Revived Bill Aimed at No-cash Bail Clears Georgia Senate

Dave Williams

Tuesday, February 6th, 2024

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The Republican-controlled Georgia Senate passed legislation Thursday that would mostly do away with the granting of no-cash bail to criminal suspects in Georgia.

Senate Bill 63, which passed 30-17 along party lines, would prohibit judges from ordering no-cash bail unless the accused has been charged with a crime that does not carry a jail or prison sentence.

The ban on no-cash bail would apply to a long list of violent and non-violent crimes, from murder and rape to possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and such white-collar crimes as forgery and financial transaction card fraud.

The Senate passed the bill last year but couldn’t reach agreement with the state House of Representatives before the 2023 legislative session adjourned. The version of the measure that passed Thursday was a compromise reached by a joint House-Senate conference committee.

One change in the final version of the bill would ban no-cash bail for non-violent offenses including criminal trespass and theft by taking only if the suspect is being charged with a second offense.

Senate Majority Whip Randy Robertson, R-Cataula, the legislation’s chief sponsor, said getting rid of no-cash bail would “make our communities safer” at a time violent crime is on the rise.

But Sen. Josh McLaurin, D-Sandy Springs, cited FBI statistics showing crime in the United States has declined in recent years. For example, property crime is at its lowest level since 1961, McLaurin said.

“This bill is a ‘solution’ to a problem that doesn’t exist,” he said.

McLaurin also argued that expanding the ban on no-cash bail in Georgia would worsen jail overcrowding by taking away the discretion judges enjoy under current law to release criminal suspects who they believe are not a threat to public safety or a flight risk.

“Instead of giving judges the tools they need, we’re squeezing judges … forcing them to put more people behind bars,” he said.

But Sen. John Albers, R-Roswell, chairman of the Senate Public Safety Committee, said the inmate population at the Fulton County Jail – which had been the most overcrowded in the state – has come down in recent months.

The conference committee report now heads to the Georgia House for an up-or-down vote.