Bills to track illegal immigrants, oust squatters, boost film industry make the cut on Crossover Day

Rep. Pedro "Pete" Marin speaks against HB 1105. (Credit: Jill Jordan Sieder)

Rep. Pedro "Pete" Marin speaks against HB 1105 on the House floor on Feb. 29, 2024. (Credit: Jill Jordan Sieder)

Gist

A controversial religious freedom bill cleared the Senate Thursday despite heavy criticism from some lawmakers who said the bill would open “the floodgates to discrimination” against the LGBTQ+ community.

Senate Bill 180 was among dozens of bills Thursday that will now face another round of discussions and debates in the opposite chamber. SB 180 now heads to the House.

It’s part of the Georgia legislature’s midsession ritual known as “Crossover Day,” the last chance for bills to pass at least one chamber in the General Assembly. A succession of bills underwent rapid-fire discussion, debate and votes throughout the day.
Here’s a look at some of the bills that have made it across on Leap Day and a few that emerged as wildcards.

What happened in the House

COURTS and PUBLIC SAFETY

Rep. Jesse Petrea presents HB 1105 on the House floor. (Credit: Jill Jordan Sieder)
  • HB 1105, the “Georgia Criminal Alien Track and Report Act,” would require Georgia law enforcement to work with federal immigration officials in reporting and, in some cases, detaining suspected illegal immigrants who have been charged with crimes. Failure of sheriffs and other law enforcement agencies to comply with the law could result in the loss of state and federal funds, and misdemeanor charges.
  • Rep. Jesse Petrea, R-Savannah, the lead sponsor, said the bill does not target all foreign nationals but focuses on those who commit crimes. The bill gained steam in the House this week following the death of nursing student Laken Riley in Athens allegedly at the hands of a Venezuelan immigrant who entered the country illegally. During a 1.5-hour debate, the bill was vehemently opposed by many Democrats, who said it would terrorize undocumented immigrants and unfairly defund the police. 
  • Rep. Sam Park, the House minority whip, said the bill “won’t promote public safety, but it will lead to discrimination against people of certain ethnic backgrounds.” Rep. Pedro “Pete” Marin, D-Duluth, said it’s “yet another attempt to politicize fear and hatred. It is tempting during an election cycle to target immigrants to score political points.” Rep. Houston Gaines, R-Athens, said, “Fixing policy in the face of unspeakable tragedy is not politics.” The bill passed 97-74.
  • HB 1017, also known as the “Squatter Reform Act,” makes it easier to remove an intruder from private property, charge squatters with criminal penalties and issue them fines. Sponsor Devan Seabaugh, R-Marietta, said, “There are no more free homes in Georgia. If you are currently in a home you don’t belong in, leave now.” It passed 167-0.

WORKFORCE and ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

  • Several bills related to occupational licensing reform have moved through the House. HB 839 creates an interstate compact agreement to allow social workers and massage therapists licensed in Georgia or any of the several states in the compact to practice in those states without having to obtain a new license. HB 1190 requires professional licensing boards housed in the Secretary of State’s office to review and issue licenses to professionals who meet requirements within 60 days of application. If that doesn’t happen, the license must be issued by the office immediately after the 60-day point.
  • After 12 years of trying, Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway, persuaded his colleagues to pass HB 349, a bill to allow mobile barbering. Williams said the bill “lets Georgia move into the 21st century. Poodles have been able to get mobile service. You can buy food of any description, get a tooth pulled, get an x-ray, give blood on a mobile truck. And finally, Georgia, for those of you who still need it, you can get a haircut.” The bill passed 165-1.
  • After passionate debate, lawmakers voted 131-34 to pass HB 1180, which makes changes to Georgia’s Film Tax Credit, providing tax breaks to the state’s $1.9 billion film industry. The bill limits the state’s total annual obligation on film tax credits to $900 million, keeps a minimum investment by film businesses at $500,000 to qualify for the credit, and adds some new incentives to earn a 10% higher credit amount, including filming outside of metro Atlanta and using Georgia musicians, crews, studios and postproduction houses.
  • HB 1125 phases out payments below the minimum wage to people with disabilities. Rep. Sharon Cooper said some programs that hire the disabled have been operating "like sweatshops,” offering pay as low as 22 cents per hour. It passed 160-0.
  • HB 583 allows cottage food industry businesses to sell their products via third-party vendors such as restaurants and grocery stores instead of just direct to consumers. Rep. Leesa Hagan, R-Lyons, said it allows people “to see if their business is viable before putting a lot of investment in a commercial kitchen.” The bill passed 166-1.
  • HB 1146 allows the Environmental Protection Division to issue water permits to private companies in areas where no public water service can be provided. It was prompted by problems providing water to the massive Hyundai electric vehicle plant near Savannah and workforce housing under construction in the counties around it. Many lawmakers expressed concerns over allowing private companies to control access to water and what it will cost communities over time. The bill passed 105-58.
  • HB 1341 makes wild Georgia white shrimp the state’s official crustacean. The bill passed 171-0.
https://twitter.com/journalistajill/status/1763293546885333337?s=20

ELECTIONS

  • HR 780, which would put the question on the ballot to amend the Georgia Constitution to allow only U.S. citizens to vote in Georgia elections, received a vote of 98-61 and failed to pass because it didn’t receive a two-thirds majority vote required for a constitutional amendment.

