April 24, 2019 Chamblee - Governor Brian Kemp speaks as he starts a statewide tour to mark his first 100 days as Georgia's 83rd Governor at DeKalb-Peachtree Airport on Wednesday, April 24, 2019. Wednesday, April 24th, Governor Brian P. Kemp launched a statewide tour to mark his first 100 days as Georgia's 83rd Governor. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

UPDATE: Georgia governor vetoes mandatory recess, school safety bills

Gov. Brian Kemp vetoed legislation Friday that would have required elementary schools to schedule recess each day and a separate measure that would have made the k-12 system update safety plans and conduct drills in public schools.

The Republican also nixed legislation that would have required a fiscal analysis before lawmakers could vote to extend some lucrative tax breaks, as well as a bill that would have restored citizens’ ability to sue their government over unconstitutional laws.

>> Bill Tracker: See which bills Gov. Kemp has signed, vetoed

It was the first time Kemp had the chance to wield the veto pen, and he sent a signal to lawmakers he would use it aggressively by nixing 14 bills. 

State law gives him 40 days to sign or nullify bills, or let the legislation become law by not taking action. Though that period is technically set to end Sunday, recent governors have rarely issued their final decisions on a weekend.

He echoed a tone set by his predecessor, Gov. Nathan Deal, who was not afraid to send measures to the scrap heap. Deal vetoed both a “religious liberty” measure and a campus gun proposal in 2016, and last year he nullified 21 bills — the most of his eight-year tenure.

Kemp’s vetoes include legislation that would have protected the DeKalb County School District from future annexation and another that would have created a commission to hash out the disputed boundary with Tennessee and North Carolina. 

He also axed an attempt to funnel taxpayer money to the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in Macon, which was trying to rekindle interest in state funding for the building, because “there is no demonstrated need for state appropriations.”  

And he said he would not sign or veto a push to overhaul DeKalb County’s ethics code, meaning it effectively becomes law. In a statement, Kemp said he didn’t want to choose sides in the debate over the county’s structure. 

Kemp had already signed into law several of the most prominent proposals of the legislative session. They include an overhaul of elections rules, an expansion of the medical marijuana program, a bill giving him new authority to seek federal health care dollars and sweeping abortion restrictions.

But the legislation he nixed could have had far-ranging consequences for students, parents and the legal community, and advocates will have to try a different approach if they want to try to revive the rejected legislation next year.

Here’s a closer look at the bills he vetoed:

Fifth graders play during recess. File photo.
Photo: Los Angeles Times

Mandatory school recess 

Summary: After years of unsuccessful attempts, a broad bipartisan coalition approved legislation this year that would have required elementary schools across Georgia to schedule recess.

House Bill 83 called for schools with students from kindergarten through fifth grade to carve out time for recess, suggesting at least 30 minutes for the period. It also would have required school boards to make sure recess couldn’t be withheld for disciplinary or academic reasons.

There’s no official count of how many schools are skipping or cutting back on recess, but students and their parents have lobbied for a mandate for years. Many come from schools that cut back on recreation time to focus on testing requirements.

What critics said: Opponents worried about giving school districts yet another requirement to fulfill that could jeopardize the academic goals they must meet. Some conservatives voted against the measure out of concern for putting another burden on schools that are already stretched thin.

Why Kemp vetoed: The governor said he supports expanded recess for students but that he’s a “firm believer in local control, especially in education” and couldn’t support the bill.  “This legislation would impose unreasonable burdens on educational leaders without meaningful justification,” he wrote in a veto statement. 

School safety 

Summary: Spurred by a spate of mass school shootings, lawmakers adopted a measure that would have required a new regime of threat assessments and more safety drills.

Senate Bill 15 also would have connected the state’s anti-terrorism data analysis agency with the school system’s communications network and encourage more reports on “suspicious” students around campuses through a smartphone app.

And it sought to require all public schools to conduct annual “mass casualty” drills with local officials. Under the legislation, principals also would have added the title of “safety coordinator.”

What critics said: Opponents worried that allowing school officials to alert a state law enforcement agency about students with “reasonable suspicion” of criminal activity could open the door to false reports driven by personal grievances or racial stereotypes. They also said schools could ill afford another mandate.

Why Kemp vetoed: The governor called it a “well-intentioned” idea but noted that many school administrators and nonpartisan advocacy groups expressed deep concerns. He wrote that the measure amounts to an “unfunded mandate” and that he prefers giving local school districts discretion to make those decisions.  

Tax break analysis

Summary: Originally designed as a proposal to require an economic analysis of proposed tax breaks before they’re renewed, lawmakers changed Senate Bill 120 to limit its scope.

The bill that passed would have allowed the heads of the House and Senate tax-writing committees to request reviews of a trio of incentives each year.

The measure, sponsored by state Sen. John Albers, was meant to make sponsors of legislation get a fuller review of bills before they reach a vote rather than rely on data from lobbyists who work for companies that would benefit from the deals.

What critics said: There wasn’t much formal opposition. But the measure didn’t go as far as fiscal conservatives wanted, and Kemp is among the politicians who have called for a review of all tax breaks - not just a limited number - before they’re extended.

Why Kemp vetoed: The governor said he wants an independent auditor to conduct the analyses, rather than requiring a state official to do so. He wrote that it would allow for a more “objective” review of a tax break.

Sovereign immunity

Summary: The law would have restored citizens’ ability to challenge the legality of state laws and bring lawsuits against state officials, while also giving judges new authority to block those laws from taking effect.

Georgians lost the ability to use the courts to stop some illegal government actions in 2017, when the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that citizens couldn’t sue without the government’s permission.

House Bill 311 would have waived sovereign immunity for some petitions against state agencies and officials accused of violating Georgia laws, but it would have restricted citizens from seeking financial awards in most cases.

What critics said: Civil rights groups worried that provisions in the measure could have made it tougher to sue police officers and other law enforcement officials. And Deal vetoed a similar measure in 2016 because it granted “unprecedented judicial intervention into daily management decisions.”

Why Kemp vetoed: Invoking Deal’s recent veto, he also said lawmakers need to coordinate more closely with the executive branch to tailor a “workable waiver.”

Stay on top of what’s happening in Georgia government and politics at www.ajc.com/politics.

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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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