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James Beverly Jon Burns Day 38

Last day, last chance this legislative session for a host of bills: A preview

A bit of horse-trading and hostage-taking typical of the waning days of the legislative session has been happening on the homestretch to Sine Die (pronounced "sigh-knee dye"), the 40th and final day of the state’s legislative session.

Here are some bills we’ll be following on Wednesday during the fast and furious work that will take place in each chamber of the General Assembly through at least midnight.

Lt. Gov. Burt Jones and Republican senators who have lobbied in favor of SB 99, a bill to ban the controversial “certificate of need” (CON) requirement for hospitals in counties with populations less than 50,000 — which essentially would allow new medical facilities to be built without factoring in the needs of nearby hospitals — seem resigned to the bill’s demise, for now. 

Jones, who has faced mounting criticism that he pushed the bill in the interest of his family winning a CON exemption to build a hospital in his district in Butts County, said in an opinion piece in the AJC last weekend that now is not the right time for the bill. Presumably as an olive branch, the House moved HR 603 quickly through the House Rules Committee to create a study committee to fully examine CON during the interim.

What is 'Sine Die'?
"Sine Die," pronounced 'sigh-knee dye,' comes from the Latin:
"without assigning a day for a further meeting or hearing.”

Meanwhile, HB 520, a major piece of mental health legislation aimed at expanding the state’s behavioral health workforce and streamlining how information about patients is shared among agencies, has been held up by Republican senators, who tried to use it as leverage to push through the CON bill. An amended and pared-down HB 520 was discussed during a packed Senate committee meeting last week, but didn’t receive a vote. 

Some Republican lawmakers continue to quibble with its cost, particularly elements that would use Medicaid funds to expand housing, education, and wraparound services for people seeking mental health care. Provisions of the bill that have bipartisan support could be cherry-picked and attached to other bills Wednesday, or this followup to the landmark Mental Health Parity Act of 2022 may have to wait until next year.

Follow senior investigative reporters Tammy Joyner (@lvjoyner) and Jill Jordan Sieder
(@journalistajill) on Twitter as they track several key pieces of legislation during Sine Die.
We'll have updates from them and others all day on this website. Also, be sure to follow
State Affairs on Twitter (@stateaffairsga) for even more updates.

Jones seems intent on expending more political capital on SB 233, a school voucher-like bill that would create a scholarship account so families could receive up to $6,500 per academic year per child from the state to pay for private school tuition or other qualified education expenses. The controversial bill has been amended so the funds can only be used by students attending public schools ranked by the state Office of Student Achievement as performing in the bottom 25% of all schools. Critics say the bill will hurt students remaining in those public schools by pulling funds and siphoning students and families from the schools that need more resources and community support to improve.  

SB 233 was tabled in the House last week, seemingly for lack of votes. Jones is now touting the bill as “a priority of mine & the Majority Caucus,” tweeting on Monday for “the House to act quickly and pass this bill to ensure parents are in control of their children’s education and future.” Gov. Brian Kemp is also now backing the bill.

Several bills to legalize sports betting fell to the wayside this session, but one remains in the running. The Senate Economic Development and Tourism Committee gutted HB 237, a soapbox derby bill, and replaced it with language that would put the Georgia Lottery in charge of online sports betting and direct tax revenue to fund pre-kindergarten and college education programs. Debate over the bill, if it hits the Senate floor, is likely to be contentious.

Rep. Alan Powell, R-Hartwell, hopes to bring an end to the tortured history of the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission, whose mission to oversee the production of cannabis oil to heal a variety of ailments has been stymied over several years by legal challenges and its own secretive, faltering operations. 

Powell has amended the bill multiple times and is pursuing a two-pronged approach as the clock counts down, by further amending his original bill HB 196 and convincing the Senate to transform an unrelated bill, SB 97.  Both bills would abolish the commission and make oversight of medical cannabis the responsibility of the Department of Agriculture. Each bill would also expand the number of medical marijuana growers’ licenses to 20 from six and subject the department's work to open records and meetings laws. Powell hopes that one of the two amended cannabis bills, which committees in each chamber have supported, will see action on the floor tomorrow.

“Mariam’s Law,” a four-year effort to pass stricter punishments for repeat sexual offenders, seems to be gliding toward passage after an amendment in the Senate. HB 188, the Dangerous Sexual Predator Prevention Act, sponsored by Rep. Steve Sainz, R-St. Marys, would require life sentences in prison or a split sentence including probation and lifetime electronic ankle monitoring for repeat sex offenders. It passed in the Senate on Monday by a vote of  52-1, and needs one last vote in the House. 

Sen. Josh McLaurin, D-Sandy Springs, said he was persuaded to vote for this version of the bill because it provides offenders an opportunity to appeal after 10 years. It awaits final action in the House. Read more about the stakes and history involved with legislative efforts to deal with dangerous sexual predators in our story here.

SB 177 would try to tackle the complex issues contributing to food deserts and food insecurity in Georgia by creating a Food Insecurity Advisory Council to study the crisis over the next three years and recommend solutions. The bill received strong support in both chambers and an amended version awaits action in the House.

A bill that would remove some barriers for people with criminal records to secure occupational licenses has gained broad bipartisan support. SB 157 would create a prescreening process with licensing boards so people could learn if their record is disqualifying before spending time and money pursuing education and training. It would also push the boards to consider only relevant convictions that are recent or serious and which have not been expunged or pardoned. According to the Georgia Justice Project, which helped draft the bill, 1 in 7 entry-level jobs in Georgia require an occupational license, and more than 4.5 million people have a Georgia criminal record.

The bill received unanimous support in the Senate and House Judiciary Committee and now awaits a floor vote in the House.

Read a recent reader commentary in State Affairs about SB 157 here.

Just how to hold people to account for anti-Semitic acts and speech has bedeviled the Legislature this year. While few dispute that incidents of anti-Semitism are on the rise in Georgia and nationally, lawmakers have spent hours wrangling over how to best define a hate crime perpetrated against Jewish people without belittling the claims of other minority groups to legal protection against violence and intimidation or trampling on the right to free speech, particularly where criticism of the state of Israel is concerned. Just when the original bill seemed dead, it found new life by inhabiting HB 144, an unrelated bill, and gained traction in the Senate.

Have questions or comments about issues that did or didn’t get legislative attention? Contact Jill Jordan Sieder on @journalistajill or at [email protected].


Header image: Minority Leader James Beverly and Speaker Jon Burns start Day 38 of this year's legislative session with a high-five on March 23, 2023, at the Georgia Statehouse in Atlanta. (Credit: Georgia House of Representatives)

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