Major bills in jeopardy on last day of voting at Georgia Capitol

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

Pass or fail? Lawmakers to decide on vouchers, sports betting and mental health

A frenzied day of voting at the Georgia Capitol will decide the fate of some of the state’s most contentious bills, including proposals for $6,500 private school vouchers and police pay raises in the state’s $32.4 billion annual budget.

Unlike in Congress, bills in the Georgia General Assembly face a hard deadline Wednesday, the 40th business day of this year’s legislative session. Anything that doesn’t pass by around midnight will have to wait till next year.

Dozens of bills are awaiting final votes after lawmakers already passed legislation to ban surgery and hormone replacement therapy for transgender minors, give income tax rebates worth $500 to couples, and create an oversight board to investigate or oust local prosecutors.

School vouchers

Gov. Brian Kemp is pushing legislators to approve a bill that would provide $6,500 per year in vouchers to attend private schools.

The Republican’s support comes after the legislation, Senate Bill 233, stalled last week in the Georgia House amid opposition from public school systems that would lose state money if the bill becomes law.

The proposal would give vouchers of $6,500 per student to spend on private education or home-schooling to give families greater options to leave public schools. The state would then deduct the schools’ funding for that student.

Sports betting

A last-ditch effort to allow sports betting in Georgia might not have the votes to pass, with both conservative Republicans and scorned Democrats unwilling to back the idea.

Several Republicans in the Senate oppose an expansion of gambling on principle, while Democrats are protesting the General Assembly’s approval of a bill that limits health care treatments for transgender children.

Under House Bill 237, sports betting would be allowed through the Georgia Lottery without amending the state constitution, and the proceeds would bolster the lottery-funded HOPE scholarship.

Mental health

An expansion of mental health services is on the ropes in the state Senate as lawmakers fight over its costs and hospital construction in rural counties.

The measure, House Bill 520, would focus on addressing a shortage of mental health providers and streamlining the way agencies share information about patients.

Although Lt. Gov. Burt Jones abandoned his effort to allow construction of new hospitals in small counties without a “certificate of need” from state regulators, the mental health bill is still stalled. Jones’ office has objected to the measure’s estimated $71 million cost.

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

State budget

The House and Senate have not yet passed the state’s $32.4 billion budget for fiscal 2024 that includes government employee pay raises.

The latest version of the budget that passed the state Senate envisions $6,000 pay raises for state troopers, GBI investigators and game wardens, along with $2,000 for teachers and other state employees.

The spending plan, House Bill 19, would also cut funding to the University System of Georgia and Georgia Public Broadcasting.

The budget is the one bill the the General Assembly is required to pass each year.

Antisemitism, elections, tenant rights and trucking

Several other bills could see lively debates and votes on the last day of this year’s legislative session:

Antisemitism: House Bill 144 would include antisemitism as part of the state’s hate crimes law. The bill is awaiting a vote in the state Senate.

Election funding: A final vote is pending on Senate Bill 222, which would ban nonprofit organizations from making donations to county election offices.

Renter protections: Landlords would be required to provide housing that is “fit for human habitation” under House Bill 444, which could receive a vote in the state Senate.

Truck weights: A House and Senate conference committee is trying to agree on House Bill 189, which would raise Georgia’s 80,000-pound weight limit for trucks on state and county roads.