Lawmakers look at decriminalizing traffic offensesBy WALTER C. JONES
Morris News Service
ATLANTA — Legislators, judges, lawyers and cops are spending the fall debating proposals for removing criminal penalties and jail time for some traffic offenses as a way to save taxpayers money on court costs.
A committee in the House of Representatives hopes to have a plan worked out by January when the legislature convenes with the support of Gov. Nathan Deal.
Rice, a retired marketing executive, is chairman of the House Motor Vehicles Committee and the temporary committee studying the issue. Golick, R-Smyrna, chairs the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee. Any revisions would go through one of their committees.
Among the proposals being kicked around are versions of ideas tried in 14 other states in which drivers simply pay a fine, maybe even online, without the fear of going to jail for certain infractions like a broken tail light or crossing a yellow line. Jail time would still be possible for some serious issues like drunk driving, and those minor offenses could become more serious if done at the same time as a major traffic crime.
The Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers likes the idea.
“We’d like the state to consider going further,” said spokesman David Clark.
But the judges and prosecutors don’t.
“One of the things that we all agree on is that decriminalization doesn’t work,” said Chuck Spahos, executive director of Prosecuting Attorneys Council. “There’s not a state that has successfully done that.”
The committee appointed to study the issue was due to meet Wednesday but didn’t because of scheduling conflicts. But many of the various groups of lawyers and judges have been debating the issue since 2010 because they learned it was one of Deal’s priorities.
Committee members also seems supportive, like Rep. Alan Powell, R-Hartwell, who said the public has low regard for law enforcement and the courts because they suspect they are only motivated by money.
“Every time a law enforcement officer stops someone because they’ve got a nick in the windshield, and you know that pretty well what that offender might say to that. And then they get charged with what some of us who are not lawyers call stacking charges, ‘stack it up on ‘em, pick their pocket,’” he said.