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Georgia Senate tackles swatting, fentanyl trafficking

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(The Center Square) — The Georgia Senate this week passed a measure to increase the penalty for swatting and also created a new criminal offense to target fentanyl dealers.

The move comes after several Georgia officials were swatted during and since the Christmas holiday and follows a national trend of an increased number of swatting calls, a hoax 911 call reporting a fake emergency prompting authorities to respond to an unsuspecting house.

Senate Bill 421 amends OCGA 16-10-28, which the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia previously told The Center Square could be used to tackle swatting. It strengthens the penalties for anyone who makes a fake request for emergency services help.

“The passing of SB 421 is of significant importance, as several Senators, including myself, were the victims of the swatting calls,” Sen. Clint Dixon, R-Gwinnett, said in a statement. “We are one step closer to holding those who make unlawful requests for emergency services accountable under the full extent of the law. Together, we will not stand for these threats of violence and intimidation.”

Additionally, lawmakers passed Senate Bill 465, also known as “Austin’s Law.” It aims to target the sale and distribution of substances such as fentanyl. It creates a new criminal offense of aggravated involuntary manslaughter, which carries a sentence of at least 10 years in prison.

“Keeping Georgians safe is my top priority,” Lt. Governor Burt Jones, a Republican, said in a statement. “While gridlock and backroom politics in Washington have limited movement of legislation in regard to swatting and fentanyl trafficking, here in Georgia, we are dedicated to ensuring the health and safety of our citizens. SB 421 will help to end the cowardly act of ‘swatting’ in Georgia. ‘Austin’s Law’ will hold fentanyl dealers and manufacturers accountable and will help prevent the senseless deaths of Georgians.”

The state House will consider the measures.

“By imposing harsher penalties on those involved in fentanyl distribution and tightening regulations, this legislation will bolster our efforts to combat the epidemic of drug abuse and save countless lives,” state Sen. Tim Bearden, R-Carrollton, said in a statement.

Separately, U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Georgia, and other federal lawmakers want President Joe Biden to include more federal funding for U.S. Customs and Border Protection drug trafficking prevention initiatives in the fiscal 2025 budget. Georgia Department of Public Health numbers indicate that opioid-related overdose deaths in the Peach State increased by 207% between 2010 and 2020.

“In order to meaningfully address the fentanyl crisis, law enforcement officers at our Nation’s borders must be equipped to combat the flow of fentanyl and other illicit drugs,” the lawmakers wrote to Biden. “We must also support the law enforcement agencies that are investigating these smuggling and trafficking crimes and working to disrupt the transnational criminal networks that threaten our country and our communities.”

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