Sen. John F. Kennedy: State of the Assembly

Staff Report From Middle Georgia CEO

Monday, March 6th, 2017

The rest of the nation looks toward our great state when it comes to criminal justice reform. This isn’t because we’re particularly radical; it’s because each of our branches of government constantly work toward common sense reform that makes it easier for private citizens to navigate the law. This week, I had three bills on the Senate floor that make up this year’s 2017 Criminal Justice Reform Package: Senate Bills 174, 175 and 176. I am proud to say that each of these passed the Senate on Wednesday with unanimous approval.
Georgia’s accountability courts are pinnacles of what makes criminal justice accessible to so many of its citizens because they allow for convicted criminals to make up for their crime outside of a jail cell. However, under current law, veterans’ accountability Courts are being held under a different standard and procedure than other accountability courts. Under Senate Bill 174, the Veterans’ Court Divisions would be required to follow the same standards as the rest of our accountability courts. Our veterans deserve equal respect of the law, at the very least, so this legislation is far overdue.
While SB 174 helps our veterans, Senate Bill 175 helps our children. If a juvenile makes a mistake with the law, incarceration should hopefully be the last resort. SB 175 gives juvenile courts the ability to order what the child’s guardian or guardians should do to promote the child’s well-being. This could come in a variety of forms: ensuring school attendance; making sure they do their homework; going to counseling with their child; abstaining from offensive conduct with the child; or even paying restitutions. This list is by no means comprehensive, but in essence, our courts will now be able to prescribe a treatment and rehabilitation program for the child’s guardians to use.
Unfortunately, there are some cases where the guardian’s actions simply won’t be enough, no matter what they try. In those few cases, the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities must find clear and convincing evidence that the child is mentally ill or disabled and that all other avenues have been exhausted before committing the child to psychiatric care. This is an extreme measure, so in most cases, parents just need to take an approach that they didn’t previously considered. SB 175 ensures that they use these unconsidered options before any drastic or dramatic efforts are taken by either the parent or the court.
Lastly, the senate passed Senate Bill 176, which pertains to the suspension of driver’s licenses. A common way for these suspensions to occur is when someone fails to appear before a court for a simple traffic violation. In these cases, when they get pulled over again, their license is immediately suspended by the Department of Driver Services. There are a million reasons why this situation could occur, but I sponsored SB 176 to make the suspension less of a shock to the driver. Under SB 176, the court must issue the driver a notice of the missed court date and also issue a new court date. If the driver misses the new date, the DDS may then suspend their license.
Even when a system is working well, there’s room for improvement. I’m proud to work in and for the law here in Georgia and as a Senator I’m working tirelessly every day to improve our legal system. This package is just another step forward for Georgia’s criminal justice system.
Along with this package, I’m proud that each of the Senate Majority Caucus priorities, Senate Bills 1 through 6, crossed over to the House of Representatives. I also greatly appreciate the input of the Senate Minority Caucus while crafting these bills. Without their support, we couldn’t have made these important pieces of legislation as beneficial to Georgians as they are. If you have any questions about my criminal justice package or the Majority Caucus priorities, don’t hesitate to reach out to my office.