ATLANTA — Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp on Wednesday signed into law a new measure providing additional legal protections to police officers.
House Bill 838 creates a new crime: bias-motivated intimidation, which would apply to the death or serious bodily injury of a police officer, firefighter or emergency medical technician. The crime would also apply any time someone causes more than $500 in damage to property owned by peace officers, firefighters or emergency medical technicians because of “actual or perceived employment as a first responder.”
In a statement, Kemp said he took action because he has attended the funerals of too many law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty, and he called the measure a “step forward as we work to protect those who are risking their lives to protect us,” AJC reported.
“While some vilify, target and attack our men and women in uniform for personal or political gain, this legislation is a clear reminder that Georgia is a state that unapologetically backs the blue,” Kemp said.
It was shoehorned into and then carved out of a landmark hate-crimes measure that won overwhelming approval after years of inaction in the Georgia Legislature, gaining traction only after video emerged of the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery.
As part of a compromise to win approval of the hate-crimes bill, Senate Republicans demanded the passage of a separate proposal that would create the new offense of “bias motivated intimidation” of a police officer or other first responder, according to AJC.
State Sen. Harold Jones, an Augusta Democrat who worked on the hate-crimes legislation in the Senate, was among the lawmakers who had urged Kemp to veto HB 838.
“That’s what happens when you rush through legislation when it doesn’t have good intent,” he said. “There could have been a better way to increase police protections, if they were needed and I’m not saying they were, in the next legislative session instead of rushing this through.”
While the hate-crimes legislation earned widespread support, the companion piece passed on a party-line margin in the Senate — and eked by with one vote to spare in the House — over the objections of critics who saw it as unnecessary and “tone deaf” amid police protests occurring throughout the country. Many pointed to a 2017 law that added penalties for people who assault police officers.
Its supporters called it a crucial endorsement for law enforcement officials at a tumultuous moment.
“It’s disappointing that supporting law enforcement has become a partisan issue,” House Speaker David Ralston said. “We value and stand with the men and women who wear the badge in Georgia, and House Bill 838 demonstrates that unequivocally.”