Fall may be my favorite season. Football, festivals, hunting season and the much-anticipated cooler weather is hard to beat. While we all look forward to the events our fall season brings, September always begins on a somber note, in reflection and remembrance of 9/11. Since the events of that tragic day, our nation and state began taking every possible precaution regarding the safety of our citizens.
Like all policy, public safety needs change often. What was relevant a decade ago may not be as important today. Most recently, we have been concentrating on ways to curtail a rise in gang violence, as well as continued efforts in strengthening laws against the vile practice of human trafficking. This year, the House and Senate have taken measures to further research these areas during our off-session season.
Sadly, there are more than 71,000 identified gang members or associates currently impacting every region of our state. Even more concerning? Gang violence is no longer confined to large cities. It is reported that 158 of 159 Georgia counties have identified gang activity. As rising gang violence is a concern, the General Assembly has made a commitment to identify ways in which we can curtail this trend through the formation of the House Youth and Gang Violence Prevention study committee. This committee will meet for the remainder of the year, leading into the 2020 legislative session.
While House members are concentrating on gang violence, the Senate continues to tackle human trafficking and increased safety through tougher penalties regarding sexual predators. The recent Georgia Supreme Court ruling of Park vs. State found that the statutory authorization of lifetime satellite-based monitoring of offenders who are no longer serving any part of their sentences was unconstitutional pursuant to the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. In response, the Senate formed the Protections from Sexual Predators Study Committee which is tasked with alternative means, methods and strategies to protect the public from individuals who have demonstrated the behavior of a sexually dangerous predator. Each committee will work to analyze the best course of legislative action regarding these issues. The committees will turn in their findings in December which will include their suggested legislative course of action through the 2020 session and beyond.
As keeping our citizens safe is the absolute most important role of our government, we have made significant efforts through legislative action to ensure you and your loved ones are kept safe. As we continue to improve public safety policy, here is a quick look of what we passed during the 2019 session.
• House Bill 12 requires that schools to post signs containing the toll-free number to report incidents of child abuse in a visible, public area of the school.
• House Bill 346 seeks to out the bad actors in the residential lease community by affording tenants the right to file a claim for retaliation when they feel they have been dispossessed for filing a complaint against a landlord regarding the living conditions of their residence.
• House Bill 424 adds the offenses of trafficking persons for labor or sexual servitude, keeping a place of prostitution, pimping and pandering to the list of offenses defined as criminal gang activity. Further, this bill cleans up current evidentiary requirements.
• House Bill 471 brings Georgia’s "implied consent" language for DUIs, BUIs and hunting under the influence in line with the latest ruling from the Supreme Court of Georgia.
• House Bill 543 creates a process by which a judge may confer standing to have access to the court in cases involving the care, custody or welfare of a minor child upon individuals who can demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that to do otherwise would cause the child to suffer physical or longterm emotional harm.
• Senate Bill 158 authorizes the Division of Family and Children Services to provide emergency care and supervision for a child human trafficking victim, for labor and sexual servitude, without a court order or the consent of the parents of legal guardian. Further, this bill directs DFCS to take the child to a certified victim services organization to provide trauma-informed services. Finally, this bill limits the prosecution of individuals for prostitution to those over the age of 18, while also adding a claim of nuisance for premises where an owner or operator has charged for sexually related services on or inside the premises.
The upcoming session will no doubt bring forward more public safety debate. If you have thoughts, questions or ideas regarding ways we can further our safety efforts through regulatory or legislative action, please feel free to contact our office. Many bills brought forth begin as simple ideas from our Georgia citizens. As always, it is an honor to work on your behalf under the Gold Dome and I look forward to my continued service ensuring that our district values well represented at the Capitol.
Jason Ridley, R-Chatsworth, represents District 6 in the state House of Representatives.