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.
The General Assembly convened Monday through Thursday again this week for Legislative Days 17 through 20, with Thursday marking the halfway point in the 40-day session. This week once again saw a significant uptick in the number of bills introduced and considered by committees. As of Wednesday, the Office of Legislative Counsel, which works with House and Senate members to draft legislation, reported producing more than 2,800 drafts since the beginning of the session.
Members now have just eight legislative days to get their bills passed out of their assigned committees and over to the opposite chamber for continued consideration this session—Crossover Day is set for Monday, March 6. Additionally, House Appropriations Subcommittees continued to meet throughout the week to work on developing the House’s budget recommendations for Fiscal Year 2024.
Legislators are back in session next week Tuesday through Thursday for Legislative Days 21 through 23.
Update on Governor Kemp’s Legislative Priorities
There were a number of social issue-related bills that were introduced or had legislative action taken this week:
Religious Freedom Legislation
This week Senator Ed Setzler (R-Acworth) introduced Senate Bill 180, the ‘Georgia Religious Freedom Restoration Act,’ or ‘RFRA.’ The bill is very similar to the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (1993), which is significant, because Governor Kemp indicated in 2018 he would only support RFRA legislation in Georgia that was a “mirror image” of the federal law. The bill, which has 25 Republican cosponsors, has been assigned to the Judiciary Committee for consideration.
Sports Betting Legislation
This week the Senate Economic Development and Tourism Committee held a hearing on Senate Bill 57 by Senator Billy Hickman (R-Statesboro). The bill would allow sports betting as well as fixed-odds betting on horseracing in Georgia.
Bills that would legalize sports betting and horseracing have passed the Senate with a simple majority vote in the past, but proponents of these bills have failed to get the 2/3 majority required to pass an amendment to Georgia’s Constitution. Former chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court Harold Melton wrote a legal opinion last month that stating that “sports betting can be legalized as a state-run lottery for educational purposes solely through legislative action,” meaning that a constitutional amendment would not be required.
The bill received was hearing only in the Economic Development Committee this week, but Chairman Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta), who is a cosponsor of the bill, said the committee will take a vote on the bill at their next meeting.
A number of other measures that would also legalize sports betting were introduced this week.
This week Senator Carden Summers (R-Cordele) introduced Senate Bill 140, which would prohibit certain surgical procedures for the treatment of gender dysphoria in minors from being performed in hospitals and other licensed healthcare facilities. Gender dysphoria is a condition where a person’s gender identity differs from their gender assigned at birth. The bill, which has 22 Republican cosponsors, has been assigned to the Health and Human Services Committee for consideration. The committee is chaired by Senator Ben Watson (R-Savannah), who is the second cosigner on the bill.
A related bill, Senate Bill 141, by Senator Clint Dixon (R-Buford), was also introduced this week. This measure would prohibit health care providers from performing specified practices on minors relating to altering a person’s appearance relating to gender. It would also prohibit school nurses and other school employees from engaging in certain conduct relating to a minor’s perception of his or her gender. The measure, which has 15 Republican signers including Senate Majority Leader Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega), has also been assigned to the Health and Human Services Committee.
Obscene Materials in School Libraries
This week Senator Greg Dolezal (R-Cumming) introduced Senate Bill 154, which would criminalize school librarians who let students check out books with obscene materials. Current law protects librarians at public, school, and university libraries from criminal prosecution for distributing harmful materials to minors. This legislation would remove the exemption for school librarians. The bill, which has 21 Republican cosigners, has been assigned to the Education and Youth Committee for consideration. The chairman of the committee, Senator Clint Dixon (R-Buford) is a cosponsor of the legislation.
On Thursday the Senate voted unanimously to pass legislation that 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. Senate Bill 93 would require the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency (GEMA) to maintain and update a list of foreign adversaries. The measure, which has 32 Republican cosponsors, now heads to the House for consideration.
This week Representative Pedro Marin (D-Duluth) introduced House Bill 337, which would authorize the use, production, manufacturing, and dispensing of medical marijuana in Georgia. It lists medical conditions for which medical marijuana could legally be used. The bill, which has all Democratic signers, has been assigned to the Judiciary Non-Civil Committee for consideration.
House Bill 387 was introduced by Representative Kimberly Alexander (D-Hiram). The bill would codify the proclamation by President Biden’s office that would grant a pardon and restore full political, civil, and other rights regarding the offense of simple possession of marijuana. This bill also has all Democratic cosponsors and has been assigned to the Judiciary Non-Civil Committee.
House Bill 388, also sponsored by Representative Kimberly Alexander, would decriminalize the possession of marijuana. Currently, those charged with possession of an ounce or less of marijuana would face misdemeanor charges and could face jail time of up to a year and a fine of up to $1,000. If passed, it would not be a criminal offense to possess less than an ounce of marijuana in Georgia. This measure also has all Democratic signers and has been sent to the Judiciary Non-Civil Committee for consideration.