by John McCosh, Georgia Recorder [This opinion article was first published in the Georgia Recorder, republished with permission]
March 18, 2022
We are closing out National Sunshine Week, a time when public officials are reminded to operate openly and transparently and embrace the spirit of the First Amendment. Georgia Republican Attorney General Chris Carr marked the occasion, pledging that his department is dedicated to enforcing the state’s Open Records Act and Open Meetings Act.
So, it is troubling that Georgia lawmakers are considering legislation as the 2022 General Assembly winds down that threatens some basic tenets of free speech and government accountability.
On Tuesday, state senators passed a bill sponsored by Cataula Republican Randy Robertson that amounts to legislative law-and-order backlash to 2020’s protests for racial justice. Included in Robertson’s Senate Bill 171 is an expanded definition of “unlawful assembly” that would escalate potential charges and penalties for protesters. The proposed law would also erode public employees’ free speech and due process rights, and inflict other damage to First Amendment protections for Georgians.
Georgia Recorder guest commentator Nora Benavidez recently explained in detail how Robertson’s proposal is a potential threat to anyone in the state who wants to speak up for what they believe in.
Robertson’s bill is one of several flagged in this year’s General Assembly by the Georgia First Amendment Foundation’s Legislative Watch list, an annual exercise by the state’s longtime, nonprofit government watchdog. I’m honored to have served on the foundation’s board for several years.
It would be the rare year when only one threat to open government or free speech gained traction in the Georgia General Assembly. And 2022 will not be that year.