ATLANTA — Georgia lawmakers went late into the night March 6 passing bills before the Crossover Day deadline, the cutoff date for proposed bills to pass in either the House or Senate to stay alive.
Before adjourning just before 11 p.m., Senators advanced several bills including bills on oversight of prosecutors and student loan programs for nurses.
The House adjourned with 30 minutes left until midnight after having passed bills tackling wrongful conviction pay, medical marijuana and other important topics.
The legislative session ends March 29.
Some of the bills that have advanced to the next chamber of the Georgia General Assembly include:
Rioting becomes a felony
Under HB 505, any two or more persons who commit an unlawful act of violence or any other act in a violent or tumultuous way would be charged with rioting and subject to felony charges.
The charge would no longer be a misdemeanor and instead, under HB 505, would be a felony subject to one to 20 years in prison; currently, rioting is a misdemeanor subject to a fine and a one-year prison sentence.
The bill passed March 1 on the House floor in a 98-73 vote.
Democrat state Rep. Rowan Roman said she voted against the bill for several reasons, including the lack of clarity on whether children fighting could be charged with a felony, or whether the bill would penalize “rowdy” sports fans.
Restricting bail for certain offenses
A person charged with rioting, inciting a riot or unlawful assembly, terroristic threat, and domestic terrorism are among a slew of new charges proposed in SB 63 that would be considered a bail restricted offense, requiring an appearance before a judge to determine bond under an unsecured judicial release.
Those with a bail restricted offense will only be eligible for release through secured means, a professional bondsman, or property as approved by the sheriff.
The Georgia First Amendment Foundation opposes the bill, stating it targets protestors and would mean that people arrested while exercising their First Amendment rights could have to wait in jail, potentially for months or years, while awaiting trial if they were charged.
More than 50 other crimes are added to the list of bail restricted offenses under SB 63.
Senators passed the bill 31-23 on Feb. 23
Student loan program for peace officers
In a 54-1 vote, the Georgia Senate approved SB 237, which would establish a student loan repayment program for peace officers. Peace officers employed by a Georgia agency who have either completed a course study or are enrolled in a course of study in the criminal justice field of study would be eligible for the loan repayment program.
The Georgia Student Finance Authority would determine the repayment criteria if the applicant is approved.
Bill addresses anti-Jewish hate
HB 30 would adopt the advisory definition of antisemitism as adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance in May 2016 to help prosecute hate crimes against Jews. IHRA defines antisemitism as "a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
The bill — passed 136-22 on Crossover Day — considers it a terroristic act when someone uses in an unlawful manner, antisemitic imagery, including a swastika, Ithaca rune, or Wolfsangel with intent to terrorize another, another’s household, another’s property, or public property.
Democrat state Rep. Jasmine Clark, who voted against the bill, stated anti-Jew hate is already covered in the “hate crimes bill” (HB 426) approved by Georgia lawmakers in 2020. She added that other races don’t have definitions of what is considered anti-Black hate, anti-Asian hate, etc.
Jewish state Rep. Esther Panitch of Sandy Springs said the bill would not infringe on free speech.
Raising the Age
Under current law, 17-year-olds are charged as adults in the court system. HB 462 instead proposes prosecuting 17-year-olds under the juvenile justice system. The bill establishes a committee to determine cost estimates for capital outlay, operating expenses, staffing needs and an implementation plan for juvenile courts to take on the added caseloads.
The change would apply to first time offenders only and would not apply to crimes involving gang activity. The bill, approved by Representatives in a 145-22 vote would go into effect January 2025 if juvenile court funding is in place to accommodate the influx.
Increasing representation in state contracts
HB 128 aims to increase representation of minority businesses, women-owned businesses, and veteran owned businesses in the area of procurement of state contracts. It would allow 10% of the federal adjusted gross income or taxable income to be subtracted from qualified tax payments, limited to $100,000 per taxable year.
Businesses can certify under either of the categories through the Department of Administrative Services.
