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A new bill in Georgia could criminalize bail funds, expand cash bail

A new bill in Georgia could criminalize bail funds, expand cash bail

A controversial Republican-backed bill that would criminalize state bail funds and expand the list of charges that require cash or property bail has passed the Georgia Senate.

The legislative move comes amid ongoing protests against the construction of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, dubbed "Cop City" by its critics, which will be used for specialized training for both law enforcement and fire department service workers.

The bill adds roughly 30 charges that would be ineligible for release without a property or cash bond. These charges include unlawful assembly and obstruction of a law enforcement officer, and racketeering and conspiracy -- charges that have been made against several"Cop City" protesters.

At least 61 people have been charged for allegedly violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act in connection with protests over the controversial training center. Three activists involved in a bail fund, the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, that posted bond for protesters arrested in connection to "Cop City" were also recently charged with charities fraud and money laundering for allegedly "misleading contributors by using funds collected through the Network for Strong Communities, which runs the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, to fund the actions of Defend the Atlanta Forest," according to the Associated Press.

The bill would also make it a misdemeanor for "any individual, corporation, organization, charity, nonprofit corporation, or group in any jurisdiction" to submit more than three cash bonds per year.

PHOTO: Brian Kemp, governor of Georgia, speaks during Erick Erickson's The Gathering event in Atlanta, Aug. 18, 2023.  (Alyssa Pointer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
PHOTO: Brian Kemp, governor of Georgia, speaks during Erick Erickson's The Gathering event in Atlanta, Aug. 18, 2023. (Alyssa Pointer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

This would make it harder for local advocacy organizations like Southerners On New Ground to bail out Black mothers and caregivers on Mother's Day or for groups like the Atlanta Solidarity Fund to bail out protesters who have been arrested during demonstrations.

Bail is the money a defendant must pay to get out of jail while they await a trial, according to legal research database Justia. It's collateral for the court to ensure that the defendant will return for the remainder of their criminal trial.

MORE: DeKalb County releases autopsy in 'Cop City' protester Manuel Teran's death

When Sen. Kim Jackson asked if the bill would impact her church congregation's ability to post bail as a charity, Sen. Josh McLaurin said that it would according to the language of the legislation.

PHOTO: The Fulton County Jail, April 11, 2023, in Atlanta.  (Kate Brumback/AP, FILE)
PHOTO: The Fulton County Jail, April 11, 2023, in Atlanta. (Kate Brumback/AP, FILE)

McLaurin – who is opposed to the bill – argued that this would force judges to set bail even in cases in which defendants would have otherwise been released on their own recognizance, including those who are charged with low-level or non-violent offenses. He added that it could worsen conditions in Georgia jails.

"We have to remember somebody is innocent until proven guilty when they're held pretrial," said McLaurin. "So what that means is it is unconstitutional to use cash bail or pretrial procedure as punishment."

He also cited the Supreme Court case – Citizens United v. FEC – which ruled that restrictions on "independent expenditures" is a ban on speech.

Republican Sen. Randy Robertson argued the legislation would make communities feel safer and address concerns about violence.

A new bill in Georgia could criminalize bail funds, expand cash bail originally appeared on abcnews.go.com