Kemp commits $1,000 bonuses to first responders using federal COVID-19 funds
Gov. Brian Kemp and House Speaker David Ralston held a news conference inside the state Capitol this week to announce that the state will offer one-time $1,000 bonuses to nearly 81,000 police officers, firefighters and other emergency responders throughout Georgia.
Kemp said police and fire departments and other emergency response agencies will be able to apply to the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget for grants that will pay for the bonuses between Oct. 1 and the end of the year. All eligible public safety officers and first responders can apply, including police and sheriff’s department employees, parole and probation officers, prison and jail guards, emergency-medical technicians and paramedics, criminal investigators, court bailiffs, fish and game wardens, 911 dispatchers and evidence processors with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Kemp’s $100 million initiative is in addition to $25 million in bonuses Ralston proposed in July for a smaller group of sworn law enforcement officers. The $25 million in law enforcement raises Ralston proposed is part of a $75 million allocation the speaker is requesting to bolster public safety and mental health services in Georgia.
The funds for Kemp’s bonuses will come from Georgia’s $4.8 billion share of federal COVID-19 relief that the state received from Washington. Many suspect that Ralston’s bonus proposal will come from the same source. Even though the funds Kemp and Ralston are disbursing did not originate from the state or the Republican party, the two are taking credit for the funds, describing the bonuses as the next step in state Republican leadership’s commitment to prioritize public safety. Some say this is hypocrisy at its best for the two to claim credit for something that did not originate from them or the Republican party and suggest a bipartisan approach is needed when disbursing funds from Washington, especially under a democratic administration.
There are times when credit falls to the left or the right, but this is not one of those times. Given an opportunity to open their aperture to issues around them and to show bi-partisanship, the governor and speaker pivoted. Instead, they used the moment to say that Georgia’s first responders have weathered tremendous hardships in the last 18 months dealing with the coronavirus pandemic and a loss of respect for law enforcement that accompanied the national “defund the police” movement sparked by some street protesters last summer. “We know it’s never been harder to wear a badge,” said Ralston, R-Blue Ridge. “We want to ensure our officers know we appreciate their service and sacrifice.”
Many in the Cobb community called Kemp and Ralston’s press conference political posturing, saying they used federal funds to pump Kemp up to voters and first responders for the 2022 election. They point to references in the press conference about political unrest occuring last year and calls from many groups to defund the police following the murder of George Floyd in Minniapolis and others across the country at the hands of police, but little to nothing has been said by either leaders relative to the fear people of color have when it comes to law enforcement. Neither leader ventured to touch on the cause for the political unrest that was occuring.
The public fight between Kemp and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has been playing out for months with Kemp attacking Bottoms and pointing fingers her way for the cause of crime increasing in Atlanta. Bottoms, in turn, blamed Kemp for his failures as Governor to address gun control which is leading to gun violence in the city. Kemp and Ralston acknowledged that crime is up across Georgia, not just in Atlanta. It also follows the national trend of increased violence across most states.
What is also telling from the press conference is Kemp’s failure to include a review of crime during the special session in November. Kemp had announced in July that he planned to add crime legislation to this year’s special legislative session being held primarily to redraw Georgia’s congressional and legislative district lines. However, crime did not appear on the agenda when Kemp called for the special session to start Nov. 3. Lawmakers instead are expected to consider the governor’s proposals during the 2022 regular session beginning in January. Even though crime was left off the agenda, what made Kemp’s agenda for the special session – a review of Buckhead becoming a city, which seems to take priority over crime.