Senate votes against bill to teach drivers how to interact with police

ATLANTA — A bill that sought to mandate that new drivers learn how to interact with law enforcement officers failed to get past both chambers of the state legislature.

The measure would have required the Georgia Department of Public Safety to create a curriculum with the Georgia Public Safety Training Center that outlines "best practices" for drivers when interacting with law enforcement. The course would have been included in all driver education programs.

The original bill passed the Senate but was voted down after an amendment was added that would have allowed local governments to install cameras in school zones.

Sen. Randy Robertson, R-Cataula, the bill's sponsor and a former law enforcement officer, said the cameras would only be allowed during school hours. He also addressed pushback over the original measure, saying the bill's intent was to "save lives."

“The lives of individuals who (are) nervous and get scared when they’re being stopped by law enforcement officers," he said.

Rep. Martin Momtahan, a Dallas Republican, who presented the bill before the House, said it aimed to teach new drivers how to navigate being stopped by a police officer.

“Make no mistake, the sole purpose of Senate Bill 115 is to protect our families, our citizens and our officers, through education,” he said. “To teach them what those expectations should be.”

But some decried the bill, calling it “one-sided” and a big step backward in repairing the relationship between law enforcement and people of color.

Democratic Rep. Kim Alexander of Hiram pointed out to her colleagues that just this week in Minneapolis, the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin began. Chauvin, who is white, has been criminally charged for the death of George Floyd, a Black man.

Floyd's death “was also a reminder that past efforts to address problems with police have failed repeatedly,” she said. "It is against the backdrop of these realities ... that I am deeply troubled by the provisions in Senate Bill 115.”

Alexander said the bill emphasizes the role of civilians, and shifts responsibility from law enforcement officers. She said there was a conflict of interest in having law enforcement craft the program.

“There is a long-standing adversarial relationship between police and the communities they serve — especially communities of color,” she said. “And a training course for civilians being designed and potentially administered by the very people who have contributed to the brokenness of the police system would do nothing to address the lack of trust between police and people of color.”

Democrats also said the measure did not directly require the curriculum to include the teaching of the rights of civilians.

“This bill sends the wrong message,” Atlanta Democrat Bee Nguyen said. "It perpetuates the myth that civilians are the ones responsible for the way that law enforcement treats them."

Republicans pushed back that their colleagues across the aisle were “politicizing” a bill that would have provided additional education for new drivers.

"This just recognizes the fact that we as a community have a mutual responsibility to each other,” Momtahan said. “For our mutual safety when it comes to traffic stops and law enforcement interaction."

Riley Bunch covers the Georgia statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites.

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