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Mar. 1 – New GA Dept of Homeland Security passes Senate, but only after amendments offered by Sen. Lester Jackson

Category: Georgia Business News

PHOTO:  Sen. Lester Jackson, in well of Georgia Senate today, presenting his amendments to SB 1 which will create a new Dept. of Homeland Security for Georgia

By Lou Phelps, Coastal Empire News

March 1, 2017 – The Georgia Senate today passed SB 1, 42 – 12, which creates a new state Board of Homeland Security with a Commissioner of Homeland Security, and a new Dept. of Homeland Security, pulling this responsibility out from under Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA).

It was one of the top priorities of the Senate Republicans and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, according to Sen. Bill Cousert, who authored the bill, and stated that the bill offered “solutions to one of the greatest problems of our times.”  

The bill also expanded on the State's definition of a 'Domestic Terrorist'; current Georgia law defines a Domestic Terrorist must have intended to bodily harm or kill 10 or more people.  But it was the bill's definitions of what was a domestic terrorism act that was a concern to Senate Democrats. 

The bill passed primarily on party lines; however, several key Democrats voting in favor, including Sen. Lester Jackson of Savannah. The bill now moves to the House, but was successfully amended to include six language amendments negotiated and proposed by Jackson.  All amendments were approved prior to passage of the bill.   

Democrats who opposed the bill continue to object to the broad definition of “Domestic Terrorist,” concerned that it is targeting the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement.

The bill revises the definition of domestic terrorism “to more inclusively capture situational violations commonly used by persons who desire to commit acts of terror.”

The bill that passed the Committee on Public Safety originally stated: “Domestic terrorism’ means any violation of, or attempt to violate, the laws of this state or of the United States which is intended or reasonably likely to injure or kill and individual or group of individuals or to damage, disrupt, or destroy critical infrastructure as part of a single unlawful act or a series of unlawful acts which are interrelated by distinguishing characteristics; and is intended to intimidate the civilian population of this state, any of its political subdivisions, or of the United States; is intended to intimidate the civilian population of this state …; is intended to alter, change, or coerce the policy of the government of this state or any of its political subdivisions by intimidation or coercion; or is intended to affect the conduct of the government of this state or any political subdivisions by use of destructive devices, assassination, or kidnapping.

“Such term shall include violations of the law or attempted violations of the law that are intended to advance, further or effectuate any ideology or belief whether such violations or attempted violations are committed alone or as part of a command structure involving an identifiable set of other individuals.”

But Senator Jackson’s amendments were aimed at insuring that there were not unintended consequences that would have restricted citizen’s rights to protest and assemble, including changing the language to state that a ‘Domestic Terrorist’ had to have “intended or was reasonably likely to cause serious bodily harm or kill any individual or group of individuals or to disable or destroy ….” 

The bill also defines the makeup of a 17-person board, and provides powers to the Attorney General and district attorneys across the state, to investigate domestic terrorism acts.

But, Senator Jackson successfully had the language of the bill changed to

Sen. Cousert commended Sen. Jackson “for helping to perfect the bill,” and recommended that all of Jackson’s amendments be supported.    

In his comments, Senator Jackson said that he had had breakfast with the Jesse Jackson, who was visiting Atlanta and the State House today, “who had marched for human rights, and marched for a new America … but had this bill been enacted back then, he would be termed a domestic terrorist.”

“I applaud the Senator from the 46th for talking to me, to come up with solutions to protect this country and this state,” added Jackson.

“I want to protect the right to assemble, the right to organize, and the right to not being tagged a domestic terrorist … so they won’t be going to prison for the rest of their lives.  The right to organize is fundamental.” 

“This amendment isn’t about ‘Black Lives Matter.’  All lives matter; all lives have the right to assemble; all lives have the right to justice in Georgia,” he said. “We will shine a light to justice. It will shine light that we understand our people, and we’re going to give our people the right to organize and to assembly if they do things lawfully.”

Sen. Vincent Ford of the 39th, however, rose to spoke against the bill, stating that he was concerned that the bill was aimed at the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, and that the criminalization of protests in the U.S. was a growing problem. 

Before the vote, Sen. Cousert repeated that the bill was, “No way intended to limit people’s rights to free speech or right to protest.” 

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