The panel also approved a pair of bills designed to protect politicians and police officers from threats and frivolous lawsuits.
The dog measure, House Bill 717, would impose from one to three years behind bars and a fine up to $20,000 on a pet owner whose animal was involved in a second human attack. A first attack would label the creature a “vicious dog” under existing law and trigger requirements that it be confined.
Most people would destroy a dog after it attacked someone, said Rep. Matt Ramsey, R-Peachtree City.
“I think that rises to the level of a felony if you decide to keep a vicious dog,” he said.
The bill’s author, Rep. Penny Houston, R-Nashville, told the committee she was disturbed by news reports of attacks, especially the Jan. 30 mauling of a 6-year-old Savannah girl by a pit-bull mix. The girl received six stitches to her face and has recently been evaluated by a plastic surgeon.
“This is not a regional problem. We have a problem all over the state,” Houston said.
Committee Chairman Rich Golick agreed.
“There isn’t a week goes by we don’t read something,” said Golick, R-Smyrna. “It’s unbelievable to me. This is a problem that’s not going away. It’s getting worse.”
The committee also sought to set up protections against people, at least those who prey on public officials and law enforcement officers. HB997 would make it a crime, subject to 10 years in prison, to file liens malicious lawsuits.
It stems from the experience of its author, Rep. B.J. Pak, R-Lilburn, who had liens -- or outstanding debts -- filed against his property along with his colleagues by a man who disagreed with the actions of the prosecutor Pak worked for at the time. Temple, Ga., Police Chief Timothy Shaw testified that he had a similar experience after one of his officers issued a traffic ticket to a man claiming to be a “sovereign citizen” not subject to state laws.
Pak got it cleared up by using his skills as an attorney, and Shaw used his connections with the FBI and local courts.
“Most officers, when they’re going through things like this, can’t go to the superior court because it’s not an implied threat,” Shaw said.
Filing liens on cops and prosecutors is a common tactic used by those claiming to be sovereign citizens, an estimated 500 Georgians, according to Frank Rotondo, executive director of the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police.
The committee also passed HB541 sponsored by Rep. Bubber Epps, R-Dry Branch. It imposes a $20,000 fine or up to five years in prison for threatening police officers of their family.
All three of the bills still must be approved by the full House and then the Senate before going to Gov. Nathan Deal for his signature.