia law is changed to allow 17-year-olds to be treated as juveniles instead of adults. Stanley Dunlap/Georgia Recorder

Floyd County Juvenile Court Judge Greg Price says some of his fellow jurists remain hesitant to support changing Georgia’s law to let 17-year-olds face justice through the juvenile court system.

Juvenile court judges don’t object in principle to increasing the age to 18 from 17, when suspected criminals are automatically charged as an adult. Instead, they worry the juvenile system lacks resources to handle the resulting  higher caseload or services tailored to teenagers.

Judges, prosecutors, criminal justice reform advocates and state lawmakers met for a “Raise the Age” discussion at the state Capitol Friday to discuss legislation that lawmakers could pass this year. A lawmaker backing the bill says increasing the age to charge as an adult should keep more teens out of state prisons and also prevent them from having a public criminal record that follows them into adulthood.

Price said it’s imperative that the state properly invest in treatment services and other programs for youth offenders if the law is changed.

“We don’t need another unfunded mandate from the Legislature,” said Price, vice president of the Council of Juvenile Court Judges of Georgia. “Until you do it with the right services in place, you’re not doing anything to reduce recidivism if you just change the location of the court.”

State Rep. Mandi Ballinger, a Republican from Canton, said she’s still pushing to get House Bill 440 passed in the upcoming session. But her plan is for the new law not to take effect until juvenile justice officials and other experts develop the plan.

Eleven states increased the age to treat nonviolent offenders as adults in the past decade or so, most recently including North Carolina and Missouri.

State Rep. Mandi Ballinger (R-Canton).

Some lawmakers are raising concerns that hardened criminals who are 17 might get off with too little punishment and others connected to criminal justice systems worry about potential costs and how the transition would take place, she said. She wants to allow time to iron out those issues.

“If we’re going to get coordinated and make this happen in 2020, we need to get on the same page,” Ballinger said.

Georgia, Texas and Wisconsin are the three states where 17-year-olds must go through adult courts, according to the Washington D.C.-based Campaign for Youth Justice.

A 17-year-old that commits a serious crime like a sex offense or armed robbery would still go through the normal adult court system, according to language now in the Georgia bill.

Most of the states that pass the law take 18-months to two years before it goes into effect, said Marcy Mistrett, CEO of Campaign for Youth Justice.

“I feel like the moral argument has been won on this issue,” she said. “We know that most 17-year-olds look more like 16-year-olds than adults in terms of their arrest patterns, mostly very low-level offenses.”

A GBI report shows about 6,500 17-year-olds were charged with crimes in 2018. In November 2019, 77 17-year-old inmates and a 16-year-old inmate were incarcerated in three state prisons with adults, according to the Georgia Department of Corrections.

If those teenagers are taken out of the state’s adult prison population, the cost of processing the 18-year-olds in the juvenile system could fall heavily on local governments, said Debra Nesbit, associate legislative director for the Association County Commissioners of Georgia.

“Look at the resources and funding and follow it to make sure that if you close a youth detention center, that that money then goes over to a local court for those local services,” she said.


Georgia high court pushes lawmakers to fix sex offender monitoring

Hundreds of Georgia sex offenders deemed dangerous enough that they were forced to wear ankle monitors last year are no longer tracked in the wake of a March 2019 Georgia Supreme Court decision. Mario Tama/Getty Images

Georgia lawmakers are working to update state laws that govern which sex offenders get sentenced to wear ankle monitors for life after the state’s highest court ruled earlier this year that the devices need to come off once an offender’s sentence ends.

Time is of the essence, as hundreds of sex offenders deemed dangerous enough to warrant ankle monitors are no longer tracked in the wake of the Georgia Supreme Court’s March decision.

A state Senate study committee Wednesday began puzzling through the implications of the court’s ruling that says requiring Georgians convicted of sex crimes to wear tracking devices after they serve their sentences is an unreasonable search and seizure, which violates the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

State law now gives the governor-appointed Sexual Offender Registration Review Board sole authority to classify a convicted sex offender as a “sexually dangerous predator” – offenders who the board deems a risk to commit more sex crimes. The board reviews the person’s background, including their psychological profile and criminal history, to make a determination they’re a dangerous predator. A sexually dangerous predator in Georgia now has to wear a monitoring device for life.

