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GA Legislative Watch 2024 | Week Eight


GA Legislative Watch

By Molly Mcloughlin & Rebecca Wallace ● March 2, 2024
Smart Brevity™ count: 4.5 mins…1,20 words

⌛ Thursday night’s last chance for bills to cross over to the other chamber marked Legislative Day 28. Days 29 – 32 are next week with Wednesday as a committee work day. See the schedule here.

  • The House set a Crossover Day record passing 74 bills.

Situational awareness: The Capitol is getting some love with Gov. Kemp’s approval of the AFY24 budget, which includes a $392M reno plus new legislative offices.

✨ And yes, they’re re-gilding the Gold Dome.

1. What passed

⛪ A simpler version of the Georgia Religious Freedom and Restoration Act, SB 180, advanced on a party line vote with backers saying it strengthens the rights of people of faith.

  • What they’re saying: The Metro Atlanta Chamber and Georgia Chamber point to a potentially negative impact on the business community, while LGBTQ groups suggest it provides “a license to discriminate”.
  • Its movement in the Senate is only one page in a decade-long fight. In 2016, Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed a much more cumbersome version citing similar concerns.

🏀 Bet on it. The Senate passed SR 579 allowing voters to decide whether the state should legalize sports betting.

  • Several ideas for the proceeds have been discussed, but Sen. Bill Cowsert’s (R-Athens) proposal allocates funds to pre-k, HOPE scholarships, gambling addiction services, and sports promotion.

In a bipartisan vote, the House advanced HB 971 to encourage gun safety by granting tax credits of up to $300 when you purchase gun safes and safety accessories, or take a firearm safety course.

🎞 The big shake up to film industry tax incentives, HB 1180, passed the House 131-34 with Democrats split on their support.

  • What they’re saying: It will make the incentive program more sustainable by ensuring credits will increase as the state budget does.

The other big incentive shake up that suspends the sales tax exemption on high-powered data center equipment, HB 1192, advanced out of the House with much less favorability at 96-71.

The House approved HB 1182, reducing the low-income housing tax credit to 80% from 100% unless the development provides housing for senior citizens or veterans, is close to frequent transit, or is located in a rural area.

🏥 With a nearly unanimous vote, the House passed HB 1339 making it easier for new hospitals to be built in rural communities with fewer than 50K people.

  • It also establishes a study commission to provide recommendations on how to improve access and quality of healthcare for low-income and uninsured populations.

The Georgia Squatter Reform Act, HB 1017, received a unanimous vote to clarify that squatting, or occupying a residence you don’t own, is considered criminal trespassing.

  •  👮🏽 This means it’s now a police matter, not a civil matter.

💡 In response to the PSC’s recent sign-off on GA Power’s utility bill increases, the Senate voted unanimously to approve SB 457

  • to bolster consumer transparency via a new consumers’ utility council to advocate for the public’s interest in electric rate cases.

After long and contentious negotiations between the business, insurance and legal communities, HB 1371 cleared the House unanimously.

  • It limits the liability of a business owner if someone comes on to their property with the purpose of committing a felony, and
  • provides that just because a business is located in a high-crime area isn’t cause for further liability.

2. What didn’t

🚉 Not so fast. The proposal to abolish ATL (Atlanta-region Transit Link Authority) and GRTA (Georgia Regional Transportation Authority) and transfer all assets, powers, property, and employees to SRTA (State Road and Tollway Authority) failed to be heard on the floor.

  • HB 1358 would eliminate what some say are redundant bureaucracies, streamline activities, and save approximately $13M.
  • MARTA, the state’s largest transit operator, remains neutral as it wouldn’t change their operating or funding mechanisms.

The school voucher conversation seems to be stalled for now, but if the Rs can flip enough votes to support the Gov-backed measure, language from SB 233 may re-emerge in another bill by Sine Die.

A proposed constitutional amendment to ban non-citizens from voting in the state, HR 780, didn’t achieve a two-thirds majority vote.

  • Yes, but: Ds say it’s already against state and federal law for non-citizens to vote.

🗳 Automatic voter registration is here to stay, at this point, after SB 221 failed to get a vote on the floor.

💰 Rainy day funds are still capped as two bills, HB 1024 and HB 464 to remove the cap were not taken up for a vote.

🎸 A state music business office within the Georgia Department of Economic Development didn’t make the cut. Pushed by both chambers, the Senate version, SB 396, was tabled on Crossover Day.

🏘 The two housing proposals we were watching didn’t get a vote in their respective chambers.

  • Community Development Districts (SB 435) would have financed public infrastructure and improve how local governments carry out, maintain, and pay for new developments.
  • An incentive program to increase housing supply (HB 1266) was meant to encourage local governments to adopt regulations allowing for various housing types.

3. Leadership changes

State Sen. Gloria Butler (D-Stone Mountain) announced she is resigning after 26 years at her post and four years as the Senate Minority Leader. She’s the first woman to lead either caucus in the senate.

U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) is ending his run as the longest serving senate leader in history – 17 years, stepping down as Minority Leader this November. He’ll finish out his term which ends January 2026.

4. Other political news

With the Alabama Supreme Court ruling that embryos are considered children under the law, state Democrats introduced legislation to protect access to IVF treatment and contraception.

  • Despite many Republicans in Georgia and nationally coming out in support of IVF, the measure didn’t advance past the press conference.

🤝 Kicking the FY24 budget can down the road a little further, Congress set new deadlines of March 8 to pass six spending bills and March 22 to pass six more and avoid a partial government shutdown.

  • The bills provide critical funding for defense, health care, and homeland security. Go deeper.

The pressure is still on the Biden Administration to make a decision on the FDA’s proposed ban on menthol cigarettes.

  • A new Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids poll shows that support of a ban is stronger among Black voters than the electorate as a whole.
  • It is estimated that up to 654,000 lives would be saved over the next 40 years if the ban is enacted.

“There’s a lot of Republicans that play golf every weekend and drive around in electric golf carts…,” said the governor.

He also backs IVF, along with other top Republican Govs., in comments responding to the Alabama Supreme Court ruling frozen embryos are children under state law. Go deeper.

Marcus Flowers launched his primary campaign against 11 term incumbent and fellow Democrat, U.S. Rep. David Scott.

  • 🤔 After launching an unsuccessful bid to unseat Marjorie Taylor Greene, he may be feeling more hopeful this time due to the redistricted 13th Congressional District potentially chipping away at the incumbency advantage.
  • What once was a southwest metro area now covers all of Rockdale County and parts of Clayton, DeKalb, Gwinnett, Henry, and Newton Counties.

From healthcare to shelter care. In its continued effort to battle the city’s homelessness, Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens’ administration is turning a part of the former Atlanta Medical Center campus into a homeless shelter.

5. What’s next

🔁 It ain’t over ‘til it’s over. Bills that didn’t cross over still have a chance in the coming weeks as legislators take up the practice of inserting language from a bill that didn’t pass into a bill that did.

Next week state, local and federal lawmakers will qualify for re-elections or announce they won’t run again.

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