Crucial votes ahead in sprint to the finish at Georgia Capitol

Gambling, education, health care, budget and election bills awaiting action
Georgia House members toss paper at the conclusion of the 2022 legislative session. Many bills are still awaiting votes before the end of this year's session, which will come around midnight Wednesday. Branden Camp / For The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Branden Camp

Credit: Branden Camp

Georgia House members toss paper at the conclusion of the 2022 legislative session. Many bills are still awaiting votes before the end of this year's session, which will come around midnight Wednesday. Branden Camp / For The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

It’s crunch time at the Georgia Capitol.

A few major bills have already made it through and been signed by Gov. Brian Kemp, such as legislation that bans health care providers from providing certain hormones or surgical treatments to children to align with their gender identity, a $1 billion income tax rebate and a midyear budget with a $950 million property tax break.

But many bills are still up for debate, with a flurry of final votes expected before this year’s legislative session ends around midnight Wednesday.

Here’s a look at several bills to watch:

Gambling: Sports betting would be legalized in Georgia under a bill up for a vote in the state Senate. The proposal, House Bill 237, is the third attempt this year to allow sports betting after senators previously defeated efforts for a constitutional amendment legalizing it and another bill that would have permitted horse racing along with sports betting.

Private school vouchers: A new state program would give $6,500 a year to students who leave a low-performing public school to attend a private school, learn at home or undertake a mix of both. After a lengthy debate Thursday night, the House tabled Senate Bill 233, but it could come back for a vote as soon as Monday.

State budget: The $32.4 billion budget for the upcoming fiscal year includes raises for state employees and teachers and $600 million for construction projects. House Bill 19 is the one bill lawmakers must pass before the end of the session, but it was up in the air late last week as House and Senate leaders wrangled over funding for public universities.

Prosecutor oversight: A new state board would be responsible for punishing or ousting district attorneys who skirt their duties under Senate Bill 92, which is awaiting a vote in the House. The bill’s supporters say they want to crack down on “rogue prosecutors” whom they see as inept, but critics say it could be weaponized against prosecutors such as Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who is investigating former President Donald Trump.

Antisemitism: Crimes that target Jewish people would come with stiffer penalties under a bill that would define antisemitism under Georgia’s hate crimes law. After Lt. Gov. Burt Jones and Republican Senate leaders revived the legislation, House Bill 144 is scheduled for a vote in the state Senate this week.

Hospitals: New hospitals could be built in counties with fewer than 50,000 people without a review and approval of a “certificate of need” from state regulators. Senate Bill 99 is pending in the House after it previously passed the Senate.

Mental health: A bill that seeks to increase the number of mental health providers and streamline the way agencies share information about patients appears to have stalled in the Senate. The Senate Health and Human Services Committee never voted on the bill before the chamber’s internal deadline for bills to make it out of committee and still be considered for floor action. House Bill 520 would build on last year’s mental health law, which requires insurance companies to cover mental health care the same way they do physical health care. As always, procedural moves could bring HB 520 back into the fold.

Election money: Nonprofit donations to county election offices would be banned under Senate Bill 222, which is scheduled for a vote in the House on Monday. The bill arose from Republican complaints about a $2 million grant to DeKalb County this year and $45 million distributed to some counties in 2020 by the Center for Tech and Civic Life, which was funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

Trucking: Heavier trucks would be temporarily allowed on state and county roads under a bill pending in the state House, a hotly debated proposal between businesses seeking greater efficiency and skeptics who warn of higher taxpayer costs for road maintenance. House Bill 189 would raise the weight limit for trucks carrying certain products from 80,000 pounds to 84,000 pounds, or to 88,000 pounds for vehicles carrying forestry and agricultural products.

Tenant protections: Georgia landlords would be required to provide housing that’s “fit for human habitation,” and security deposits would be capped at two months’ worth of rent under House Bill 404, which is pending in the state Senate. The legislation came in response to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s “Dangerous Dwellings” investigation that showed tens of thousands of metro Atlanta renters living in perilous conditions.

TikTok ban: Social media services such as TikTok would be banned from state employee phones and devices if they’re owned by “foreign adversaries” including China. After unanimously passing the Senate earlier this year, the House approved a slightly different version and sent it back to senators who have to decide whether to agree to the changes.