Lawmakers are considering changes to that definition in light of the March court ruling

State lawmakers made little progress at the Wednesday discussion to frame new rules for legislation they hope to pass during the 2020 legislative session.

“I don’t know what the answer is,” state Sen. Greg Kirk, an Americus Republican who sponsored the study committee. “But at the end of the day, if you’re a sexually dangerous predator, I want you followed for life in the state of Georgia.”

Of the state’s roughly 12,000 sex offenders, about 1,000 are classified as sexually dangerous predators, said Tracy Alvord, the review board’s executive director. Of those 1,000 people, more than 400 are now free to walk around in public without an ankle monitor. Alvord said the lack of oversight could lead to an uptick in sex crimes.

“I think it will be interesting down the road for us to see now that they won’t be monitored after their sentence is complete, if that re-offending will start increasing due to lack of monitoring for them,” Alvord said at Wednesday’s hearing.

The review board is often bogged down with a backlog of cases and typically classifies sex offenders long after a judge hands down a sentence, often even after an offender is out prison, Alvord said.

An Atlanta attorney who specializes in representing sex offenders told the Senate panel the new law should leave the ankle monitoring decision up to the sentencing judge.

“The problem is that (state law) doesn’t give prosecutors, judges, the offender or me any guidance as to who is going to be a sexually dangerous predator,” said Mark Yurachek, who represented the convicted offender at the center of the March court ruling. “It gets down to the old legal saying of, ‘I know it when I see it.’”

Kirk agreed, adding that whatever legislation comes out of the study committee also needs to avoid expanding state law in a way that would tack lifetime ankle monitors onto sentences for every sex offender, but only for those deemed sexually dangerous predators.

“We’re not going to cast a net and punish everyone,” Kirk said.


Lawmakers next year to consider closing criminal records for some offenses

Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles Chairman Terry Barnard, right, gives a plaque to Tina Stanley after she shared her life story at the October meeting. The state board has pardoned the Dalton resident. Contributed

Dalton’s Tina Stanley achieved a milestone a few weeks ago when she was declared rehabilitated by the state parole board.

Dating back to 1993, her struggles with drug addiction led to Stanley committing a string of offenses ranging from shoplifting to conspiracy to defraud to methamphetamine possession. Keeping her nose clean since her two-year prison stint ended in 2009 earned her a pardon by the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles.

It was a big moment, but more of a symbolic gesture for Stanley than it would be for most. She overcame some of the barriers that hold back many ex-offenders, including access to quality housing, jobs and educational opportunities.

The 57-year-old says she is fortunate that two judges ended her 15-year probation sentence early in 2014, allowing her to go to school to become a treatment facility counselor.

“I can tell others, ‘I did the right thing, you can do it too,’” Stanley said. “You just have to do the right thing, it is possible.”

For many of Georgia’s ex-offenders like Stanley, getting pardoned is the best recourse to escape the stigma of a criminal past. Last year, the parole board pardoned 467 people who stayed crime-free for at least five years.

Yet, while pardons show that a person is forgiven by the state, that doesn’t clear their criminal record like an expungement would. An expunged criminal conviction is sealed, or erased in the eyes of the law.

And people like Stanley and organizations such as the Georgia Justice Project say now is time to expand a law that prevents someone convicted of a crime from ever having their conviction and arrest records sealed.

“I don’t think if you’ve made a mistake, which I made, I don’t think you should serve a life sentence for that,” Stanley said. “People are needing employment, they’re needing housing and if they can’t get that, they’re going back to doing what they know.”

An expungement is only allowed in Georgia to remove an arrest record when someone was not convicted of that crime, and for some misdemeanor offenses, such as marijuana possession and shoplifting, that are committed before the age of 21.

Georgia is home to 4.2 million residents with some type of criminal history, according to the Atlanta-based nonprofit Georgia Justice Project, which is leading the Second Chance For Georgia Campaign to push for a new expungement law.

