Capitol Recap: Bill to limit gender discussion in Georgia schools stalls in committee

Measure tabled after concerns raised about ‘dramatic unintended consequences’
Senate Bill 88, a GOP-backed proposal that would ban teachers from discussing sexual orientation or gender identity “other than the child’s biological sex” without parental consent, was tabled this past week in a Georgia Senate committee. It now faces a difficult path to becoming law this year.

Credit: Wokandpix/Pixabay

Credit: Wokandpix/Pixabay

Senate Bill 88, a GOP-backed proposal that would ban teachers from discussing sexual orientation or gender identity “other than the child’s biological sex” without parental consent, was tabled this past week in a Georgia Senate committee. It now faces a difficult path to becoming law this year.

Legislation aiming to restrict discussion about gender identity in Georgia classrooms hit a wall this past week in a state Senate committee.

Senate Bill 88, a GOP-backed proposal, would ban teachers from discussing sexual orientation or gender identity “other than the child’s biological sex” without parental consent.

It also would have prohibited teachers and others who oversee children under 16 from providing sex education without consent, a major shift for schools that are legally required to offer sex ed. And it would have mandated that schools use a child’s legal name on records, forcing them to ignore student requests to use a name that could be associated with a different gender than the one on their birth certificate.

The measure would have applied to both private and public schools, as well as private institutions such as camps, and that’s what forced it to stall in the Senate Education and Youth Committee.

Mike Griffin of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board testified during a hearing that his group originally supported SB 88, but that changed after lawyers and activists raised concerns about the possibility of “dramatic unintended consequences.”

The committee then voted to table the measure. Under normal procedures, the legislation no longer has enough time to meet the Crossover Day deadline on Monday. That’s when a bill typically must win passage in at least one chamber of the General Assembly to have a good chance of becoming law.

It doesn’t mean absolute death for the legislation. It could find new life if its language is inserted in another measure.

SB 88′s sponsor, state Sen. Carden Summers, R-Cordele, said the bill only applied to those in charge of children younger than the age of consent. It was meant to ensure parents were included in gender identity conversations, he said.

The measure follows a trend GOP lawmakers have set in recent years by targeting books in school libraries and classroom discussions about race. Activists have alleged that schools are behind a “social contagion” of gender questioning that is ideologically driven.

Some educators spoke out in opposition to the bill.

Christine Knox, the principal for Westchester Elementary School in Decatur, told senators that SB 88 would have made schools a less accepting place for transgender students. Classrooms should be “an oasis of safety” for students, she said. Under SB 88, she said, schools would have served as an “additional layer of surveillance.”

High school and college students, through a group called the Georgia Youth Justice Coalition, lobbied against SB 88. They say the bill would have deprived LGBTQ+ students of a crucial support network: clubs that address gender and sexuality and can only exist on campus with the support of a teacher.

Kalei James, 17, said she found that support in a club at Seckinger High School in Gwinnett County.

“Teachers don’t really cover LGBT topics unless I ask,” she said, “especially in elementary and middle school.”

Legislation advanced in the Georgia Senate this past week that could make it easier to challenge voters' eligibility to cast ballots in state elections. (John Spink /


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Senate panel OKs bill to expand ability to challenge voters

More voter challenges — already numbering in the hundreds of thousands since the 2020 election — could be coming after a state Senate committee voted to make it easier for Georgians to seek the disqualification of others to cast ballots in state elections.

Voter advocates say Senate Bill 221 would permit unreliable change-of-address data to be used against people who temporarily relocate outside the state, including college students and members of the military.

The Senate Ethics Committee approved the bill on a 5-3 vote.

The move comes despite the few number of cases of ineligible voters that have been proved in Georgia in recent years and after investigations have repeatedly dismissed claims of dead voters, ballot stuffing, fake ballots and faulty ballot counts.

County election boards threw out most of the challenges. Some voters proved that they were falsely accused of having moved from Georgia, including a military contractor who was working in California, and voters who were homeless.

Jason Frazier, who has filed challenges in Fulton County, told senators that he wants to ensure that registered voters are legitimate.

