The clock is ticking for supporters of Georgia’s long-awaited juvenile code rewrite. Crossover day — the critical mid-point in the legislative session, when Senate bills move over to the House of Representatives and House bills transition to the Senate — is now a little less than a week away. So far Senate Bill 127, also known as the Child Protection and Public Safety Act, has not yet made it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee (SJC) and if it does not do so before that critical deadline, it won’t be able to advance any further during this legislative session. That would be a major blow for supporters who have been involved in the rewrite process since 2004.
The committee was scheduled to discuss the measure at a hearing Wednesday. But the panel ran out of time after five hours, though members did manage to have extended discussions of several other bills. Representatives from the many stakeholder groups involved in the code rewrite, including JUST Georgia, the Georgia Appleseed Center for Law and Justice and the Department of Juvenile Justices (DJJ) sat through the marathon meeting, waiting to no avail for the bill to top the agenda. Most of them left at 5 p.m. when it was announced that the bill would not be discussed that day.
Barton Child Law and Policy Center Policy Director Kirsten Widner, who has been leading the legislative effort on the measure, says it is not uncommon for committees to be jam-packed with discussions on several bills as the critical midpoint in the session approaches. She is now working with committee chairman Sen. Bill Hamrick (R- Carrollton) on establishing a time to reschedule the code hearing, ideally for some time later this week. Keep checking www.JJIE.org for updates.
The new code — the first in four decades — was introduced in 2009, but it failed to make it to the floor for a vote by the end of the two-year legislative term. It was reintroduced on February 23 as SB 127, also known as “the Children’s Code.” If passed, the code rewrite would comprehensively revise Title 15, Chapter 11 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to juvenile courts and the cases they hear. Throughout 2009 and 2010, the SJC and a specially appointed subcommittee reviewed the bill in detail, and a group of stakeholders met to agree on issues that needed refinement in the Act.