HEALTH CARE

  • HB 1335, sponsored by Rep. John LaHood, R-Valdosta, sets up a medical emergency alert system and requires a minimal level of staffing in senior care facilities, including personal care homes, assisted living communities and memory care centers. 

HOUSING

  • The House passed HB 1410, which creates the Stable Housing Accountability Program, a voluntary program to help homeless people with addiction issues to secure stable housing while participating in programs that help them “get back on their feet, be gainfully employed and self-sufficient,” said Rep. Chuck Efstration, R-Auburn. It will be funded by the State Housing Trust Fund for the Homeless and private sources. 

WILDCARD

  • HB 1361, an unusual hybrid bill, creates the offense of criminal trespass for entering the cage of a wild animal and creates a criminal offense for distributing obscene material depicting a child using computer or artificial intelligence technology. It passed 164-1.

What happened in the Senate

EDUCATION

  • SB 395 authorizes schools to have opioid antagonists such as Narcan on hand so they’re readily available for teachers and others to treat fentanyl overdoses at school. Currently, only nurses can administer opioid antagonists, and sometimes schools are understaffed. The bill passed 54-0.
  • After a lengthy debate, the controversial SB 390 — which prohibits the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia and certain libraries from using taxpayer or privately donated money on any materials services or operations offered by the American Library Association — passed by substitute by a 33-20 vote. 
https://twitter.com/lvjoyner/status/1763297434170462418?s=20

HEALTH CARE

  • SB 198, which creates the Georgians With Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Innovation Commission, passed 50-2. It has five years to complete its work. 

PUBLIC SAFETY

  • There are 40,000 incidents of domestic violence each year. Senators passed SB 407, which would require documenting certain information in incidents of family violence. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Donzella James, D-Atlanta, passed 52-1.

WORKFORCE and ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

  • SB 460, which revises the number of advanced practice registered nurses and physician assistants a doctor can supervise at any one time, passed 40-11. Sen. Bo Hatchett, R-Cornelia, said the bill will help rural hospitals “survive in the current medical climate.”
  • SB 480, which would repay student loans for mental health and substance use professionals serving in certain capacities, passed 44-1."
  • SB 420, prohibiting foreign investors from buying agricultural land or land near military bases, passed 41-11 . The bill also would make it a felony for investors to purchase farmland if they have ties to any countries considered adversarial by the Department of Commerce. 

JUDICIARY

  • SB 180, known as the “Georgia Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” is intended to protect people’s religious rights from state and local government intervention, but critics say it will lead to greater problems for the gay community.

WILDCARD 

  • SB 542 — which allows the public the right to use all navigable streams for passage on boats, including kayaks and canoes, and for hunting or fishing — passed 51-0. It does not allow for passersby to recreate on private property along such streams.

Other key bills that have already crossed over this session:

  • HB 1339 changes Certificate of Need regulations and determines where and how new hospitals and medical facilities can be built.
  • HB 881 provides standards of conduct and rules governing the Prosecuting Attorneys Qualifications Commission, which is empowered to oversee, discipline and remove state prosecutors.
  • HB 1037 creates the Georgia Commission on Maternal and Infant Health.
  • SB 465, also known as “Austin’s Law,” would charge anyone who illegally sells or distributes fentanyl that results in an overdose death with aggravated involuntary manslaughter, a felony.
  • SB 421 is an anti-swatting measure that would make it a felony to make fake or unlawful calls or requests for emergency services.
  • SR 155 creates the Senate Truck Driver Shortages Study Committee.

Why it matters

It’s a somewhat frenzied process, but the flurry of activity at the Capitol on Thursday sets the course for how lawmakers want to govern the state going forward. It’s a time when laws and policies are introduced or updated. 

That said, it’s ultimately supposed to make the lives of Georgia’s 10 million-plus residents easier.

What's next?

All of the bills that crossed over to the other chamber will be assigned to committees in the House or Senate. Lawmakers have until March 28, the last day of this legislative session, to consider, discuss, debate and vote on these bills.

This story has been updated to reflect the final legislative action on Crossover Day.

Read these related stories:

https://stateaffairs.com/georgia/education/ga-school-bus-funding-kemp/
https://stateaffairs.com/georgia/justice-civil-rights/renter-protections-safety-legislation/
https://stateaffairs.com/georgia/politics/hospitals-religion-public-education-legislation/
https://stateaffairs.com/georgia/justice-civil-rights/georgias-punishing-probation-system-balancing-public-safety-with-giving-people-a-second-chance/
https://stateaffairs.com/georgia/economy-business/lawmakers-tackle-workforce-challenges-invest-high-demand-careers/

Have questions? Contact Jill Jordan Sieder on X @journalistajill or at [email protected] and Tammy Joyner on X @lvjoyner or at [email protected].

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