“We’ve been working for years on this specific legislation and we feel there is a chance to get it through this year,” executive director Doug Ammar said. “The idea is simple: if someone has been convicted of a crime at some point in their lives, it shouldn’t stay with them and haunt them for the rest of their lives.”

Expungement is supported by several statewide prosecutors’ associations and the members of former Gov. Nathan Deal’s criminal justice reform council.

Some oppose restricting public access to criminal histories held by the government, including organizations that advocate for transparency and increased access to public records.

Major details are still to be sorted out. Those include the length of time someone must wait to get their record expunged, the type of crimes covered under the law and how a victim could be involved in the expungement process, said Peter Skandalakis, executive director of the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia.

“We believe in the concept,” he said. There’s no objection to looking at record restriction, expungement, the sealing of records.The question is what are the details?”

In 2018, the Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform recommended that legislators consider expunging some kinds of misdemeanor and felony convictions. The council said certain crimes such as serious traffic, sex and family violence offenses should not be expunged. 

The council’s report noted that 90% of employers perform criminal background checks on at least some of its applicants and 66% of housing providers said they would not let someone with a criminal history live on their property.

“The unfettered public access to criminal histories bars millions of Georgians from opportunities for a stable income and secure shelter, and these eliminated opportunities come with a cost,” the report said.

One of its council members is Dacula Republican Rep. Chuck Efstration who said everyone from law enforcement and prosecutors to civil rights organizations need to share a role in how this process plays out.

There are several versions of record restriction legislation in Georgia, including one that covers more serious crimes including sex offenses and one that proposes an automatic expungement system instead of letting a judge make the decision.

The Georgia Justice Project and others are working on new legislation that is expected to be considered in 2020.


Gang violence, maternal mortality among topics lawmakers will study

Vic Reynolds, director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, speaks Monday, Aug. 5, 2019, at the first meeting of a legislative study committee focused on how to prevent gang and youth violence. Photo by Stanley Dunlap/Georgia Recorder

Georgia lawmakers are gearing up for another busy study committee season that will tackle topics as varied as the state’s high death rate for new and expectant mothers, combating gang violence and the prospects of legalizing horse race gambling.

Some of these legislative panels, such as one focused on preventing gang and youth violence, are already at work.

Rep. Carl Gilliard, a Savannah-area Democrat, pushed for more emphasis on getting ahead of gang violence as Gov. Brian Kemp and other Republican state leaders rolled out a tough-on-crime approach that increases efforts to prosecute more cases under Georgia’s existing gang law.

“The governor and the attorney general are focusing on the law aspects, and they do need to,” Gilliard said Monday. “We’re going to focus on the other side to complement what they’re doing, because if we don’t deal with cutting off the cancer, the cancer’s going to grow.

“So the preventive measure is very important,” he said.

This is one of the out-of-session deep dives that House Speaker David Ralston, a Blue Ridge Republican, has said will help shape next year’s House priorities. Others will take on maternal mortality, mental health services and the movement of freight throughout Georgia.

The work of these study committees will sometimes result in proposed legislative fixes next session.

Some committees push off with a specific mission. In other instances, the issues they are tasked with addressing are quite broad and the accompanying resolutions offer few insights into what their goals may be.

And the makeup of a committee’s membership will sometimes draw criticism from legislators.

House Democrats requested that at least two black women be placed on the maternal mortality committee as a way to give voice to a community that national statistics show is most at risk.

Five of the seven members are women, however, only two of the women are black.

“We are slightly disappointed that that minimum was taken as a maximum,” State Rep. Park Cannon, an Atlanta Democrat, said at a July press conference. 

“And we hope that black women will be listened to on this issue and that women of color in the state of Georgia will feel comfortable coming to the study committee and sharing their issues on women’s health,” she said. “Because we know that there is a pipeline between many reproductive health experiences and maternal mortality.”

