This session, I had the privilege of helping pass legislation that I believe will help secure justice for crime victims and help enhance public safety for all Georgians. A summary of these legislative measures is set forth below, for your review and information:
Increased support for drivers education
This session, the General Assembly voted to extend funding for the Georgia Drivers Education Commission. This commission has assisted 20 technical colleges, including Ogeechee Technical College, with driver’s training vehicles and high-tech console simulators. This finding also has allowed technical colleges to purchase new driver’s training textbooks and teaching materials.
This program is funded by charges levied for traffic violations, and I am proud to report this program was very successful in its first year of operation. Fortunately, this program will continue and be expanded to include qualified private driving schools in the scholarship program, which will allow students who do not have access to driver’s training to receive 30 hours of classroom training and six hours on the road training with a qualified instructor.
In my opinion, learning to operate an automobile safely is vitally important to public safety, and I am particularly proud this program has brought driver’s education and training to areas of the state where such programs were not previously available.
Rape kit bill
I was also pleased by the final passage of Senate Bill 304, which incorporated a version of the House’s “Pursuing Justice for Rape Victims Act.” This bill was introduced after the discovery of a backlog of untested rape kits in hospitals, clinics and law enforcement agencies throughout the state. Apparently, this backlog was attributed to a lack of legal clarity about whether releasing the kits to law enforcement would violate federal privacy regulations. As a result, this bill sought to resolve this uncertainty by outlining requirements for recording and reporting evidence collected during a forensic medical evaluation for investigation of rape or aggravated sodomy.
Under this bill, the individual performing this test and collecting this evidence must notify the appropriate law enforcement agency that the test was performed, and law enforcement officials must take possession of the evidence within 96 hours after being notified. Likewise, the law enforcement officer that collects this evidence must submit the evidence to the GBI Division of Forensic Sciences within 30 days of its collection.
In addition, every law enforcement agency in the state is now required to create a list of evidence resulting from a forensic medical evaluation during an investigation of rape or aggravated sodomy in the agency’s possession as of Aug. 1. This list must be submitted to the division by Aug. 15 and must identify whether the listed evidence should be tested. This bill also requires the division to issue an annual report detailing the number of rape and aggravated sodomy cases for which the division has tested or stored evidence.
This bill passed the House with strong bipartisan support and was recently signed into law by Governor Deal. I was proud to support this important measure in the House.
Police grand jury bill
In addition, the General Assembly passed House Bill 941, which addresses issues that arise when a law enforcement officer is under criminal investigation following his/her use of deadly force. Prior to this legislation, a law enforcement officer being investigated by a criminal grand jury could be present in the grand jury room for the entire time the case was being considered. After all of the evidence and testimony had been presented to the grand jury, the officer had the right to make a statement before the grand jury but was not subject to cross-examination. Georgia was the only state in the country with such a process, which some believed was flawed.
Under the new law enacted by House Bill 941, the law enforcement officer is still permitted to make a statement before the grand jury and tell his/her side of the story. However, if he chooses to exercise that right, he would be subject to cross examination just like any other citizen, and the officer would not be able to hear and see all of the other evidence the grand jury considers.
This new law also adds a layer of transparency to the process that did not previously exist: a written record must be created so the public can ultimately know what happened during grand jury deliberations and what testimony/evidence was presented. This bill was supported by both law enforcement and those advocating for victims’ rights. It has been signed into law by Governor Deal, and I was proud to support his measure in the House.
If you have any questions regarding these bills, or if I can be of any other service to you, please do not hesitate to call (404.656.50502), email (email@example.com), or engage on Facebook.