News, Politics

Deadline Day Arrives For Georgia Legislation Still In Doubt

Monday is crossover day in the General Assembly, when bills and other measures are required to pass in the House or Senate and move on to the other chamber.
Monday is crossover day in the General Assembly, when bills and other measures are required to pass in the House or Senate and move on to the other chamber.
Credit John Amis / Associated Press
'Add to My List' icon 'Added to My List' icon Add to My List In My List

Updated at 7:58 p.m. Tuesday

Georgia lawmakers reached a key deadline on Monday, which was crossover day in the General Assembly. That’s when bills and other measures must pass the House or Senate and move on to the other chamber. Some key proposals had already moved forward, like restrictive voting and elections bills. The Senate passed additional voting restrictions on Monday. A bill to strip the state labor commissioner of some powers sprang back to life Monday. The failed measures include an effort to impose new criminal penalties for some protesters. There are ways of reviving failed measures later by amending them to other bills. Because it’s the first year of a two-year term, measures that don’t advance this year could still pass next year. Here’s a look at the status of some significant issues:

ADVANCED

VOTING: Republicans in the Georgia Senate passed a comprehensive voting bill over the opposition of Democratic senators after more than three hours of debate.

The bill would end no-excuse absentee voting, require identification to vote absentee, ban mobile polling locations except in an emergency and provide the state authority to remove underperforming election directors.

Democratic senators compared the legislation to Jim Crow-era voter suppression tactics and said that this past election cycle has been proven secure.

Sen. Nikki Merritt argued against the bill on the basis that many of the Republicans supporting restrictions on absentee voting were elected by those very means.

“Many of you in this chamber won your elections with absentee ballots, ironically making it possible for you to have the ability right now to submit vote-limiting legislation,” said Merritt.  “Were your elections fraudulent too?”

Both chambers of the General Assembly have now passed comprehensive voting changes, although there are differences that will need to be reconciled before a final version becomes law.

Fulton County Chairman Robb Pitts was among metro Atlanta county leaders who spoke at a rally at the Capitol Monday afternoon, voicing opposition to Republican voting bills.

Left, Asian Americans Advancing Justice and other civil rights groups protest voting restrictions outside the Capitol Monday. Right, Fulton County Chairman Robb Pitts speaks at rally. (Emil Moffatt/WABE)

“Fulton County is being unfairly targeted. I don’t know what happened in the other 158 [counties], but leave Fulton County, Georgia alone. Period,” said Pitts.

Pitts said legislation that restricts the use of absentee ballot drop boxes, limits weekend voting and bans mobile voting units are directly aimed at reducing voter participation in Fulton, the state’s largest county.

“We think we have been very innovative, very creative, very proactive. So much so, that other jurisdictions, locally and nationally are adapting what we’ve done here and for the voters,” said Pitts. DeKalb County commissioner Larry Johnson and Gwinnett County board of elections member Stephen Day also spoke.

SCHOOL VOUCHERS: The House is still considering House Bill 60, which would create a new educational savings account program to provide vouchers for private schools and home schooling. The Senate already passed Senate Bill 47, which would broaden eligibility for a program that pays for children with special education needs to attend private schools.

ADULT CRIMINAL AGE: The age for charging most people with adult crimes would rise from 17 to 18 in Georgia under House Bill 272.

STREET RACING: House Bill 534 and Senate Bill 10 would enhance penalties for illegal street racing and stunt driving.

CITIZEN’S ARREST:  The Georgia House unanimously passed House Bill 479 Monday that would repeal the state’s citizen’s arrest law, following the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick last year. The law was applied to help the men now in jail for Arbery’s killing avoid prosecution for months.

PATIENT VISITATION: A measure that would allow for limited next-of-kin access at hospitals and long-term care facilities, even during a public health emergency, has passed the Georgia House. The measure’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Ed Setzler, says the bill restricts the visitation to one hour per day with health guidelines set up by the facility. The vote was 113-57 in favor of the bill.

House Speaker David Ralston spoke in favor of House Bill 290, which allows for limited visitation at hospitals during a public health emergency. (Emil Moffatt/WABE)
House Speaker David Ralston spoke in favor of House Bill 290, which allows for limited visitation at hospitals during a public health emergency. (Emil Moffatt/WABE)

DISTRACTED DRIVING: House Bill 247 eliminates the first-time waiver for distracted driving offenses. The bill’s author, Republican John Carson says the state has no way of tracking first-time offenses, which are often waived after the driver has purchased a hands-free device. Carson says the number of distracted driving deaths have dropped since the passage of Georgia’s “hands-free” bill, with the exception of preliminary numbers from 2020. Those deaths are attributed to motorists driving at higher speeds with fewer people on the road.