2019 legislative study committees

House of Representatives

  • Maternal Mortality: This new committee will address the death rate among new and expectant mothers. Georgia’s maternal mortality rate ranks as one of the worst in the nation.
  • House Rural Development Council: It’s the largest study committees with 16 legislators appointed to it. The group returns for a third year, and under new leadership, to discuss issues affecting rural communities like economic development and hospital closures.
  • Gang and Youth Violence Prevention: Curbing gang violence has become one of Kemp’s priorities. There are more than 71,000 suspected gang members in the state and this new study committee will look into how to better utilize resources in hopes of steering Georgia’s youth away from gangs in the first place.
  • Innovative Financial Options for Senior Living: The lawmakers will look at ways to use tax credits and other methods to make it easier for seniors to find affordable housing options.
  • Infant and Toddler Social and Emotional Health: Members will study the services offered to prevent and treat mental health issues that affect babies, young children and the adults in their lives.
  • Evaluating and Simplifying Physician Oversight of Midlevel Providers: This three-person committee will look into streamlining state laws that give physicians oversight of registered nurses and physician assistants.
  • Workforce Housing: The committee will review residential building codes regulations in an attempt to protect individual rights and encourage more affordable housing, the resolution says.
  • Heat-Related Injuries, Cardiac Injuries, and Other Sports-Related Injuries: The committee will examine how to prevent the 9,000 heat-related injuries suffered each year by high school athletes.
  • PANDAS: This group is set to address the roadblocks to adequate health care that can lead to pediatric syndromes and disorders that cause anxiety among children.


  • Revising Voting Rights for Nonviolent Felony Offenders: Felons in Georgia are not allowed to vote, but should people convicted of nonviolent crimes be allowed to get back their voting rights?
  • Evaluating and Simplifying Physician Oversight of Physician Assistants and Advanced Practice Registered Nurses: This committee’s mission mirrors a House committee that attempts to improve physicians’ oversight of registered nurses and physician assistants.
  • Athletic Associations: Should a nonprofit organization continue to oversee high school athletics in Georgia?
  • Portable Benefits for Independent Workers: Contracted, temporary and part-time workers typically don’t have the same benefits as their full time-counterparts. The committee will study if there are benefits part-time and independent workers can easily carry to various jobs, the resolution said.
  • Community Schools: Members will study the effectiveness of so-called wrap-around services for schoolchildren with a collaboration between the school and community stakeholders, including local government and social service providers 
  • Passenger Vehicle Seat Safety Belts: Committee members will consider if back seat passengers should be required to wear seat belts.
  • Gaming and Pari-mutuel Wagering on Horse Racing and Growing Georgia’s Equine Industry: Betting on horse racing in Georgia may bring in big bucks for the state and this committee is out to find out the bottom line of legalizing it.
  • Protection from Sexual Predators: The committee will look at ways to protect the public from people convicted of sex crimes. The state Supreme Court ruled in March that it is unconstitutional to have sex offenders electronically monitored after their sentence is completed.
  • Reducing Waste in Health Care: The committee will examine ways state regulation can improve financial management efficiency in hospitals.
  • Reducing Georgia’s Cost of Doing Business: This group is studying how lawsuits are impacting auto insurance rates and rural healthcare access for businesses. 
  • Creating a Georgia Agricultural Marketing Authority: The committee will focus on whether a statewide-authority should be formed to promote agribusiness.
  • Financial Efficiency Star Rating: School districts are rated based on their spending of federal and state funds. This committee will examine if this system favors larger school districts.
  • Agriculture, Forestry, and Landscape Workforce Access: Members will examine employment initiatives to increase the workforce in these industries.
  • Higher Education Outcomes: The committee will research the ways higher education is meeting the demands of an evolving labor market.
  • Educational Development of African-American Children in Georgia: This group will study the resources available in communities that have a major impact on black children.
  • Evaluating E-scooters and Other Innovative Mobility Options for Georgians: The committee will try to bring together electric scooter companies, colleges and governments to deal with a burgeoning industry. 

Joint Committee

  • Georgia Commission on Freight and Logistics: As more freight travels through the Peach State, this group will seek to create a statewide plan addressing transportation infrastructure. 

Special Working Groups

  • Access to Quality Healthcare Special Committee
  • Working Group on Creative Arts and Entertainment


Back To Top