The bill passed in the House 160-3.
Funding for elections
SB 222 would prohibit certain government employees and election officials from receiving any funds or goods over the value of $200 from third-party groups to use toward conducting primaries or elections.
The bill would also prohibit counties or municipalities from accepting donations for the purpose of election administration.
The Republican-led bill approved along party lines 33-23.
Housing Regulation Transparency Act
The Housing Regulation Transparency Act, or HB 514, would prohibit local governments from indefinitely extending moratoriums on new housing construction. It puts a limit on such zoning moratoriums for 180 days.
The bill, approved 127-43 in the House on Crossover Day, would not apply to moratoriums issued in response to a declared state of emergency, a natural disaster, or a related study conducted by a third-party contractor.
Fees associated with the issuance of permits should only be used to fund the administration and enforcement of zoning ordinances and not general operations of the local government, according to the bill.
Proponents of the bill say the proposal aims to support building affordable housing, while opponents argue against the state intervening in local zoning matters.
Called the Safe at Home Act, HB 404 passed unanimously by House Representatives on March 2. The bill would require rental contracts, leases or agreements to include a provision stating that the premises is “fit for human habitation.”
The bill would also prevent a landlord from requiring a security deposit that is more that two months rent.
Landlords would be required to give tenants three days after rent is due before filing for eviction.
State to allow vouchers to attend any school
Called the “Georgia Promise Scholarship Act, SB 233 would establish a “promise scholarship account” to be funded by the state for $6,000 per school year per student.
In signing an agreement for the scholarship, the student’s parent would not be able to enroll their child in a local school system, local charter school, or state charter school while participating in the program.
The voucher must be used toward education-related expenses; however, opponents argued that the bill would divert funding from public schools and benefit wealthier families who could afford to use the $6,000 to pay remaining costs of private schools.
The bill approved 33-23 with amendments.
Teachers entitled to mandatory planning period
All K-12 teachers would be entitled to a "planning period’’ or a block of time when a teacher is not responsible for the direct supervision of student that can be used for lesson planning, grading and assessment or training.
The planning period can't be calculated with the lunch period and must be included in regularly scheduled workday.
The bill passed unanimously 173-0.
Increasing weight limits for trucks carrying certain products
Under current law, trucks hauling forest products, live poultry or cotton, feed from a feed mill, granite or other specified material can not exceed 80,000 pounds with a 5% variance to allow up to 84,000 pounds.
HB 189 proposes increasing the variance to 10%, which would allow weights to go up to 88,000 pounds.
There would be a fees charged for excess weight over the allowed limitations.
The bill’s sponsor Republican Steven Meeks said the bill would be more economical by allowing truckers to move more product in fewer trips and time.
Opponents — including Association of County Commissioners of Georgia and the Georgia Department of Transportation — argue that heavier trucks cause car wrecks and fatalities, and would create more wear and tear on roadways and bridges.
Representatives narrowly passed the bill on Crossover Day in a 98-81 vote.
Prohibiting surgical procedures, hormone therapy for transgender minors
With just under an hour and a half left of Crossover Day, Georgia Senators voted 33-22 to prohibit irreversible procedures or therapies from being performed on minors to treat gender dysphoria.
Such irreversible procedures include sex reassignment surgeries performed to alter primary or secondary sexual characteristics, and hormone replacement therapies.
A licensed physician who violates the SB 140 would be held administratively accountable by the board, but not civilly liable for damages to any person, injury, death or loss to a person in violation of the law.
The Georgia Composite Medical Board would be tasked with establishing sanctions. The board would also be tasked with coming up with exceptions for continued treatment of minors who are being treated with irreversible hormone replace therapies prior to July 1, 2023.
A controversial bill (SB 88) that would have prevented school personnel or adults supervising children in certain entities from discussing information sex education and information regarding a child’s sexual orientation or gender identity other than the child’s biological sex failed to advance.
The bill was tabled in a prior meeting of the Senate Education and Youth Committee.
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