Georgia Legislature Passes Some Juvenile-Related Bills, Kills Others in Final Days of Session

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Georgia legislators found the money this year to tighten security and respond quickly to emergencies at the state's juvenile detention centers. They also declared cellphones and other telecommunications devices in juvenile prisons to be contraband.

But they couldn't find the money to pass juvenile justice reform, because Gov. Nathan Deal and others said they weren't sure how much it would cost. So the five-year effort to overhaul Georgia's aging juvenile code will become a six-year campaign when the Legislature reconvenes in 2013.

At the 11th hour, though, one provision of the proposed code rewrite was tacked onto the contraband bill and passed Thursday by both chambers.

Rep. Wendell Willard's amendment establishes a permanent limit of 30 days' confinement in so-called "short-term programs," an outgrowth of ex-Gov. Zell Miller's "boot camps" created for young offenders in the 1990s. A sunset provision in current law would have raised that ceiling next year to 60 days.

To save money, Georgia since 2005 has reduced the limit on short-term stays from 90 days to 60 days and then to 30. In 2008, STP offenders occupied more than one in five beds in Georgia's youth prisons, but the number has fallen since then.

Also Thursday, the House and Senate agreed to create a study commission to recommend services to help with the recovery of victims of human trafficking, about half of whom are believed to be juveniles. Georgia offers some such services now. The commission is to review best practices elsewhere and return with recommendations by Dec. 31.

The resolution authored by Rep. Buzz Brockway (R-Lawrenceville) noted that an estimated 400 girls are sexually exploited each month in Georgia and that half of them were first exploited between the ages of 12 and 14. The FBI says Atlanta is among the 14 U.S. cities with the highest incidence of child prostitution.

In another bill passed this year, the Legislature expanded the scope of so-called "mandatory reporters" -- currently police, teachers, medical personnel and child welfare workers -- who must report possible child abuse to authorities.

The new definition, inspired by the allegations against former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, will include coaches at recreation centers and at public and private schools. The clergy, with a limited exception for information obtained in a confession, also must now report possible abuse.

The provision is part of Gov. Nathan Deal's criminal justice reform package, which also removes the statute of limitations for prosecuting sex offenses when the victim is under 16.

Bills that did not pass this year's legislative session include:

House Bill 272 by Rep. Tom Weldon (R-Ringgold), which would revoke the right to a rehearing for some juveniles facing incarceration. Currently, young defendants may demand that a case be reheard by a juvenile court judge if they had been sentenced by an associate judge.

House Bill 1078, by Rep. Jay Neal (R-LaFayette), which would have helped child prostitutes to vacate past findings of delinquency if they could prove they were victims of human trafficking.

Senate Bill 31 by Sen. Jason Carter (D-Decatur), which would allow parents and legal guardians to sit in on a consultation between their child and an attorney without the child having to waive attorney-client privilege.

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