This weekly Legislative Update report is courtesy of the Regional Business Coalition of Metropolitan Atlanta (RBC), an organization of over a dozen of the largest and most active Chambers of Commerce throughout the metro Atlanta region. RBC member chambers represent over 15,000 member companies who employ millions of metro Atlanta residents. The RBC’s primary goal is to represent the interests of RBC Chamber members on regional public policy issues impacting our transportation, water and air quality and to advocate for solutions that improve metro Atlanta’s quality of life and economic vitality.
During the last full week of the 2023 Legislative Session, the General Assembly convened Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday for Legislative Days 36 through 38. Wednesday served as a committee workday for members working to get their bills out of committee and onto the floor ahead of next Wednesday, which is Sine Die.
While the House is typically more procedurally flexible than the Senate, with committees sometimes passing bills that end up on the House floor later the same day, this week House Rules Chairman Richard Smith (R-Columbus) announced that any bills not passed out of committee by Wednesday, March 22 would not be eligible for further legislative action this session. The Senate convened late on Thursday to allow House bills a final opportunity to pass out of committee that morning.
In addition to voting on legislation on the floor this week, the House and Senate took up a number of agree/disagree motions. If a bill is amended by the opposite chamber, it must first go back to its original chamber for members to either agree or disagree with the changes made to the bill. If the original chamber votes to agree to the changes made, the bill is sent to the governor’s desk. If each chamber insists on its own version of the bill, a conference committee made up of three representatives and three senators is appointed to resolve the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill.
Next week the legislature will be in session Monday and Wednesday for the final two days of the session. After the General Assembly adjourns Sine Die at midnight on Day 40, Governor Kemp and his team begin the 40-day bill review process, during which they will assess the legislation that was passed by the General Assembly to determine which measures Governor Kemp will sign and which measures he will veto. If the governor takes no action on a bill, the bill becomes law. A governor’s veto of a bill requires a two-thirds majority of both the House and the Senate to override.
The governor has already signed several pieces of legislation this session, including the Amended Fiscal Year 2023 budget, a bill that provides a tax refund to Georgians, and a bill prohibiting gender reassignment surgery and hormone therapy for minors with gender dysphoria.
Fiscal Year 2024 Budget
This week the Senate Appropriations Committee, chaired by Senator Blake Tillery (R-Vidalia), met to approve a committee substitute version of House Bill 19, the Fiscal Year 2024 budget. The Senate’s version of the budget includes a $2,000 pay raise for teachers; a $6,000 pay raise for state law enforcement; 100 percent tuition paid for HOPE scholarship recipients; $5 million to screen for dyslexia; and $5 million to end foster care hoteling. The major difference in the Senate budget is the removal of the approximately $105 million in University System budget for an information system that is intended to be part of a planned partnership between Augusta University Health System and WellStar.
To resolve the differences between the House and Senate versions of the budget, a conference committee was appointed by Speaker Jon Burns and Lieutenant Governor Burt Jones. When a consensus is reached among conference committee appointees, both chambers will vote on the conference committee report before the Fiscal Year 2024 budget can be sent to Governor Kemp’s desk. The passage of a balanced budget is the only constitutionally mandated action item for legislators each session.
Last week the Senate Economic Development Committee members voted to add language allowing sports betting under the Georgia Lottery to House Bill 237. Provisions of the original bill, sponsored by Representative Leesa Hagan (R-Lyons), would designate the Southeast Georgia Soap Box Derby as the official soap box derby of the State of Georgia. At the request of Representative Hagan, the language relating to the soap box derby was taken out of the substitute version of the bill entirely, so the substitute version of the bill only addresses sports betting. Unlike some other sports betting measures, this bill does not seek to amend Georgia’s constitution, so the bill requires a simple majority rather than a two-thirds majority to pass.
On Thursday afternoon, Senator Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta), who sits on the Rules Committee, selected the bill to receive a Senate floor vote next week. Because the bill has been amended on the Senate side, if the measure is passed by the full Senate, it will need to go back to the House for final approval before it could go to Governor Kemp’s desk.
Different sports betting measures have failed in the Senate earlier this session—one measure, which would have amended Georgia’s constitution to legalize sports betting, failed to meet the requisite two-thirds majority to pass. The other failed measure to legalize sports betting, which only required a simple majority vote to pass, also included language to legalize horse racing in Georgia.
Language from Representative Hagan’s soapbox derby bill, the original House Bill 237, has been substituted into Senate Bill 158, a bill that would have originally provided insurance discounts for retrofitting properties to better resist natural disasters.
Apex Doctrine Legislation
House Bill 530, sponsored by Rep. James Burchett (R-Waycross), addresses an issue known as the “Apex Doctrine.” This measure would allow a court to grant a protective order prohibiting the deposition of high-ranking corporate officers who lack unique, personal knowledge of any matters relevant to the lawsuit. The measure passed the House overwhelming earlier this session, and on Thursday evening, it was selected by the Senate Rules Committee to go to the floor for a vote next week. House Bill 530 is the only remaining tort reform legislation still alive this session.
Governor Kemp’s Legislative Priorities
On Tuesday the Senate considered Senate Bill 140, sponsored by Senator Carden Summers (R-Cordele), which would prohibit doctors from performing sex change operations or providing certain hormones like estrogen and testosterone to minors with gender dysphoria.
The House Health and Human Services Committee added an amendment to the bill that would hold physicians and health care practitioners civilly liable or criminally responsible for damages, injury, death, or loss related to gender reassignment surgeries or therapies. The bill was passed by the House last week 96 to 75, but because the House committee modified the language in the bill, it had to be sent back to the Senate for an “agree” or “disagree” motion.
On Tuesday, the Senate considered Senate Bill 140 as amended by the House. After a lengthy floor debate, the Senate voted 31 to 21 to agree to the House version of the measure, sending it to Governor Kemp’s desk. On Thursday Governor Kemp announced he signed the measure into law.
COVID Passport Legislation
On Thursday the House considered Senate Bill 1 by Senator Greg Dolezal (R-Cumming). The bill would remove the sunset on the prohibition on state and local governments from requiring proof of COVID vaccination for government services. The prohibition is currently set to expire June 30, 2023. Last week there was a tie vote in committee on the bill, with Chairman Sharon Cooper serving as the tie-breaking vote to pass it out of committee. The measure passed the House 99 to 69 and now heads to the governor’s desk for his consideration.
This week the House considered Senate Bill 93, which would prohibit a state employee from installing or using a social media platform that is controlled or influenced by a foreign adversary on state equipment. The legislation would require the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency (GEMA) to maintain and update a list of foreign adversaries. The bill passed the House unanimously, but it must go back to the Senate for final approval since a House committee made minor changes to the legislation.