- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 1, 2017

ATLANTA (AP) - The Georgia Senate voted on Wednesday to expand the definition of domestic terrorism and to create a stand-alone Department of Homeland Security. The proposed measure also would give attorneys general more power to work in multiple jurisdictions when prosecuting alleged terrorism.

Senators approved the bill 42-12 despite concerns from most Democratic members of the chamber. It will move to the House of Representatives for further consideration.

Attacks against critical infrastructure, including religious and educational institutions, would qualify as domestic terrorism under the bill. The definition of infrastructure would extend to both physical and virtual assets, meaning certain types of hacking attacks would be considered terrorism.

Previously, attacks in Georgia were only considered to constitute domestic terrorism if they left 10 or more people dead. Bill sponsor Sen. Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, said that definition is insufficient and antiquated. He called terrorism “one of the most significant problems of our time.”

He explained that a significant portion of the bill was establishing a state Department of Homeland Security, which is required by the federal government in order to receive certain funding. Currently the department’s responsibilities fall under the Georgia Emergency Management Agency.

It is a movement toward “a more efficient model,” Cowsert said.

Sen. Lester Jackson, D-Savannah, worked with Cowsert to address concerns that parts of the bill could be used to charge peaceful demonstrators with domestic terrorism when they block intersections, roads, or entrances to buildings.

“This is about protecting the right to protest and peacefully assemble,” Jackson said.

Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, said he also had concerns about infringements on First Amendment rights. “I have firsthand knowledge of those issues,” he said, claiming to have more experience with protests than any of the other senators in the room.

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