2014 Georgia Legislative Session Wrap-up (UPDATE 1)
With additional reporting by Matthew Charles Cardinale
(APN) ATLANTA — Once again, it was not exactly a banner year for progressive legislation down at the Georgia General Assembly. Atlanta Progressive News followed the General Assembly in depth this year, including coverage of several bills.
Previously, APN published our wrap-up of Crossover Day, which was on March 03, 2014:
The Crossover Day wrap-up article contains links to previous APN coverage of the various bills through March 07, 2014. The last, or 40th day of the Legislative Session, also known as Sine Die was on March 20, 2014.
Below is our wrap-up of the final status of several bills before the General Assembly as of midnight March 20:
CITY OF LAKESIDE – SB 270 – FAILED
SB 270, the proposal to allow a voter referendum of the City of Lakeside, to include parts of unincorporated DeKalb and Gwinnett counties, passed Senate State and Local Government Operations Committee on February 06, 2014; and passed the full Senate on February 26, 2014, in a vote of 32 to 17.
However, as previously reported by APN, the bill was referred to the House Government Affairs Committee, where it did not come up for a vote. There are numerous reasons for opposition to the City of Lakeside, including competing movements to create a City of Tucker and a City of Briarcliff; and fights over the maps, including whether to include parts of DeKalb County outside of the Perimeter in the map.
CITY OF SOUTH FULTON – HB 704 – FAILED
HB 704, the proposal to allow a voter referendum of the City of South Fulton, to include parts of unincorporated Fulton County, passed the House Committee on Government Affairs on February 18, 2014; and passed the full House on February 20, 2014, in a vote of 163 to two.
The bill was first referred to the State and Local Governmental Operations (Local) Committee, but was recommitted to the State and Local Governmental Operations-General Committee. On March 13, 2014, the bill passed the Committee on substitute. However, it did not pass the full House.
Concerns about creating a City of South Fulton included whether or not to include all of the remaining unincorporated parts of Fulton County, even if doing so would create non-contiguous islands; and whether to allow more time for other cities, like the City of Atlanta, to annex parts of South Fulton.
As previously reported by APN, Mayor of Atlanta Kasim Reed lobbied the Lt. Governor to prevent the bill from coming up for a vote in the Senate, according to State legislators who supported the bill.
MEDICAL CANNABIS – HB 885 – FAILED
HB 885, the proposal to amend existing Georgia law, to expand Georgia’s existing–but not yet implemented to date–medical cannabis, or medical marijuana, program, passed the House Committee on Health & Human Services on February 26, 2014; and passed the full House on March 03, 2014, in a vote of 171 to four.
While in the House, the bill was amended to allow academic research centers to grow cannabis for use in medical research.
The problems began when the bill arrived in the State Senate and was referred to the Health and Human Services Committee. Sen. Renee Untermann (R-Buford) attached an amendment related to child autism that had previously failed to pass the House. She threatened that if the House did not concur with the amendment, that the Senate would not support it.
On March 20, the Senate voted 54 to zero, in support of the amended HB 885.
As previously reported by APN, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) had 885 attached to another bill, in hopes that it would pass the Senate, but it did not come up for a vote.
REDUCTION IN MUNICIPAL EARLY VOTING – HB 891 – FAILED
HB 891, the proposal to reduce the early voting period for municipalities in Georgia, passed the House Governmental Affairs Committee on February 18, 2014; and passed the full House on February 26, 2014, in a vote of 146 to 25. While on the House floor, the bill was amended to give municipalities flexibility over whether they wanted to keep with the current, longer early voting period of 21 days, or to accept the shorter early voting period of six days.
However, advocates sent out action alerts claiming that a subsequent Senate Committee amendment, instead, got rid of early voting altogether.
“Thanks to our members for taking action. This bill was amended to keep early voting at three weeks, but still allow cities to pass local legislation to limit early voting to only six days. Unfortunately, a flaw in the bill language would not require municipalities to hold early voting at all,” the League of Women Voters said.
