Abortion, gambling, marijuana, pay raise bills fell short at Georgia Capitol

Votes were lacking to pass several key measures
House members toss paper in the air at the conclusion of the legislative session on Sine Die, the last day of the General Assembly at the Georgia Capitol in Atlanta. Branden Camp/ For The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Branden Camp

Credit: Branden Camp

House members toss paper in the air at the conclusion of the legislative session on Sine Die, the last day of the General Assembly at the Georgia Capitol in Atlanta. Branden Camp/ For The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

In a late-night voting frenzy at the Georgia Capitol, some bills failed to cross the finish line on hot-button issues such as abortion, gambling and free speech.

This year’s legislative session ended with many bills left on the cutting-room floor.

While lawmakers approved many of their priorities for tax cuts, permit-less gun carrying and mental health, other measures will have to wait until next year.

Here’s a look at several bills that fell short:

Abortion pill restrictions

A proposal that would have banned women from receiving the abortion pill through the mail never came up for a final vote Monday in the state House.

Anti-abortion legislators had pursued further restrictions after approving a bill three years ago to outlaw most abortions as soon as a doctor can detect cardiac activity in the womb. A judge put the “heartbeat bill” on hold, and abortion cases are pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Opponents of further limits on abortion said women should be able to make their health decisions without excessive government regulation.

Medical marijuana

An attempt to revive Georgia’s stalled medical marijuana program fell just one vote short of passage.

A compromise bill passed the House, but the Senate voted 28-27 to table the legislation.

Without a new law, Georgia’s 22,000 registered patients remain unable to legally buy a product they’ve been allowed to use since 2015.

The medical marijuana bill would have awarded production licenses to six companies by June 7, and an additional three licenses would have been issued next year to other companies that weren’t chosen.

Sports betting

Lawmakers voted down a late effort to permit online sports betting. The bill failed to clear the House Rules Committee, which sets the agenda for votes in the full House.

The last-ditch attempt to expand gambling in Georgia beyond the state lottery came after lawmakers failed to muster enough votes earlier in the session to put the gambling question on the ballot.

Gambling is a perennial issue in the General Assembly that’s certain to return next year.

Social media censorship

A bill to prevent large social media companies from deleting posts or removing users never got out of its House committee after it passed the state Senate.

Republican supporters of the legislation accused Facebook and Twitter of silencing conservatives, and their legislation would have prohibited social media companies from censoring posts based on their viewpoints,

But representatives on the House Judiciary Committee questioned whether the bill was legal, and they declined to bring it up for a vote. Similar social media bills in Florida and Texas have been put on hold by the courts.

Legislator pay raises

The state Senate failed to muster a two-thirds majority needed to ask voters whether to increase state legislators’ pay from $17,342 to half of the median household income of Georgians — about $30,000.

Part-time lawmakers have long sought an increase to their pay, maintaining that low incomes exclude people from running for office because they can’t afford it.

But the issue repeatedly fails as legislators fear voting to spend taxpayer money to increase their own compensation. Lawmakers did give final approval to a separate bill that would increase their pensions by 38%.

Direct-to-customer electric vehicle sales

Gov. Brian Kemp announced last year that Georgia had landed a Rivian e-vehicle plant that promises to create at least 7,500 good-paying jobs. Rivian, in turn, hoped the General Assembly would pass legislation allowing it to sell vehicles directly to customers without having to go through a dealership.

The measure, Senate Bill 398, set up a high-stakes battle between electric-vehicle companies and the politically powerful Georgia auto dealership lobby.

Rivian and other e-vehicle companies have sought similar legislation in the past. But the dealership lobby once again beat back the effort and the bill never even got a hearing.

Rural job tax credit program

The House again passed a renewal of a $60 million program to provide capital to small, rural businesses.

The chairman of the Senate tax-writing committee has called it a “scam” that benefits a few out-of-state capital investment companies that make big money off the program. But those firms have big-time lobbyists who worked the General Assembly hard to get the bill through.

The Senate wouldn’t take up the measure to renew the program, so the House attached it to a bill that had already passed the Senate and sent it back. It never came up on the final day.

No campaign fundraising during the session

A year ago the General Assembly passed legislation allowing the governor and legislative leaders to create special funds that let them raise unlimited campaign funds, including during the legislative session, when it had previously been long prohibited.

The funds — called leadership committees — were approved in part to help Gov. Brian Kemp, who faces both Republican primary and general election opposition this year.

A bill to ban fundraising during the session by the committees won unanimous approval from the Senate Ethics Committee but never made it out of the Senate Rules Committee, which is chaired by the lawmaker who sponsored the leadership committee legislation last year.