Oconee County Rep. Houston Gaines promoted his House Bill 286 as a way to keep local governments from reducing funding of police, but its focus is quite narrow and it will have limited effect in Oconee County if it becomes law.
The bill would constrain the budget decisions of the City of Watkinsville, but it would not affect budgeting in the county’s other three cities or of Oconee County government itself.
The bill targets cities with police departments and the 12 counties in the state that also have police departments.
Bishop, Bogart, and North High Shoals do not have police departments, and Oconee County obtains its police service from Sheriff James Hale, who is elected by the citizens.
Hale and the other sheriffs in the state’s 159 counties are not covered by HB 286.
Gaines was the author of House Bill 286, but Marcus Wiedower, who also represents Oconee County in the General Assembly, was a cosponsor.
Both’s Gaines’ 117th House District and Wiedower’s 119th also include parts of Clarke County, which has its own police department as part of the unified Athens-Clarke County government.
The Athen-Clarke County government definitely will be impacted if Gov. Brian Kemp signs HB 286 into law or allows it to become law without his signature.
In unrelated action, the Oconee County Board of Elections and Registration last week issued a call for a special election on June 15 for Mayor of Watkinsville and Post 1 on Council and set qualification for April 12 to 14 for the two elections.
Marvin J. Nunnally, Economic Development coordinator for Athens Technical College and a Watkinsville native, announced on Monday that he plans to qualify for Post 1.
Details Of Bill
Gaines’ four-page bill grew to seven pages before it was passed by the Senate in a 36 to 15 vote on March 25 and then adopted as amended by the House in a 100 to 73 vote on March 31.
|Georgia Municipal Association Evaluation|
The bill states that counties with police departments and municipalities with police departments “shall not decrease the annual budgetary appropriation for such police force by more than five percent of the previous fiscal year’s appropriation for such police force.”
The restrictions do not apply if the “actual or anticipated revenues” of the county or city decrease by more than five percent in a given year, or if, during the previous year, the county or city made a capital investment or equipment purchase or other expense that pushed the budget for that year above four percent.
The bill also spells out other exceptions, such as when the county or city is under court order to provide higher level police services.
In addition, the bill states that counties and municipalities “shall ensure that the annual budgetary appropriations for such police force during a rolling five-year period shall not decrease by more than five percent during such time period.”
The Senate added a provision that requires state, cities, and counties to provide payroll deductions for public safety employees to purchase insurance for legal representation.
Justification By Gaines, Wiedower
Gaines appeared on Fox and Friends on Feb. 18 to promote House Bill 186.
“So what we’ve done with the Bill is make sure that local governments that are out of control aren’t able to slash police budgets,” he said.
“We’ve just seen in Minneapolis where they have cut their police budget. And already just last week they were having to go back on that,” he continued.
“Well, that’s too late for the crimes that have already been committed and the damage that that has done to that community,” Gaines said.
“So we want to make sure that doesn’t happen here in Georgia. That defunding the police doesn’t take a foothold here in Georgia.”
In their Legislative Rundown column in the March 4 edition of The Oconee Enterprise, Gaines and Wiedower wrote, after the House passed the bill and sent it to the Senate, that House Bill 286 would “stop local governments from defunding the police.”
“Slashing police budgets puts our most vulnerable at risk,” the wrote. “We believe in and have championed criminal justice reform to ensure we’re providing a second chance to those who deserve it.
“However, defunding the police will only make our communities less safe, and we are proud that we have passed this important measure to keep our families safe,” the column continued.
While some in Athens-Clarke County called for reallocating police funds in the wake of the killing of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis, the Athens-Clarke County government has not taken any action to cut police funding.
Watkinsville Acting Mayor Brian Brodrick said there has been no discussion in Watkinsville about decreasing the funding for that city’s police department.
“No call for that” in Watkinsville, Brodrick said in an email message on April 2.
Oconee County Commissioners, at a Town Hall meeting last June, said they have no intention of cutting back on funding for the Sheriff’s Office, and its unlikely they could do so even if they wanted to.
State law and court decisions require county government to fund the sheriff, pretty much at the level she or he requests.
At the Town Hall meeting last month, Commission Chair John Daniell restated the county’s commitment to funding police services in the county.
Opposition From City, County Organizations
The state has roughly 150 municipal police departments, including, of course, the one in Atlanta.
|Association County Commissioners Georgia|
The 12 counties with police departments are in Chatham, Clarke, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Dougherty, Floyd, Fulton, Glynn, Gwinnett, Henry, and Polk counties–mostly urban areas.
The Georgia Municipal Association opposed the legislation.
So did the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, which said the legislation “violates home rule by restricting county government.”
Votes in House, Senate
All 73 of those voting against House Bill 286 in the House on March 31 were Democrats. Included was Spencer Frye, who represents the 118th House District, which falls entirely in Clarke County.
All of the 100 voting in favor were Republicans, with two exceptions.
In the Senate, the 36 positive votes included four Democrats.
Sen. Bill Cowsert, a Republican representing Oconee County, voted in favor of the bill, as did Frank Ginn, who, with Cowsert, also represents parts of Clarke County in the Senate.
Board of Elections And Registration
At its meeting on April 1, the Oconee County Board of Elections and Registration officially issued a call for the special election on June 15 made necessary by the abrupt resignation of Bob Smith as mayor on March 17.
Brodrick subsequently was elected Acting Mayor by Council, announced his plans to run for mayor in the special election, and resigned from his position as Post 1 council member.
Qualifying for the two elections will be from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on April 12 and 13 and from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on April 14 at the Board of Elections and Registration Office, 10 Court Street, across from the Courthouse in Watkinsville.
Advance voting will be from May 24 to June 11. No advance voting will be held on Memorial Day, May 31.
Advance voting and voting on election day will be at Watkinsville City Hall, 191 VFW Drive, in Watkinsville. Only votes living inside the city limits of Watkinsville are eligible to vote.
Registration for voters ends on May 17. Absentee ballot applications are available online or at the Board of Elections and Registration office.
The total number of registered voters in Watkinsville as of March 22 was 2,241 (2,137 Active, 104 Inactive), according to Jennifer Stone, assistant director of elections and registration for Oconee County.
Any required runoff from the June 15 election would be on July 13.
Nunnally is the first person for formally announce for Post 1.
If only one person qualifies for mayor and only one person qualifies for Post 1, no election would be held.
Below is a video of the live streaming of of the Board of Elections and Registration meeting on April 1.