Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp on Aug. 5 signed into law a new measure pushed by Republicans that grants enhanced legal protections for police officers, and provides additional criminal penalties for those who target officers.
House Bill 838 criminalizes what it calls “bias-motivated intimidation.” Under the measure, individuals who cause the death or serious bodily injury of a police officer, firefighter, or emergency medical technician can face up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000. The crime also applies to individuals who cause more than $500 in damage to property owned by first responders.
The measure states that the sentence must be added to any other criminal conviction and cannot be served at the same time as others, with each violation counted as a separate crime. Under these rules, violations such as vandalism aimed at officers could result in separate convictions for both the new crime under House Bill 838, and the vandalism itself.
Police officers will also be allowed to sue people or entities for either infringing on their civil rights “arising out of the officer’s performance of official duties,” or knowingly filing false complaints against them.
Kemp said in a statement that he signed the measure into law because he has attended too many funerals of officers killed in the line of duty. He described the bill as a “step forward as we work to protect those who are risking their lives to protect us.”
“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 stated.
Critics meanwhile have said the bill is flawed and out of step with nationwide efforts to make officers more accountable for their actions.
It was passed alongside a new bill penalizing hate crimes in Georgia. Senate Republicans originally sought to include first responders as a protected class in the hate crimes bill, but opposition from Democrats threatened to sink the effort, especially as some Republicans opposed the hate crimes bill.
An opponent of the measure, Andrea Young, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, said that it was “hastily drafted” and unnecessary partly, she said, because the Georgia code already includes “more than sufficient protections” for police officers.
“HB 838 was hastily drafted as a direct swipe at Georgians participating in the Black Lives Matter protests who were asserting their constitutional rights.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.