As the legislative session heads toward its busy ending, House lawmakers approved significant changes this week to Georgia’s juvenile justice system.
The goal of the legislation is to reduce the number of repeat offenders and bring down costs. The bill was based on recommendations of a special panel convened by Gov. Nathan Deal. It calls for emphasizing community-based programs over residential detention centers for non-violent youth offenders, providing judges with greater discretion in sentencing and offering more mental health and drug counseling.
The sponsor, Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs) urged lawmakers to cut costs. He said Georgia spends $90,000 annually to keep each youth offender behind bars.
“You can put a child through the finest college in the country for less than that,” he said.
Lawmakers previously approved similar changes to the adult system. A similar plan from Willard failed during last year’s session when local governments raised concerns that the changes could cost them money as they cope with lean budgets.
The plan now heads to the state Senate.
ODDS AND ENDS:
— Student athletes would have to be pulled from play if they exhibit symptoms of a concussion and be evaluated by a health care provider under a bill passed by House lawmakers. The measure now heads to the state Senate. Advocates of the change say similar legislation has already passed in 44 states.
— Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah) said a proposal to remove the name of segregationist former Gov. Eugene Talmadge from a Savannah bridge will have to wait until at least next year before the Legislature can vote on it. The lawmakers said Chatham County legislators missed their deadline to submit a bill requesting a new name for the Eugene Talmadge Memorial Bridge that crosses the Savannah River. Talmadge ruled Georgia politics in the 1930s and early 1940s as an outspoken segregationist.
— Rep. Jeff Chapman (R-Brunswick) asked a House committee to endorse a bill that would trim the profits of Southern Co. subsidiary Georgia Power if the cost of building Plant Vogtle near Augusta exceeds a state-approved budget of $6.11 billion. On Thursday, Southern Co. told regulators the project is now expected to cost $6.85 billion. The final price tag may still rise.
“Why are they there? They are there because there are not programs currently in the community that judges can send them to,” Rep. Wendell Willard, speaking about the incarceration of juveniles for misdemeanor offenses or truancy charges.
DAYS IN SESSION:
13 days remain in the legislative session.
Next week will prove busy for the state lawmakers. Under internal rules, legislation must be adopted by at least one chamber in the General Assembly by Day 30, which falls on Thursday, or risk failing for the year. This deadline is traditionally known as “Crossover Day.” House lawmakers will debate one measure that could change Georgia’s gun laws.