Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams is facing criticism for her lack of a vote on a bill that addresses human trafficking.
State Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta, introduced House Bill 341, which allows people soliciting victims of trafficking to be charged with human trafficking violations. The final version of the bill, which went into effect in July 2017, was passed unanimously.
But Abrams did not cast a vote. Reeves said she walked out.
That decision not to vote was a focus of a Monday press conference held by the campaign of Brian Kemp, Abrams’ Republican opponent for governor. The event also featured Hall County Solicitor General Stephanie Woodard as a speaker.
“The bottom line is, that (Abrams) lacked the guts to vote no, and the takeaway on this is that her judgment on this issue should give all of us a lot of concern,” Reeves said.
A spokeswoman for the Abrams campaign said Abrams opposed the bill because she believes judges should be the ones to decide sentences. The bill mandates that people charged with trafficking offenses should serve 10 to 20 years, but judges can opt to require probation instead of prison.
“Abrams opposed HB 341 because it would have tied the hands of judges; judges, not politicians, should be the ones making sentencing decisions. Abrams was proud to work with Governor Deal to reform our criminal justice system — important reforms that Brian Kemp would oppose,” Abrams spokeswoman Abigail Collazo said.
Woodard expressed support for Kemp on Monday, speaking at the Atlanta press conference.
“I believe Brian Kemp will build on Gov. Deal’s foundation on criminal justice reform achievements,” Woodard said. “I believe that he will work with public safety systems to put Georgians and their families first.”
Woodard said the majority of her work involves first offenders, and her interactions with both perpetrators and victims has made her passionate about criminal justice reform.
“My passion, my goal, my life work, is to seek solutions that move everyone closer to whole, healthy, productive (lives) and still connected to their communities — victims, those charged with crimes, those affected by crimes and their families. … (Kemp) knows that the real work happens at the local level and that every community is different,” Woodard said.
If elected, Kemp has vowed to implement several reforms, including giving the Attorney General’s office the ability to prosecute gang cases across multiple jurisdictions and creating a gang strike team to train local law enforcement and provide resources.
On the topic of human trafficking, Collazo noted that Secretary of State Kemp allowed “massage therapists accused of sexual assault to keep their license and further endanger women in this state” and “accepted campaign donations from a former owner of one of the spas where the assaults took place.”
The Georgia Board of Massage Therapy, which licenses and regulates massage therapists in the state, is housed in the Secretary of State’s office. The board’s inaction to reports of harassment by Massage Envy staff in Atlanta was reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in May. Patrick Greco, who owns the clinics at the center of the complaint, is a Kemp donor.
Stephanie Davis, former executive director of Georgia Women for a Change and anti-trafficking advocate, defended Abrams in a statement.
“I worked closely with Stacey Abrams for over a decade to combat sex trafficking. She consistently worked to hold perpetrators accountable and make sure survivors received the services they deserved — all while her opponent, Brian Kemp, gave cover to massage therapists for sexual assaults to occur,” Davis said. “Mr. Kemp is lying to Georgians about Stacey Abrams and he is lying to Georgians about himself.”
Kemp said Tuesday that Abrams’ position on the bill “is wrong, and it’s disturbing.”
The election between Kemp and Abrams is Nov. 6.