A driver who plows into a crowd of protestors blocking a street and injures or kills several people before driving away would conceivably be protected from prosecution while the protestors who blocked the street would face felonies.

And if you’ve ever participated in any form of civil disobedience, you can kiss your chances of working for the state or local government in Georgia good-bye.

Those seemingly disparate scenarios, critics contend, are covered in a protest reform being considered by the Georgia Senate on Wednesday, the final day of this legislative session, also called “Sine Die.”

House Bill 289, also called the “Safe Communities Act of 2021” takes language from Senate Bill 171. It penalizes communities that reallocate resources from their police departments to other programs and it would allow for several new types of lawsuits and claims against counties and other governments in connection with protests that lead to violence and injury according to an analysis done by ACCG, a nonprofit arm of Georgia county governments. ACCG opposes the bill.

If passed and signed by the governor, critics say the bill would put community and personal safety in jeopardy and violate rights guaranteed to Georgians by the state and federal constitutions.

The bill drew immediate opposition from groups such as the ACLU of Georgia, which called it “bad policy” and sent a three-page letter to the state’s top lawmakers.

In the letter, ACLU’s Political Director Christopher Bruce said the legislation:

  • Adds an unconstitutionally vague and overbroad definition of unlawful assembly to Georgia’s Criminal Code.
  • Contains a universal permit requirement which is an unconstitutional prior restraint on speech.
  • Incentivizes counties and municipalities to encourage aggressive police action against protestors and to violate protestors’ First Amendment rights.

“We urge you not to bring it to the floor,” Bruce wrote.

Andrea Young, executive director of ACLU Georgia, said state lawmakers have introduced some form of anti-protest law in the General Assembly for the last five years, but she called this one the most “egregious” to date. It’s especially offensive, Young noted, after a year in which protests led to significant social and electoral change.

“It flies in the face of moral decency and our rights under the First Amendment,” said Young, an attorney who has spent her career promoting policies to defend and extend civil and human rights.

Meanwhile, Women on the Rise also sent out an “action alert” urging people to contact their senators about the bill.

For more details about the bill and how you can take action visit the Southern Center for Human Rights’ action page.

(Header: Protests at the Capitol. Photo by Hannah Jones)