Georgia Republicans push requiring cash bail for 30 new crimes, despite concerns about poverty

FILE - The Fulton County Jail is shown April 11, 2023, in Atlanta. Georgia state senators on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024 passed a bill that would lengthen the list of crimes that would require cash bail for a person to be released from jail before trial. (AP Photo/Kate Brumback) (AP Photo/Kate Brumback, File)

ATLANTA (AP) — A bill to require cash bail for 30 additional crimes is headed to Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp's desk after the House gave it final approval.

The GOP-dominated House voted 97-69 for Senate Bill 63 on Monday, backing a measure that would erodes changes that Republican Gov. Nathan Deal championed in 2018 to allow judges to release most people accused of misdemeanors without bail.

The measure would also limit charitable bail funds or even individuals from bailing more than three people out of jail in a year, reserving that ability only to those who meet legal requirements to be bail bond companies.

Rep. Houston Gaines, an Athens Republican who supported the measure, said people let out of jail without bail are less likely to show up for court than those who have paid to get out of jail, although national studies contradict that claim.

“This legislation will make it clear that Georgia is not going down the path of failure seen by other states and communities that have eliminated cash bail," Gaines said. ”It’s been an unmitigated disaster."

Gaines said judges would still have the discretion to set very low bails. A separate part of the 2018 reform requiring judges to consider someone's ability to pay would still remain law.

But the move could strand poor defendants in jail when accused of crimes for which they’re unlikely to ever go to prison and also aggravate overcrowding in Georgia’s county lockups. Rep. Tanya Miller, an Atlanta Democrat, called it “the criminalization of poverty" and said there was no evidence the bill would make Georgians safer.

“This bill would require incarceration for many offense that once the person is fully vetted through due process, if they are convicted, they would not even receive incarceration," Miller said.

It’s part of a push by Republicans nationwide to increase reliance on cash bail, even as some Democratic-led jurisdictions end cash bail entirely or dramatically restrict its use. That split was exemplified last year when a court upheld Illinois’ plan to abolish cash bail, while voters in Wisconsin approved an amendment to the constitution letting judges consider someone’s past convictions for violent crimes before setting bail.

Gaines called bail funds “unaccountable,” noting that leaders of a bail fund that freed protesters against the planned Atlanta police training center have been indicted. Some civil liberties groups condemned those charges as overreach by Attorney General Chris Carr.

“What is most scary about this bill is the criminalization of churches and religious institutions that have historically been on the front lines of social justice and civil rights," Miller said.

Under the bill, bail would be required for a second or later misdemeanor offense of reckless driving or criminal trespass, as well as for any misdemeanor battery. People would also be required to post bail for failing to appear in court for a traffic ticket if it's their second or later offense.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has said he wants more restrictive bail conditions, but a spokesperson did not immediately respond Tuesday when asked if Kemp would sign the bill.

With state lawmakers, but not Kemp, facing voters this year, it could be a sign that Republicans intend to bash their Democratic opponents as soft on crime as they did in 2022.