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.
This week the General Assembly convened Monday through Thursday for Legislative Days 28 through 31. Monday, March 6 was Crossover Day, which is the last day that a bill can pass out of the chamber in which it originated to stay alive this year. Bills that did not pass out of one chamber by the time the legislature adjourned Monday are effectively dead this session, though they may be considered next year. However, no bill is truly dead until midnight on Legislative Day 40—language from bills that did not meet the Crossover Day deadline can sometimes be added to related pieces of legislation later on in the process.
With dozens of bills for each chamber to consider on Crossover Day, the House and Senate were both in session until after 11 PM on Monday. The rest of the week was considerably lighter for legislators on the floor, though committees were in full swing later in the week for senators to vet House legislation and representatives to consider legislation that crossed over from the Senate.
Crossover Day is as notable for what passes as it is for what legislation does not make it across the finish line. Religious freedom, or ‘RFRA,’ legislation never made it on a floor calendar for a vote, nor did legislation that would have limited gender discussion in schools. One measure that would have amended Georgia’s constitution to legalize sports betting failed in the Senate, while a House bill that would have also allowed for sports betting was never called up for a floor vote.
The influx of new bills introduced each day has slowed dramatically at this point in the session since it is now past the Crossover Day deadline, but as of Wednesday of this week, the Office of Legislative Counsel, which is responsible for drafting legislation for all members of the General Assembly, reported having produced drafts of 4161 bills and resolutions.
The General Assembly will be back in session next week Monday through Thursday for Legislative Days 32 through 35. As Sine Die (Legislative Day 40) sneaks closer, we anticipate committee and floor action to pick up substantially next week.
Amended Fiscal Year 2023 and Fiscal Year 2024 Budgets
The passage of a balanced budget is the only constitutionally required action item for the Georgia General Assembly each session. Last week Speaker Jon Burns and Lieutenant Governor Burt Jones appointed top-ranking legislators to serve on the conference committee to House Bill 18, the Amended Fiscal Year 2023 budget. Conferees were responsible for reconciling differences between the House and Senate versions of the AFY23 budget. On Crossover Day, both the House and Senate overwhelmingly voted to approve the conference committee report and to immediately transmit the bill to Governor Kemp’s desk, where it is currently awaiting his signature, pending his review.
After many weeks of subcommittee hearings, the full House Appropriations Committee, chaired by Representative Matt Hatchett (R-Dublin), convened Wednesday to consider the Fiscal Year 2024 budget, House Bill 19. The measure was passed out of committee and put on the House floor for consideration the following day. On Thursday, Chairman Hatchett presented the House’s version of the FY24 budget, which includes $13.1 billion to fully fund QBE, the most ever spent in Georgia on public education; a $4,000 pay increase for law enforcement officers; a $2,000 pay bump for all other state employees, including public school teachers; and $1.25 million for a new Georgia State Patrol satellite post in Buckhead. The FY24 budget passed 167 to 1 and was immediately transmitted to the Senate for consideration.
On Crossover Day, there were a handful of bills in play to legalize sports betting in Georgia. Among supporters for sports betting, there are two schools of thought regarding its legalization. Former chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court Harold Melton recently wrote a legal opinion 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 since there is already a constitutional amendment to allow for the Georgia Lottery.
Senator Billy Hickman’s (R-Statesboro) Senate Bill 57, which would allow sports betting as well as fixed-odds betting on horseracing in Georgia, failed on the Senate floor last week with a vote of 19 to 37.
On Crossover Day the Senate took up Senate Resolution 140, authored by Senator Bill Cowsert (R-Athens), which proposes an amendment to the Georgia Constitution to legalize sports betting. While the measure received a majority of the votes on the Senate floor, a two-thirds majority is required for any resolution which seeks to amend Georgia’s constitution, so the measure will not move on to the House.
