The Georgia Capitol.

Major issues loom on Georgia Legislature’s final day

The Georgia legislative session comes to an end on Friday with something of an anti-climactic feel.

State lawmakers have already settled some of the most pressing debates during a two-week reboot that started with a massive protest for social justice at the Capitol’s steps. 

A landmark hate crimes bill was adopted, a deal struck over a $26 billion spending plan and a proposal that allows some stores and restaurants to deliver beer, wine and booze won final approval. 

But plenty of major issues are still on the table, and the pressure of the Sine Die deadline can spark a legislative frenzy to pass measures before the clock runs out. 

Live: Track major Georgia bills and see odds of passing 

Here’s a look at some of the key proposals up for debate:

Gambling

It was the scuttlebutt in the halls of the Capitol throughout Thursday: Well-connected lobbyists were making a late push for legislation that would let Georgia voters decide whether to legalize casinos, horse racing and sports betting. 

Advocates have compared the revenue windfalls from gambling to the expansion of the film tax credit in 2008, the last time the state faced a steep economic downturn. And as lawmakers streamed out of the Capitol late Thursday, some supporters held out hope that a vote was near.

Skeptics see it as unlikely. Supporters in the House believe they have the two-thirds majority needed for passage, but the tally in the Senate is murkier. 

Just as uncertain is whether Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and Senate leaders are ready to push the issue this late in the session or wait another year. 

Elections law

An overhauled elections proposal that would ban Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger from mailing absentee ballot request forms to voters as he did before this month’s primary infuriated Democrats and voting rights advocates.

But was it intended purely as a message for Raffensperger or a legit policy discussion? We’ll soon find out. The measure is still pending days after a Georgia House committee voted to prevent the kind of large-scale voting effort undertaken during the June primary. 

The latest version of the proposal also no longer requires election officials to add precincts, poll workers or voting equipment if voters had to wait in line for more than an hour in the previous election – a provision that Democrats worried could lead to more confusion at the ballot box. 

Tax breaks

When House Speaker David Ralston calls a measure a “job killer,” it seems assured of a one-way ticket to the scrap heap. But the Senate is set to vote on House Bill 1035 anyways. 

As it stands now, the measure would cut all tax breaks on the books 10% to match the 10% cut lawmakers are making in state spending because of the coronavirus pandemic recession.

The cuts would save the state hundreds of millions of dollars in the next fiscal year, but Ralston said a recession is no time to be hamstringing businesses.

“You know, they can pass it all they want,” Ralston said of the Senate, which is set to consider the measure on Friday. “We’ve got other things to do that are more productive than killing jobs.”

Business liability

Spurred by the pandemic, pro-business groups have pressed for legislation that would shield businesses and health care providers from lawsuits if workers or customers contract COVID-19 at their establishments.

The Senate adopted a measure earlier this week, House Bill 167, that would limit legal liability for companies unless they engage in “gross negligence, willful and wanton misconduct or intentional infliction of harm.” 

It’s pending in the House, where it’s no sure thing. Democrats, unions and other critics argue the measure would take away one of the most effective tools frontline workers have for fighting unsafe business practices. Gross negligence cases are extremely difficult to prove, they say. 

Gov. Brian Kemp has taken some unilateral steps to limit legal liability for hospitals, medical personnel and others, but the protections are set to lapse when his emergency powers expire.

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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