Georgia cities and counties must enforce local ordinances prohibiting homeless people from camping and sleeping in public arenas under legislation that has gained final passage in the General Assembly.

The Republican-controlled state Senate passed the bill Monday night, voting 32-24 primarily along party lines, and sent it on to Gov. Brian Kemp for his signature. The Senate vote came a few hours after the Georgia House of Representatives passed the bill 99-76.

“We know that street camps are dangerous for homeless people themselves,” Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, who carried Senate Bill 62 in the House, told her legislative colleagues. “The cities that have allowed it have seen an increase in the number of homeless deaths.”

Democrats spoke out against the bill, particularly a late addition the House inserted prohibiting local governments and hospitals from dumping homeless people in other counties.

“Bills like this criminalize homelessness,” said Rep. Jasmine Clark, D-Lilburn. “We need bills that address the root causes of homelessness.”

Democrats also accused Republicans of stomping on the concept of local control.

But Dempsey and other GOP lawmakers said the provision requiring local governments to enforce their ordinances against public camping and sleeping only applies if they have such ordinances.

“Local governments need to enforce the laws they have on their books. It’s that simple,” said Rep. Houston Gaines, R-Athens.

“We want to ensure that cities in this state don’t become more like Los Angeles and Austin, Texas,” added House Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman John LaHood, R-Valdosta, referring to those cities’ problems with homeless encampments.

When the bill got to the Senate side Monday night, Sen. Kim Jackson, D-Stone Mountain, complained that the original intent of the legislation was limited to requiring a state audit of the government funding available to address homelessness.

“Once we have a full audit, we can make some calculated decisions on how to use that money,” she said.

But Sen. Carden Summers, R-Cordele, Senate Bill 62’s chief sponsor, said the issue of homelessness can’t wait for an audit. Summers chaired a Senate study committee on homelessness last summer and fall.

“Every person we interviewed said homeless is getting worse and worse and worse,” he said. “Each county must deal with homeless. Each county has to have a plan to deal with homeless.


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