The bill passed the Senate Ethics Committee. On March 20, the Senate passed HB 891 by substitute in a vote of 36 to 16. The substitute, according to advocates, fixed the loophole that would have eliminated early voting altogether.
However, the House failed to take action on the Senate version.
“Today is an important victory for Georgia’s democracy,” Ryan P. Haygood, Director of the Political Participation Group at Legal Defense and Educational Fund of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said in a statement.
“HB 891 would have adversely impacted a substantial number of Black voters in Georgia, 35 percent of whom voted during the early voting period in 2012. Georgia should be creating and protecting greater access to the ballot box, not less. Rejection of HB 891 is an important step in that direction,” Haygood said.
BLOCKING GOVERNOR FROM EXPANDING MEDICAID – HB 990 – PASSED HOUSE AND SENATE, SENT TO GOVERNOR
HB 990, the proposal to block Gov. Nathan Deal from expanding Medicaid coverage in the State of Georgia–by increasing the income threshold pursuant to the federal Affordable Care Act–without Legislative approval, passed the the House Judiciary Committee on February 24, 2014; passed the full House on March 03, 2014, in a vote of 118 to 57.
The bill was referred to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, where it passed. The bill passed the Senate on March 18, 2014, in a vote of 35 to 19.
The bill was amended while in the House to specify that the income threshold could be increased without Legislative approval for cost-of-living increases only.
GUN CARRY BILL FOR BARS, CHURCHES, ETC. – HB 875 – PASSED HOUSE, ATTACHED TO SEPARATE BILL, PASSES SENATE, HEADS TO GOVERNOR
HB 875, which would allow Georgians to carry guns in bars and churches, passed the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee on February 07, 2014; and passed the full House on February 18, 2014, in a vote of 119 to 56.
The bill was referred to the Senate Judiciary Non-Civil Committee. However, while the Senate Committee was considering HB 875, the House amended a separate bill, HB 60, to include much of the original language of HB 875, but excluding a provision that would have allowed guns on university campuses.
The House sent an amended HB 60 to the Senate on a vote of 108 to 54 on March 11. The Senate approved the amended HB 60 on March 18, amending it again. The House approved the final version on March 20, in a vote of 112 to 58.
DRUG TESTING FOR CERTAIN FOOD STAMP AND TANF RECIPIENTS – HB 772 – PASSES HOUSE, SENATE, HEADS TO GOVERNOR
HB 772, which would allow the State of Georgia to require a drug test for certain food stamp and Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF) recipients deemed to be likely drug users, passed the House Judiciary Committee on February 25, 2014; and passed the full House on March 03, 2014, in a vote of 107 to 66.
The bill as originally introduced would have required drug testing of all food stamp recipients. However, as previously reported by APN, in previous years, such a requirement would likely conflict with a federal court ruling concerning a similar program in Florida that was found to be unconstitutional. It was found unconstitutional, in part because there is no reason to believe that food stamp recipients are more likely to be drug users.
In response, HB 772 was amended to require only drug testing of those food stamp recipients who are “reasonably suspected” of being drug users, such as those who have a known criminal history involving drug use. Proponents of the bill believe this narrowly crafted change could render the bill constitutional.
The bill was introduced by State Rep. Greg Morris (R-Vidalia).
The bill was referred to the Senate, where it was referred to the Health and Human Services Committee. It passed the Senate on March 18, 36 to 17. It passed the House, in an amended form, on March 20, 100 to 67.
HEROIN OVERDOSE 911 CALL AMNESTY – HB 965 – PASSES HOUSE, SENATE, HEADS TO GOVERNOR
HB 965, which would provide amnesty for individuals who call 911 for emergency medical assistance related to an overdose on heroin or other illegal drugs, passed the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee on February 19, 2014; and passed the full House on February 25, 2014, in a vote of 144 to 20.
The bill headed to the Senate, where it was referred to the Health and Human Services Committee.
On March 13, the Senate approved the bill by substitute, in a vote of 50 to 3. The House concurred on March 18, in a vote of 146 to 23.
