ACTION ALERT: Ask Your Georgia House Member to Support Public Defenders by endorsing HR 997 and HB 648!

posted Mar 1, 2012, 11:59 AM by Kathryn Hamoudah   [ updated Aug 31, 2012, 8:29 AM by GFADP staff ]
On Monday March 5, 2012, the Georgia House of Representatives will vote on two important bills that will provide funds for the state’s public defender system, House Bill 648 and House Resolution 997.
 
Please take a moment to contact your State Representative and ask for them to vote in favor of these two pieces of legislation!

  • To identify the member of the Georgia House of Representatives that represents you, please visit : https://votesmart.org/ and plug in your 9-digit zip code. To look up your 9-digit zip code, please visit: https://tools.usps.com/go/ZipLookupAction!input.action.
  • Call or email your State House member and ask them to support HB 648 and HR 997.
  • If you need any assistance identifying or reaching your State House member, please contact Kathryn Hamoudah at khamoudah@schr.org.
  • Please let us know when you hear back from your legislator and if they are supportive of these measures.

We include some history on our public defender system as well as explanations of the legislation below to help guide your advocacy. Thank you so much for taking action on this important legislation!
 
Post from your Facebook page- sample posts:
  • On Monday, the GA House will vote on bills to provide public defender funding. Contact your State Rep and ask them to support HR 977 & HB 648! http://bit.ly/yN1A4T
  • I just took action to support Georgia’s Public Defenders- You should too! http://bit.ly/yN1A4T
 
Sample tweets:
  • Take Action to support funding for #GA public defenders! Urge House reps to support HB 648 and HR 997 on Monday: http://bit.ly/yN1A4T #gapol
  • I just took action to support #Georgia’s Public Defenders- You should too! http://bit.ly/yN1A4T #gapol
 
 
INFORMATION & TALKING POINTS
 
History: In 2003, the Georgia General Assembly passed the Georgia Indigent Defense Act which created a statewide public defender system and the Georgia Public Defenders Standards Council. In 2004, the General Assembly passed 1EX, a bill that created the Indigent Defense Fund by enacting a $15 civil filing fee as well as surcharges on criminal fines and bonds.
 
Since 2004, those filing fees have annually generated between $41 million and $44 million. However, the General Assembly has appropriated only $35 million to $38 million per year for the indigent defense program, some $4 million to $8 million less than the amount collected in fees each fiscal year. Governor Deal’s proposed budget is much better, allocating $40 million, but there is no assurance that future administrations would follow suit.
 
This funding gap has persisted, even though the indigent defense system was plagued by serious shortfalls that caused lengthy lawsuits and resulted in costly settlements.  While the public was told the increased fee would be used for indigent defense, a sizeable chunk of the proceeds was actually spent on other state budget items.
 
To correct this problem, Chairman Rich Golick, with strong bipartisan support, has proposed a constitutional amendment (HR 977) and enabling legislation (HB 648) that, if adopted by the General Assembly and approved by a majority of voters in the next general election, will guarantee that all fees collected for indigent defense will be used for that purpose and will not be siphoned off to fund other programs and activities of state government.
 
House Resolution 997 – Sponsored by Chairman Rich Golick of the 34th, Chairman Wendell Willard of the 49th, Majority Whip Edward Lindsey of the 54th, Minority Leader Stacey Abrams of the 84th, Representative Matt Ramsey of the 72nd, and others.
 
This resolution amends the State Constitution to allow the General Assembly to earmark all funds that are collected for indigent defense so that they may only be spent on indigent defense. Amending the Constitution is the only way to earmark funds for a certain purpose. It would prevent the General Assembly from being able to skim from the funds collected and use the money for other purposes.  This would guarantee a steady source and predictable amount of money for use for indigent defense.  It would ease the burden on counties who are currently paying more than the State for indigent defense. 
 
House Bill 648 -- Sponsored by the same legislators as HR 997
 
What it Does
The purpose of this bill is to dedicate funding collected through specified court costs to indigent defense by sending these funds to the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council (GPDSC).
 
Why it is Necessary
The reason why this bill is necessary is because not all funds collected by the designated fees are being appropriated to the GPDSC by the General Assembly.  Here’s how the system currently works: the funds are collected in the General Fund and are then to be appropriated during the budget process to the GPDSC, but not all of the money collected for indigent defense is appropriated to fund indigent defense.  Since funding began in 2005, more than $29 million have been skimmed from the fees collected and used for purposes other than indigent defense.  This has left the agency and public defender offices around the state bootstrapped and barely getting by.  The funding shortage has resulted in vacant positions not being filled; training programs for lawyers being gutted; use of low-bid, flat-fee contracts by private attorneys for representation of conflict cases.  Under HB 648, all specified court costs designed to fund indigent defense will actually go to their stated purpose.
 
What it Isn’t
It is important to realize that this is not a tax.  This bill will not increase anyone’s taxes.  Rather, it specifies the money already collected by fines and fees created for funding indigent defense go to the state agency responsible for indigent defense, the GPDSC.
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