Another measure, House Bill 380, sponsored by Representative Marcus Wiedower (R-Watkinsville), would legalize sports betting and place it under the purview of the Georgia Lottery. The measure, which would have only required a simple majority to pass, was placed on a supplemental calendar by the House Rules Committee on Crossover Day. However, it was never called up for a vote on the floor before the House adjourned Monday night, effectively killing the legislation for this session.
There were a number of tort reform bills in play this session, most of them on the Senate side. Recall that last week the Senate voted down Senator Ben Watson’s (R-Savannah) Senate Bill 196, which would allow for evidence of seat belt nonuse or use to be considered by the jury in a car accident case. The measure failed on the Senate floor by a vote of 24 to 30.
On Monday the Senate considered Senate Bill 140, sponsored by Senator Carden Summers (R-Cordele). The legislation would prohibit certain procedures and therapies for the treatment of gender dysphoria in minors. After a lengthy debate on the Senate floor Monday night, the measure passed 33 to 22.
Another transgender-related bill failed to make it out of the Health and Human Services Committee and to the Senate floor by Crossover Day. Senate Bill 141, sponsored by Senator Clint Dixon (R-Buford), would have prohibited health care providers from performing or aiding in the performance of medical practices on minors relating to gender.
On Monday evening the House considered a measure which would increase the maximum allowable weight for trucks in Georgia. The legal weight limit for big trucks in Georgia is 80,000 pounds, but Georgia law currently allows up to a five percent variance (up to 84,000 pounds) for trucks carrying certain agricultural commodities and forest products, e.g., live poultry, granite, concrete, chicken waste, etc.
House Bill 189, sponsored by Representative Steven Meeks (R-Screven), would increase the variance from five to 10 percent (up to 88,000 pounds) for trucks carrying the specific commodities currently covered in Georgia Code. The Transportation Committee held three separate hearings on different versions of the bill after the measure was sent back several times from the Rules Committee. One committee hearing on the bill this session, which included testimony from a number of individuals on both sides of the issue, lasted nearly six hours. After a lengthy floor debate on the measure, the House passed the measure by a two-vote margin. The bill next heads to the Senate, where it has been assigned to the Transportation Committee for consideration.
Georgia Promise Scholarship Act
On Crossover Day the Senate considered Senate Bill 233, sponsored by Senator Greg Dolezal (R-Cumming), the “Georgia Promise Scholarship Act.” The bill would create promise scholarship accounts to be funded by the state of $6,000 per school year for each participating student. Earlier in the legislative process, the bill was amended to ensure the school vouchers would only be funded in years in which the state’s public schools are also fully funded. The bill was further amended on the floor to restrict the scholarships to students zoned in school districts that perform in the bottom 25 percent in the state. After a lengthy floor debate, the legislation was ultimately passed along party lines; it will next be considered by the House.
Prosecuting Attorneys Oversight Council
On Crossover Day, the House considered House Bill 231, sponsored by Representative Joseph Gullett (R-Dallas), which would create the Prosecuting Attorneys Oversight Commission. The commission would have the power to discipline or remove an elected district attorney or solicitor general, a commission similar to the existing Judicial Qualifications Commission. After a lengthy floor debate, the House passed the measure along party lines with Republican support and the support of one Democrat, Representative Mesha Mainor (D-Atlanta). It has been assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee for consideration.
On Crossover Day the House considered House Bill 30, which would provide a legal definition of ‘antisemitism’ in Georgia Code and would add any antisemitic actions to Georgia’s hate crimes statute. The bill is co-sponsored by Representative John Carson (R-Marietta) and the only Jewish member of the General Assembly, Representative Esther Panitch (D-Sandy Springs). After a lengthy floor debate and impassioned speeches from the bill’s cosponsors, the measure passed 136 to 22. It has been assigned to the Judiciary Committee in the Senate.
New Senate Study Committees
On Thursday Lieutenant Governor Burt Jones announced the creation of four priority Senate Study Committees which will expand the critical work on his 2023 legislative priorities:
Appointments to all of the study committees will be announced after the conclusion of the 2023 Legislative Session. The study committees will hold meetings around Georgia and notices regarding meetings will be shared with the public.