The Georgia House of Representatives voted Wednesday on a measure that would prohibit local governments from slashing police department budgets.
House Bill 286 by State Representative Houston Gaines, an Athens Republican, passed 101-69, mostly along party lines. Representatives Kim Alexander and Michael Smith were present but did not vote.
The bill would prohibit county and municipal governments from cutting police department budgets by more than 5% over the previous fiscal year unless anticipated revenues decrease by 5% or more. In those instances where anticipated revenue is down, governing bodies would only be able to reduce the law enforcement budget by a percentage equal to or less than the percentage decrease in anticipated revenue.
For budgeting purposes, one-time budgetary capital expenditures (SPLOST items) from previous fiscal years would not be allowed to be factored into the overall budget.
The bill would also require:
- that the rolling average for a 10-year period does not reflect more than a 5% per year decrease; and
- that the Sheriff’s office or another governing agency agree to provide law enforcement services to ensure the same level (or more) of service is provided to residents and business owners within that jurisdiction in the event of a decrease in the budget by more than 5%
The bill does not apply to operational budgets of the county Sheriff as those offices are created by the state constitution and are bound by constitutional provisions for keeping the peace and maintaining the jail.
Police agencies with fewer than 10 full-time or part-time officers and consolidated city-county governments would also be exempt.
Among the other exceptions would be a decrease in the budget in excess of five percent would be permitted if the county or municipality has been court-ordered to provide an additional service it was not previously offering and the budget has subsequently been altered.
Critics of the bill say the legislation would interfere with the authority of the local governing agency to make tough but often times necessary budget restrictions while bill proponents say it is an imperative boundary to prohibit elected officials at the local level from ‘defunding the police’ in a political move.
The bill now heads to the Senate for consideration.