A bill passed by a Georgia House committee on March 14 would allow drug felons to obtain food stamps. The proposal comes as Georgia moves to implement sweeping criminal justice reform.
“Right now, under Georgia state law, if you’re convicted of some sort of drug felony, you cannot apply for food stamps, which doesn’t make sense to me,” House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee Chairman, Republican State Rep. Rich Golick of Smyrna said, according to WABE.
“I think we’re looking for avenues for individuals to become productive members of society.”
The measure is part of a plan pushed by Republican Gov. Nathan Deal of Georgia to move more low-level offenders out of jail and into society. SB 367, the measure’s title, includes new programs to allow ex-convicts to get driver’s licenses and find jobs.
The bill also aims to curb the flow of high school students into juvenile hall by reforming school discipline systems.
Thomas Worthy, the co-chair of the Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform, said a ban on food stamps for drug felons is unethical.
“We thought that there was an injustice between the fact that some offenders could apply, but some of our lowest-risk, non-violent offenders couldn’t,” Worthy said.
Golick added that currently, violent felons can apply for food stamps in Georgia while drug felons cannot, AJC reports.
Georgia is one of just six states that still has a lifetime ban for drug felons.
Bans on food stamps for drug felons were put in place in the 1990s during federal welfare reform, although states are able to repeal the ban, reports Think Progress. So far, a total of 20 states have fully repealed the food stamp restrictions.
Opponents of the bill include Hollie Manheimer, executive director of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, reports AJC. She is particularly opposed to one aspect of the legislation, which would allow first-time drug offenders to ask judges to seal their court records after they plead guilty. It would be up to the judge to decide whether to do so or not.
“It will alter the public’s confidence in the workings of the justice system and undermine the public’s faith that the criminal justice system is protecting the interests of law abiding citizens,” Manheimer wrote in a letter to Deal and the bill's sponsors, according to AJC.
Still, the bill’s sponsors maintain that the measure would benefit ex-convicts and society alike.
Golick noted that if non-violent drug offenders cannot receive food stamps after leaving prison, they may be encouraged “to go ahead and reoffend."
The state Senate unanimously voted to pass the bill in February. Now that the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee has approved the measure, it will move to the House Rules Committee, which will determine whether it gets a floor vote.