ATLANTA — Lawmakers and activists said a Georgia bill aimed at keeping schools safe in response to mass shootings across the country could result in more minority students going to prison, and they urged Republican Gov. Brian Kemp on Tuesday to veto it.
The critics, who delivered a petition to the governor's office, said the bill's vague language requiring schools to report suspicious incidents to authorities could lead to racial profiling and overpolicing.
"This bill will take something as simple as a schoolyard fight and turn it into, potentially, a criminal record," said Democratic Rep. Renitta Shannon of Decatur. Shannon said it would be better to focus on common-sense gun control and add more counselors in schools.
The bill could be especially harmful for immigrant students living in the country illegally if a charge is used to trigger deportation proceedings, said Adelina Nicholls, executive director for the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights.
Bill sponsor Sen. John Albers, a Republican from Roswell, responded in an emailed statement Tuesday that the bill only requires reporting "a reasonable suspicion of violent criminal activity." He emphasized the word "reasonable." Albers had previously said the goal of the legislation is to identify problems before they happen. Albers said he spoke about the bill with parents from Parkland, Florida, where 17 high school students and staff were killed by a gunman in February 2018.
The bill would also require that public schools in Georgia receive a threat assessment every four years and conduct regular violence- and terrorism-response drills. It would create the position of "school safety coach" and a smartphone app that students and others could use to report suspicious activity.
The governor's spokesman, Cody Hall, did not respond Tuesday to a phone call, text message or email requesting a comment.