“I don’t want to disenfranchise anybody when I challenge a registration,” Frazier said before specifically addressing a provision in SB 221 that would require the homeless to use the address of their county courthouse when registering to vote. “When you’re registered at a UPS store,” Frazier said, “you might be in the wrong precinct. You might be voting for the wrong mayor or city council.”

Esosa Osa, deputy executive director of the voting rights organization Fair Fight Action, said SB 221′s impact will be felt the most among “Black and brown voters, and young people attending college.”

State Sen. Rick Williams, a Republican from Milledgeville, said college students should ensure that they only change their addresses temporarily when they’re at school so that they’re not challenged.

“If they’re smart enough to go to college, they’re smart enough to make a phone call” to the elections office when they relocate, Williams said.

Voting rights advocates, however, said the U.S. Postal Service considers a move to be permanent after six months, meaning students could then be challenged based on incorrect records indicating that they’re no longer eligible to vote in Georgia. State law allows students to retain their Georgia voting eligibility while away at school.

SB 221 also addresses several other voting issues. They include a provision that would bring an end to ballot boxes in the state and another that would allow counties to use paper ballots filled out by hand instead of by voting machines if the State Election Board agrees.

Black election board members could be removed in Ware County

An overhaul of Ware County’s election board could replace all its members under legislation the state House approved this past week, including the three African Americans who form its majority.

Under the current system, the South Georgia county’s Republican and Democratic parties select four of the board’s members. They then pick the board’s chair.

Voting rights advocates warn that Black voters could lose representation on the board under the change proposed in House Bill 422, which would hand Ware’s Republican-led County Commission the power to choose the four members who then pick the chair.

“It’s simply going to dilute minority votes by denying representation on the election board,” said Board Chair Clarence Billups, one of the panel’s three Black members.

He predicted that voting hours could be cut under a new board, and “early voting will be something of a thing of the past as we know it, particularly hours for Saturday and Sunday voting.”

The proposal is the latest attempt to change political power in county election boards across Georgia following the passage of previous bills that ended bipartisan appointments in several other counties.

State Rep. James Burchett, a Republican from Waycross, said the Ware election board should be reshaped so that it complies with a 2018 decision by the Georgia Supreme Court, which ruled that private organizations, such as political parties, couldn’t appoint public officials to government decision-making bodies.

“Public boards exercise government control. Private entities are not elected by the constituents and are not held to the same standard that public officials are,” Burchett said.

Political parties could still nominate members of the election board, but the County Commission would have final authority over who’s selected and it would have “no obligation” to choose the parties’ nominees.

Most of the county election board overhauls across Georgia have occurred since the 2020 election, when Democrat Joe Biden defeated Republican Donald Trump, whose supporters questioned the results, including in Ware County. Three vote counts showed Biden won Georgia by about 12,000 votes.

In Morgan and Troup counties, Black election board members lost their positions after the General Assembly removed political party appointments.

HB 422 is now pending in the Senate.

Then-Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan shakes hands with Bavarian State Minister Florian Herrmann in Munich, Germany. Duncan helped lead a delegation of Georgia lawmakers and other officials on a trip to Europe in November, only weeks before he would leave office. An investigation into the trip, which cost state taxpayers about $110,000, is critical of Duncan and then-Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller, saying it was clear that their participation in the trip "did not clearly serve to advance any known educational, legislative, or economic development purpose.”

Credit: Georgia Senate Press Office

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Credit: Georgia Senate Press Office

Report on European trip critical of Duncan and Miller

Georgia’s new lieutenant governor and Senate president pro tem took aim at their predecessors in a report focused on their travel to Europe at the expense of taxpayers only weeks before they left office.

The report follows articles last month by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about a delegation of lawmakers and other officials from the state who visited Germany and the United Kingdom after the 2022 elections as part of an economic development study committee. Leading that delegation were outgoing Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and then-Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller, whose terms both ended in early January.

The Georgia Senate voted to create the committee at the end of the 2022 session, and the panel was chaired by Miller.

Lawyers for the General Assembly declined to disclose the cost of the trip, citing an exemption state legislators gave themselves from the state’s Open Records Act. But the AJC, through records requests to state agencies in the executive branch and Senate sources, found that the cost to taxpayers was about $110,000.

