Controversial new Georgia laws that took effect on Saturday impose stiffer criminal penalties for convictions connected to street gangs, create new restrictions on doctors providing medical care for transgender children, and establish a new commission that will scrutinize prosecutors’ decisions.
This year, the GOP-dominated state Legislature passed several measures that critics say could have unintended consequences, such as Gov. Brian Kemp’s priority crime-fighting street gang bill and banning minors from receiving gender-affirming care. Each July 1 marks the official start of a new year for the state government and a time when many bills passed earlier in the year become law.
Kemp’s Senate Bill 44 imposes a five-year mandatory prison sentence for gang-related offenses and an additional five years for recruiting minors to commit crimes on behalf of the gang.
The Republican governor said that SB 44 sends a clear message to gang members that recruiting children for criminal activity will have serious consequences.
“This bill will help us stop the spread of gangs, hold offenders accountable, and keep our communities safe,” Kemp said in April while signing several crime-fighting measures at a Georgia Sheriffs’ Association conference.
A host of law enforcement officials and Republican lawmakers say the stiffer penalties will be vital in stopping the growth of gangs from Atlanta to rural areas that are recruiting minors to assist the criminal enterprise of gangs.
Critics call the measure a step backward in criminal justice that they say should emphasize rehabilitation over locking people up, and they argue that a judge’s discretion on sentencing would be unreasonably limited by the bill. Separately, a new law requiring cash bail for charges unrelated to criminal gangs could result in someone being arrested during a traffic stop if they have an outstanding failure to appear in court charge on their record.
Another law that takes effect on Saturday is House Bill 227, which increases criminal penalties for damaging critical infrastructure such as water systems, electric grid or law enforcement buildings.
This year, a controversial law and order bill that failed to pass would have added 31 criminal charges requiring bail, such as misdemeanor trespassing and marijuana possession. Lawmakers will have a chance to reconsider SB 64 when the legislative session resumes in January.
Contentious Transgender Medical Care Law
Kentucky, Florida, and Tennessee are the latest conservative states joining Georgia to pass legislation prohibiting doctors from providing hormone treatment and performing gender-affirming surgeries on minors.
Starting last Saturday, under Georgia’s ban on transgender medical treatment for people under 17, physicians who still provide this type of care to new patients may be subject to civil penalties or criminal charges.
The law will not affect children who are already taking hormones. The law also prohibits minors in Georgia from taking testosterone or estrogen, but will allow them to take drugs that delay puberty.
Supporters argue that the law will prevent children from taking life-altering medications and undergoing irreversible surgeries until they are legal adults.
Advocates argue that medical associations emphasize the importance of supporting children with gender dysphoria through hormone therapy and that doctors could be forced to choose between following the law or doing what is best for their patients.
Last month, a federal judge overturned Arkansas’ 2021 law restricting transgender medical care that also prevents doctors from referring patients elsewhere.
While the judge’s ruling only applies to the Arkansas ban, it may have legal ramifications for similar bans in Georgia and other states.
Prosecutor Oversight Group Becomes Official
As of July 1, Georgia’s first ever prosecutors oversight commission can begin writing and adopting its rules and regulations ahead of Oct. 1 when the panel can begin accepting complaints lodged against the state’s local district attorneys.
The commission was created through Senate Bill 92 that passed largely along partisan lines. Republicans and Democrats debated the need to appoint an oversight commission that has the power to punish prosecutors by removing them from elected office.
The new law also stipulates that each case must be reviewed individually by the prosecutor and solicitor for probable cause before a charging decision is made.
Democratic lawmakers and other critics argue that the Republicans’ plan removes prosecutorial discretion to deciding how cases should be prioritized in each community.
The bill’s sponsor, Cataula Republican Sen. Randy Robertson, has denied accusations the intent of creating the commission that can rein in district attorneys is based on a political agenda.
Robertson has said the board will provide similar accountability that already exists for police officers and judges who fail to carry out their duties or act unprofessionally.
Fani Willis, the Fulton County District Attorney investigating former President Donald Trump for interference in the 2020 election, has called the oversight commission overreaction. Republicans have also criticized Athens-Clarke District Attorney Deborah Gonzalez after she said she would not prioritize low-level marijuana possession charges.
Lemonade Stands Legalized
Kids in Georgia will be able to legally sell pre-packaged goods, lemonade, and other thirst-quenching beverages just in time for the Fourth of July. Senate Bill 55, better known as the Lemonade Stand Act, eliminates health permit and licensing requirements for anyone 18 or under who sells refreshments on private property. Children also don’t have to worry about taxes unless they earn $5,000 in a calendar year.
The bipartisan measure’s sponsor Sen. Elena Parent, an Atlanta Democrat, has called it a way to remove the hassle of bureaucracy while encouraging entrepreneurial spirit in young people.
This article originally appeared at the Georgia Recorder.
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