Attacks on power substations elsewhere spurs Georgia House to stiffen penalties for infrastructure sabotage

Georgia State Capitol on mostly sunny day

by Jill Nolin, Georgia Recorder [This article first appeared in the Georgia Recorder, republished with permission]

March 2, 2023

House lawmakers have approved extra prison time for anyone who intentionally attacks – physically or electronically – a utility substation or any other “vital public service.”

The bill, sponsored by Elberton Republican Rep. Rob Leverett, could mean as much as an additional 10 years in prison if a prosecutor can prove the attack was carried out intentionally.

The proposal comes on the heels of attacks on critical infrastructure in other states, such as when someone shot up two Duke Energy substations in North Carolina in December that knocked out power to about 45,000 people.

“Apparently, some people have decided that it’s open season on critical infrastructure for our utilities, and they’re using that for whatever reason,” he said.

His proposal is meant to create a mid-range offense for cases where the offender is not attempting an act of domestic terrorism. If someone intentionally damages critical infrastructure with violence or electronically, they can be charged with a special category of first-degree criminal property damage and receive an additional prison sentence of two to 10 years.

“I feel like this is necessary at this point to send a message to those who would try to damage vital infrastructure, which can have such a more far-ranging impact than just simply damaging a piece of property,” Leverett said. “If you damage the utility’s truck depot, well that’s bad but that generally isn’t going to put 45,000 people in the dark and absolute cold during the week before Christmas.”

The bill easily cleared the House Thursday, though one Democrat voiced some reservation about the proposed penalty when compared to others – including increased fines and prison time for burning a police car and rioting that cleared in the House Wednesday.

“I would just like to point out that this is a minimum of two years sentencing. For arson of a police car is the minimum of five years sentencing. For two or more people to do a riot, it’s a minimum of five years sentencing, and aggravated assault with the intent to rape is one year,” said Rep. Mesha Mainor, an Atlanta Democrat.

Leverett’s bill now moves to the Senate for consideration. 

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