PARENT TRIGGER CHARTER SCHOOLS – HB 123 – FAILED
HB 123, a bill to allow a majority of parents at a school to trigger, through a vote, a change in school governance and management to a charter model, did not come up in the State Senate this year.
As previously reported by APN, HB 123 passed the House last year, and moved over to the Senate, where it did not come up for a Committee vote.
STAND YOUR GROUND REPEAL – SB 280 – FAILED
SB 280, a bill by State Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta), to repeal the Stand Your Ground law in Georgia, was the subject of a Senate Committee hearing, but the bill never came up for a vote in Committee.
DRONE REGULATION BILLS – HB 846 and 848 – FAILED
House Bills 846 and 848, which would have regulated the use of drones in Georgia, did not come up for votes in the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee.
RELIGIOUS FREEDOM BILLS – SB 377, HB 1023 – FAILED
SB 377 and HB 1023, two bills intended to provide for expanded religious freedom in the State of Georgia, failed this year.
The bills would have allowed individuals with a “sincerely held religious belief” to offer a defense based on that belief in any proceeding relating to a law that they might have violated by acting, or failing to act, in a certain manner prescribed by law. The bills would have had the courts weigh the state interest in whatever law is at issue, with the individual’s interest in acting in accordance with their religious beliefs; and would have provided that only a state interest of the highest order, that could not be satisfied in any other manner, would be allowed to outweigh an individual’s interest in religious freedom.
Many progressive groups including LGBTQI advocacy groups protested the bills, arguing that they were a license to discriminate. APN is planning to publish a full article on the bills, under separate cover, in the near future.
SB 377 passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on February 21, 2014; but did not come up for a full vote in the Senate.
HB 1023 did not come up for a vote in the House Judiciary Committee. One day of testimony was held on the bill, in a room packed, mostly by progressive advocates in opposition to the bill.
HB 707 – GEORGIA NONCOMPLIANCE WITH AFFORDABLE CARE ACT – FAILED
HB 707 would have barred state agencies and local governments from helping with–or even informing Georgians about–the health care exchange program under the Affordable Care Act.
It passed the House on March 03, 2014, and was referred to the Senate Insurance and Labor Committee. On March 13, it passed Committee; but it did not come up for a vote in the full Senate.
Instead, most, if not all, of the language of the bill was amended to another bill, HB 943, which also deals with insurance coverage for chemotherapy. The amended HB 943 passed the House on March 18, in a vote of 106 to 48, and passed the Senate on March 18, 37 to 17.
HB 714 – CUTS TO UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS FOR SEASONAL SCHOOL WORKERS – PASSED HOUSE, SENATE, HEADS TO GOVERNOR
Currently, under OCGA 34-8-196, educational workers cannot collect unemployment benefits for periods during which the school is closed, such as summer and holiday breaks, when it is expected they will return to work at the end of the break. For educational workers other than teachers, researchers, and administrators, who are not re-hired, they will be eligible for retroactive benefits for the break period.
HB 714 would extend this provision to cover all Pre-K workers, and would provide retroactive benefits for those workers not re-hired. The bill was sponsored by State Rep. Mark Hamilton (R-Cumming). It passed the House on March 20, in a vote of 107 to 64. It passed the Senate on March 20, in a vote of 36 to 20.
HB 1080 – CAPITOL MONUMENT TO DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. – PASSED HOUSE, SENATE, HEADS TO GOVERNOR
HB 1080, a bill to provide for the placement of a statue of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., at the State Capitol, passed the Senate in its most recent version on March 12, in a vote of 49 to 1; and passed the House on March 18, in a vote of 171 to 2.
CORRECTIONS: An earlier version of this article stated that HB 707 did not pass. While technically true, a correction notes that much, if not all, of the language of the bill was added to HB 943, which did pass. Also, an earlier version of this article stated that the municipal early voting was amended in the House to remove early voting altogether; this article has been amended to state that that bill amendment occurred in Senate Committee.