Over at the AJC, Greg Bluestein is reporting that Governor Nathan Deal intends to veto House Bill 837, the Private Probation bill that some said would limit public disclosure of information about private probation companies, and others saw as giving too much power to those companies over probationers.
In a statement, the Southern Center for Human Rights applauded the governor’s veto and explained many of the objections to the bill:
In courts around Georgia, people who are charged with misdemeanors and cannot pay their fines that day in court are placed on probation, most under the supervision of for-profit companies until they pay their fines. On probation, they must pay these companies substantial monthly “supervision fees” that may double the amount that a person of means would pay for the same offense. Private companies now supervise about 80 percent of all people on probation for misdemeanors in Georgia. Under the leadership of the private probation industry, Georgia has the highest rate of people on probation of any state in the country. Probation is preferable to debtor’s prisons, but the modern alternative is not too far removed.
HB 837, had it become law, would have expanded the reach of private probation even further. For example, it would have permitted private companies to require electronic monitoring for misdemeanor and traffic offenses like driving without a license, failing to stop at a stop sign, or possession of a small amount of marijuana. Private companies like electronic monitoring because it makes them huge profits. They routinely charge over $2,000 per year for such monitoring in misdemeanor cases. This is in addition to criminal fines, probation fees and surcharges. People with limited incomes cannot afford such costs and often face probation revocation and jail when they cannot pay. HB 837 would have allowed private probation companies to charge usury fees and then to get probationers’ sentences “tolled,” or extended, if they have not finished paying probation fees.
Not only would HB 837 have expanded private probation revenues, it specifically and explicitly made the amount of fees that these companies collect a state secret. Rather than place this process in the sunlight, HB 837 intentionally blocked members of the public and the media from being able to find out how much money the companies are charging citizens. The bill also exempted other information from public disclosure, such as the number of offenders under supervision and the number of warrants issued.
Any bills not vetoed by today will automatically become law without the governor’s signature.