Georgia Gov. Brian KempBrian KempTrump says Stacey Abrams 'might be better than existing governor' Kemp Trump stokes GOP tensions in Georgia Georgia faculty members to require masks in classrooms MORE (R) on Wednesday signed a new bill providing enhanced legal protections for police and firefighters as well as enhanced criminal penalties for targeting them.
The measure, House Bill 838, creates the crime of “bias-motivated intimidation,” in reference to causing the death or serious bodily injury of police, firefighters or emergency medical technicians. Causing more than $500 in damage to any category’s property, such as a police car, will also be considered an example of the crime, according to The Associated Press.
The crime will be punishable by one to five years in prison and up to $5,000 in fines. The sentence must be added to any other criminal conviction and cannot be served concurrently with others. This means that, for example, a case of vandalism that met the definition would mean a sentence and conviction for both the vandalism and the new crime.
It will also allow officers to sue people or entities for knowingly filing false complaints against them or infringing on their civil rights “arising out of the officer's performance of official duties,” according to the AP.
Republicans in Georgia’s state Senate had initially sought to include first responders as a protected class in a hate crimes bill, but a combination of Democratic opposition and some Republicans’ opposition to the bill in general sunk the effort.
Opponents of the measure have called it unnecessary, noting the state has already stiffened its penalties for assaulting a police officer.
“The Georgia code already includes more than sufficient protections for police officers,” Andrea Young, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Georgia, told the AP. “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 ACLU of Georgia has also warned of unintended consequences, saying the language of the bill could result in someone who killed an officer, which carries a life sentence, only serving five years under H.B. 838.