ADOPTION TAX CREDIT: The House has also passed a bill that would increase the tax credit for adopting foster children from $2,000 to $6,000 per year. House Bill 114 was sponsored by Republican Bert Reeves and passed 158-0.

INCOME TAX CUT: Georgia would raise the amount of money someone could earn before paying income taxes under House Bill 593, cutting overall taxes by $140 million.

SPORTS BETTING: Senate Resolution 135 and Senate Bill 142 would let Georgia’s voters decide whether they’ll allow sports betting. Lawmakers would split the proceeds among college scholarships for low income students, expanded high speed internet access and rural health care services.

LABOR COMMISSIONER: Senators on Friday abandoned Senate Bill 156, which would have created a chief labor officer to oversee unemployment benefits. The measure would have cut into Labor Commissioner Mark Butler’s authority because lawmakers say his department has poorly handled a deluge of jobless claims.

HOME-SCHOOLED ATHLETES: Public schools would be required to let home-schooled students take part in athletics and extracurricular activities as long as they take at least one online course through the local school under Senate Bill 51.

LAWSUIT LIABILITY: House Bill 112 would renew until July 2022 Georgia’s law protecting businesses and others from being sued if someone blames them for contracting COVID-19.

HUMAN TRAFFICKING: Senate Bill 33 would allow victims or state officials to file civil lawsuits seeking money damages against traffickers while Senate Bill 34 would make it easier for people who have been trafficking victims to change their names.

PAID PARENTAL LEAVE: House Bill 146 would offer three weeks of paid parental leave any time to nearly 250,000 state, public university and public school employees after the birth, adoption or foster placement of a child.

TIME CHANGE: House Bill 44 calls for Georgia to permanently switch to daylight saving time if the U.S. Congress authorizes it. Senate Bill 100 calls for Georgia to observe standard time year round, unless Congress lets states switch to daylight saving time permanently.

DEFUND THE POLICE: House Bill 286 says cities and counties can’t cut spending on their police departments by more than 5% a year.

PORCH PIRACY: It would be a felony with mandatory prison time for people who steal packages off someone’s porch under House Bill 94.

HAZING: Senate Bill 85 would increase penalties for hazing, making it a felony to force people to participate in hazing when someone is seriously injured, including by alcohol poisoning.

TEACHER INCENTIVES: House Bill 32 would give a $3,000-per-year state income tax credit to some Georgia teachers who agree to work in certain rural or low performing schools.

—-

DIDN’T ADVANCE

LAWMAKER PAY RAISE: Pay for Georgia’s 180 House members and 56 senators would nearly double under House Bill 675. Most statewide elected officials would also get substantial boosts in pay. Proponents say lawmaker pay hasn’t changed since 1999.

EMERGENCY POWERS: House Bill 358 would require lawmakers to renew Gov. Brian Kemp’s emergency powers after 30 days, and then every 90 days after that in an effort to limit powers Kemp has exercised under Georgia’s public health emergency for nearly a year.

IN-STATE TUITION: House Bill 120 would allow some people without legal immigration status to claim in-state tuition at most Georgia universities and colleges.

TRANSGENDER SPORTS: Senate bill 266 would ban transgender girls from playing on girls sports teams in high schools. Proponents say those not born as women could have unfair advantages, but opponents say it’s illegal under federal law and cruel.

TERM LIMITS: Georgia voters could limit state lawmakers to 12 years per chamber and extend state senators’ terms to four years under Senate Resolution 37, a constitutional amendment. The measure would also impose a two-term limit on the lieutenant governor’s office.

STONE MOUNTAIN: Senate Bill 158 would require that a “Let Freedom Ring” monument to civil, voting and human rights be built on Stone Mountain, home to a giant carving of Confederate leaders.

PROTEST RESTRICTIONS: Senate Bill 171 would have made blocking a highway during a protest a felony, raised penalties for other forms of protest and expanded the state’s definition of illegal assembly. It never passed out of committee.

CASINO GAMBLING: None of the various measures that would authorize casinos have passed out of committee.

HORSE RACING: None of the various measures that would authorize betting on horse racing have passed out of committee.