Duncan’s and Miller’s successors, Lt. Gov. Burt Jones and Senate President Pro Tem John Kennedy, responded to the AJC’s articles with a call for an investigation into how taxpayers got stuck with the bill for the trip.

In a memo Jones and Kennedy wrote to senators about the findings of that probe, they said that while such travel by senators and staff is proper, it “must be clearly tied to pending or future legislative or policy business.”

“Without such connection,” they said, “travel, especially by outgoing members, has the appearance of nothing more than a taxpayer-funded vacation.”

Jones and Kennedy are proposing a ban on taxpayer-funded out-of-state travel by the lieutenant governor and senators within six months of the end of their terms or after they lose a primary election.

Miller drew scrutiny in their report because he headed a committee of Senate leaders that was supposed to approve any taxpayer-funded out-of-state travel. Committee policy prohibited the use of Senate funds for international travel, the report said, and spending limits for out-of-state travel were exceeded by the European trip. The report said the committee never considered the expenses for the European trip in 2022.

“It is our belief that the expenses for this trip should not have been authorized,” the report said.

Duncan did not escape criticism.

Said the report: “While both (the lieutenant governor and Senate president pro tem) have duties to the Senate that require the attention of the officeholders until the conclusion of their respective terms of office, it is clear to us that their presence ... had little, if any, connection to those duties and did not clearly serve to advance any known educational, legislative, or economic development purpose.”

House backs sale of power for electric vehicles by convenience stores

The Georgia House voted unanimously this past week in support of a bill that could increase the capacity to charge electric vehicles across the state.

Convenience stores and other businesses would be allowed under House Bill 406 to sell electricity for vehicle charging by the kilowatt hour – a move that could encourage the installation of chargers.

The measure could also set the state on a path to change how it taxes drivers to gradually replace revenue from a motor fuel levy that’s used for road construction and maintenance.

HB 406 is now headed to the state Senate, where there appears to be support for the idea. A similar measure — Senate Bill 146 — advanced in that chamber this past week.

The Georgia Senate voted this past week in support of a measure that would prevent cities and counties from banning gas-powered leaf blowers. (JOHN SPINK / 2002 AJC FILE)

Credit: ajc staff

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Credit: ajc staff

Senate supports bill to block bans on gas-powered leaf blowers

The blaring noise of gas-powered leaf blowers that haunts many of metro Atlanta’s neighborhoods won protection this past week in the Georgia Senate.

Cities and counties would be unable to ban the blowers under Senate Bill 145.

State Sen. Shawn Still, a Republican from Johns Creek and the sponsor of the measure, said the ban is needed because battery-powered electric blowers do not last long enough to meet the needs of landscape professionals and residents.

Some critics say the bill would preempt local control.

But Still said the choice of gas- or battery-powered blowers would be in the hands of schools, hospitals, businesses and homeowners associations.

“What this bill does do, it prevents entire cities and counties from banning gas-powered units because the technology between gas and electric are not equal,” he said. “This bill exactly gives local control to each individual homeowner to decide what they’re going to do in their own yard.”

Concerns over noise and air pollution spurred several local governments, including the cities of Atlanta and Decatur, to explore ways to regulate gas-powered leaf blowers. But those efforts appear to have gone nowhere.

State Sen. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta, was able to attach a sunset clause on the bill before it passed on a 37-16 vote. If it becomes law, it would expire June 30, 2031.

Parent still voted against the measure, noting that gas-powered blowers come with “harmful air impacts and harmful noise impacts.”

Now the blowers and SB 145 are a concern for the House — the state House.

Political expedience

  • GOP adds state House seat: Holt Persinger beat a fellow Republican to win a special election runoff for Georgia House District 119 in Barrow County. He will fill the seat Danny Rampey won in November but vacated before the beginning of the legislative session after being charged with stealing prescription narcotics from a Winder retirement complex where he worked.
  • Bottoms leaves White House post: Former Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is headed back to the city after serving in a temporary role as director of the White House Office of Public Engagement. Bottoms, who acted as a senior adviser to President Joe Biden, is being replaced by former Columbia, South Carolina, Mayor Steven Benjamin.