Georgia General Assembly passes GOP-backed oversight board for prosecutors

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The General Assembly voted largely along party lines Monday to create an oversight board for Georgia’s district attorneys and solicitors general.

The Republican-backed Senate Bill 92 passed in the Georgia House of Representatives 97-77 over the objections of House Democrats that the measure both isn’t needed and is being driven by politics. The state Senate followed suit a few hours later, giving the bill final passage 32-24.

The legislation, which now heads to Gov. Brian Kemp’s desk, would create the Prosecuting Attorneys Oversight Commission, an eight-member board that would investigate complaints lodged against prosecutors and hold hearings.

The panel would have the power to discipline or remove prosecutors on a variety of grounds including mental or physical incapacity, willful misconduct or failure to perform the duties of the office, conviction of a crime of moral turpitude, or conduct that brings the office into disrepute.

Republicans have complained during the last several years about prosecutors in Democratic-led cities in Georgia who have been reluctant to prosecute certain crimes, notably during the civil unrest that occurred following the murder of George Floyd, a Black man, in Minneapolis by a white police officer in 2020.

“This bill was brought because we have district attorneys who are not doing their jobs,” said state Rep. Houston Gaines, R-Athens.

Republican lawmakers also argued that – unlike judges, who are subject to Georgia’s Judicial Qualifications Commission – there is no oversight board for prosecutors.

But Democrats countered that there are existing remedies for removing wayward prosecutors, including Georgia Bar Association rules, indictment by the state attorney general, impeachment, and ultimately elections.

Rep. Tanya Miller, D-Atlanta, accused Republicans of political motivations in pushing the bill.

“This is a power grab by the majority party to usurp the will of the voters,” she said.

But Rep. Matt Reeves, R-Duluth, said the current remedies to remove prosecutors are difficult to pursue. For example, the state bar isn’t equipped for the types of investigations that would be required of a district attorney who is the subject of a complaint, he said.

Florida has created an oversight board to discipline prosecutors who have refused to enforce state law, Reeves said.

“We don’t want to have prosecutorial veto of the laws we enact,” he said.