Senate backs laws to support officers despite concerns - CBS46 News

Senate backs laws to support officers despite concerns

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(Source: WGCL) (Source: WGCL)

The Georgia Senate is moving forward with legislation to impose harsher punishment for crimes committed against public safety officials, despite First Amendment concerns.

Senate Bill 160 was dubbed the "Back the Badge Act of 2017" and was part of a package of bills that senators touted as sending a message of support to law enforcement officers. It passed 40-12 and advances to the House for further consideration.

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Tyler Harper, R- Ocilla, who said, "an attack on our law enforcement is an attack on all of us." In the past year, 10 Georgia officers have been killed in the line of duty.

Harper's bill would expand the definition of public safety officer to include firefighters, Emergency Medical Technicians, and roadside assistance workers who respond to such issues as flat tires or dead batteries. It would also allow for juveniles to be tried as adults if they commit certain crimes against a public safety officer. The bill also would create tougher penalties for exposing law enforcement officers to bodily fluids, such as throwing feces at a correctional officer.

But the part that most bothered Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, was a section that would increase the penalty for unpermitted protesting activities such as blocking a sidewalk or a street. He said that the law "will denigrate our First Amendment rights."

Sen. Steve Hensen, D-Stone Mountain, the Senate minority leader, also took issue with the additional punishments for protesters. But he said that he voted against the bill because of the inclusion of mandatory minimum sentences for certain crimes against public safety officers. Harper said the harsh sentences were deterrents.

"Giving our judges flexibility is not a bad thing," said Hensen.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. 

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