Georgia lawmakers mull bail overhaul, poll closing times
By BEN NADLER and R.J. RICO
Feb. 27, 2018
ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia lawmakers were hard at work Monday and passed dozens of bills as they approach a key deadline this week. With some exceptions, bills need passage by at least one chamber by Wednesday to remain alive for the session, which ends in late March.
Here is a look at some of the major activity inside the Georgia Capitol:
UNIVERSITY FREE-SPEECH POLICY
The university system of Georgia would have to create a free-speech policy protecting invited speakers under a proposal that passed the Senate on Monday.
The measure, sponsored by Sen. William Ligon, comes in response to a national debate about controversial speakers — often conservative ones — being disinvited from speaking on campuses because of student protests or disruptions.
The core of the proposal would mandate that the university system establish disciplinary sanctions for anyone who interferes with speakers.
Opponents of the measure say that it would actually limit the rights of students by stifling their ability to protest speakers with whom they disagree.
POLL CLOSING TIMES
Georgia's Republican senators want Atlanta voting polls to close an hour earlier.
The Senate voted along party lines, 35-19, Monday for a bill establishing a statewide 7 p.m. poll-closing time. Atlanta polls currently close at 8 p.m., an hour later than the rest of Georgia.
The measure, which goes to the House next, would also require primaries to be held for local and state special elections.
The proposal is by Sen. Joshua McKoon, a Columbus Republican running for Georgia's Secretary of State — an office that oversees election activity.
Democrats accused McKoon of trying to stifle the vote in Atlanta, a Democratic stronghold where residents already face bad traffic to make it to the poll.
McKoon says a statewide closing time will prevent confusion. He says residents have ample opportunities to vote early.
CASH BAIL OVERHAUL
The Georgia Senate has unanimously passed a measure that would overhaul the state's misdemeanor bail process.
The proposal passed Monday is one of the final pieces of Republican Gov. Nathan Deal's years-long initiative to overhaul the state's criminal justice system by keeping fewer nonviolent offenders behind bars.
The latest measure would give judges more leeway in forgoing cash bail for low-income offenders held for nonviolent offenses and more opportunities to impose community service rather than fines.
The proposal also enhances penalties for certain crimes involving firearms.
Democratic Sen. Jen Jordan praised the bill, saying portions that allow courts to consider the financial resources of the accused were "desperately needed."