Georgia House passes bill to strengthen gang-related laws

March 13, 2020 GMT

ATLANTA (AP) — The Georgia House on Thursday narrowly passed a bill that aims to strengthen the state’s gang-related laws, over the objection of Democrats who said the state already has tough laws and the bill was mostly posturing.

House Bill 994, passed by a vote of 93-65, would expand the offenses that fall under the definition of criminal gang activity. It is backed by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, who has made combating gangs a key goal of his administration.

Rep. Bert Reeves, a Republican from Marietta sponsoring the bill, said it “refines several issues and pieces of the gang act, a lot of which is based on actual cases that we’ve seen come up in Georgia.”

A previous version of the bill would have made far more sweeping changes, including increasing the crimes for which juveniles could be charged as adults and making more crimes eligible for the death penalty.

Rep. Josh McLaurin of Sandy Springs was among the Democrats who spoke in opposition to the bill. McLaurin said the bill “is not a bill driven by prosecutorial need. It’s a bill that is driven by the need to posture on being tough on gangs.”

The bill was passed just before midnight on Crossover Day, a legislative deadline by which bills must generally pass out of one chamber or the other to remain alive for the year.