Monday marked a critical deadline for state lawmakers — the last opportunity for dozens of bills to pass at least one chamber in the Georgia General Assembly. “Crossover Day,” as it’s known, this year featured a cavalcade of bills receiving rapid-fire discussion, debate and votes, one after the other, from morning to almost midnight.
On Monday, the House passed the Amended Fiscal Year 2023 Budget, which incorporates changes the Senate had already made to Gov. Brian Kemp’s proposed budget. The final FY23 budget includes $1 billion in income and property tax rebates to taxpayers, increased funding for K-12 schools, mental health counselors and facilities, repair and renovations of prisons, and workforce housing. The budget was sent to Kemp for his signature.
Several bills made it through the House:
- HB 188, the Dangerous Sexual Predator Prevention Act, sponsored by Rep. Steve Sainz, R-St. Marys, passed unanimously. The bill requires life sentences in prison or on probation, and electronic ankle monitoring for repeat sex offenders. Read more about Sainz’s four-year effort to pass stricter punishments for dangerous sexual predators in our story here.
- An oversight commission for prosecuting attorneys was created via HB 231, which Republican lawmakers argued is necessary to rein in rogue district attorneys and solicitors across the state who refuse to prosecute certain crimes or who fail to perform their jobs. Opponents who countered that the state bar and the attorney general’s office already oversee and discipline errant prosecutors, lost the vote 98-75.
- The House voted to raise the age at which minors are treated as juveniles for many crimes to 17 from 16. HB 462 makes exceptions for violent crimes such as murder and rape, and gang-related offenses; in those cases, 17-year-olds will still be charged as adults.
- College and technical school students seeking need-based college completion grants will be able to receive bigger grants, and sooner, thanks to HB 249, which increases the total amount of the grants to $3,500 from $2,500. And instead of waiting until they complete 80% of college credits, four-year college students can now get the grants after completing 70% of course work, and two-year students after completing 45% of credits. Sponsor Chuck Martin, R-Alpharetta, chair of the House Higher Education Committee, and other lawmakers discussed their efforts to create more need-based financial aid for Georgia college students in our story here.
- A bill sponsored by Rep. Soo Hong, R-Lawrenceville, aimed at making the process easier for minority-, women-, and veteran-owned businesses to qualify for state contracts passed 160-3. HB 129 eliminates the requirement for small businesses to be certified as federal contractors before they can be state-certified. Read our story about the efforts of the Legislative Black Caucus to create more diversity in state contracts here.
- Rep. Alan Powell, R-Hartwell, convinced his House colleagues to expand and better scrutinize the operations of the Medical Cannabis Commission through HB 196, which increases the number of licenses to be issued to marijuana growers to 15 from six and subjects the commission to state open records and open meetings laws, as well as the Administrative Procedures Act. The commission has been criticized for operating in secrecy and production of cannabis in Georgia has been delayed for years due to legal challenges. The state is currently being sued by eight cannabis companies denied grower licenses in a bid process they claim was unfair. The House voted 170-2 to support the bill.
- House members spent over an hour debating a bill that would increase the maximum weight allowed for big rigs on state roads, with a focus on getting forest and farm products, granite and concrete to market. Opponents worry the extra weight will stress already creaky bridges and worn roads. HB 189 passed 93-81.
Sen. Alan Powell urges lawmakers to vote for his bill to regulate the Medical Cannabis Commission. Click to play the video. (Credit: House of Representatives Press Office)
And for the Senate's actions:
- The school vouchers bill (SB 233) passed. Families who withdraw their children from public school to home-school or send them to private school would get $6,000 a year. Critics say the Georgia Promise Scholarship program undermines Georgia’s public school system.
- Transgender medical care (SB 140) also passed. Transgender youth now could face difficulty getting certain surgical procedures, hormones or other gender-affirming treatments.
- The bill calling for regulation of third-party food delivery apps (SB 34) died. This bill, which would have created regulatory standards for DoorDash, Uber Eats and other online, third-party food delivery companies, had a promising run until it was tabled March 2. A late-night, last-minute effort to bring it up for a vote Monday during Crossover Day was squelched, rendering the bill dead this legislative session. A House version died on the vine earlier this session.
- Sports betting legislation seems to be going 0 for 4 this session, as two bills in the Senate (SR 140 and SB 172) and one in the House (HB 38) were either voted down or did not get a vote at all on Monday, joining another sports betting bill (SB 47) that failed in the Senate last week.
- SB 221, an election-related bill that would have banned ballot drop boxes and made it easier to challenge a person's right to vote based on their home address, failed to reach a vote on the floor.
All of the bills that passed and crossed over to the other chamber will be assigned to committees in the House or the Senate, whose members have until March 29, when this year's legislative session ends, to consider, discuss, debate and vote on them.
In the meantime, here are a few glimpses of lawmakers at the capitol on Crossover Day.
Have questions, comments or tips about pending legislation in Georgia? Contact Jill Jordan Sieder on Twitter @JOURNALISTAJILL or at [email protected] and Tammy Joyner on Twitter @lvjoyner or at [email protected].
Header image: Sen Gail Davenport, D-Jonesboro, celebrates on Crossover Day, March 6, 2023, at the Georgia Statehouse in Atlanta. Davenport’s bill to require that public schools provide Braille instruction and other educational support to blind and visually impaired students received unanimous support in the Senate. (Credit: Senate Press Office)
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