Gov. Brian Kemp signed legislation Friday to limit how much local governments in Georgia can cut funding for police agencies.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Houston Gaines, R-Athens, forbids cities and counties from cutting the budgets of most police agencies in the state by more than 5% over a five-year period, except during times of financial trouble such as seen during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Its passage largely along party lines in the General Assembly came as Republican lawmakers moved to block efforts to reduce police budgets in the wake of last summer’s nationwide protests against police brutality and racial injustice.

Democratic leaders slammed the measure as a power grab by the state over local governments, noting also that criminal-justice advocates have largely called for shifting some budget dollars from law enforcement to other areas like mental health and housing rather than outright gutting police agencies.

Kemp framed the bill as a show of support for Georgia police officers who he said “continue to sacrifice their lives for the sake of others” despite growing backlash from local leaders and communities over recent high-profile killings by police including the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last year.

“The defund-the-police movement seeks to vilify the men and women who leave their families every day and put their lives on the lines to protect all Georgians,” Kemp said at a bill-signing ceremony in Barrow County Friday where he was flanked by several officers.

Besides limits on budget reduction, the bill also allows state and local public-safety employees including police, correctional officers, firefighters and EMS operators to deduct pay from their salaries to secure legal representation if they are sued or prosecuted for their actions on the job.

On another criminal justice front, Democrats joined Republicans during the 2021 legislative session to pass legislation overhauling Georgia’s citizen’s arrest law following last year’s killing of Ahmaud Arbery near Brunswick. Kemp is expected to sign that measure next week.