Georgia House, Senate head for homestretch as 2024 session nears its end

A lot is still on the line in the final few weeks with more than a few ‘Christmas trees’ and ‘Frankenbills’ expected
The General Assembly is down to five working days in its 40-day session. It's a time when things get interesting — and messy — at the state Capitol. (Natrice Miller/

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

The General Assembly is down to five working days in its 40-day session. It's a time when things get interesting — and messy — at the state Capitol. (Natrice Miller/

After a week in which a private school voucher bill finally passed the House, the Senate suspended a tax break for mega-data centers and opened the door to an expansion of health care facilities in the state, the Georgia General Assembly is just getting warmed up.

It’s 35 working days down, five to go for the 2024 General Assembly session. In a body known for practiced procrastination, now is when it all gets interesting — and messy.

The season of “gut and replace,” when the Senate guts a bill that has passed the House and inserts its own legislation — and visa versa — is already in full swing. Legislation that almost no lawmakers have seen or had time to read is rushed through committees. One bill becomes a “vehicle,” carrying language from three or four or eight other bills — referred to as a “Christmas tree” or “Frankenbill.”

The session is scheduled to end March 28, but the meaning of the 40th and final day has become more fluid under Republicans, with lawmakers sometimes going well past midnight if there is a bill the House speaker or lieutenant governor insists on getting through.

Tax and spend

Heading into the final five working days, some of the big unresolved issues revolve around money, which is usually the case.

The chambers passed a midyear budget with $5 billion in extra spending through June 30, and Gov. Brian Kemp signed it into law last month.

However, the House and Senate have yet to agree on a $36 billion budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. That’s a big deal because the budget funds everything from schools and road construction to prisons and parks. It also includes pay raises for 300,000 Georgia teachers and state employees.

By law, that’s a bill the General Assembly has to pass by the time it leaves for the year. The House has already passed its version, the Senate could do so this week.

Less certain is what lawmakers will do, if anything, about endlessly rising property taxes.

The Senate passed Senate Bill 349 to cap how much home assessments can go up each year at 3%. That’s particularly important in metro Atlanta because assessments have skyrocketed, meaning tax rates are applied to ever higher home values.

The House didn’t move on the bill. So the Senate Finance Committee last week pulled a “gut and replace,” taking a House measure and turning it into Senate Bill 349.

The House meanwhile, has passed House Speaker Jon Burns’ proposal to increase the state standard homestead exemption from $2,000 to $4,000. That means more of a homeowner’s property value would be exempt from taxes. But senators said two-thirds of counties have higher exemptions now, so many Georgians wouldn’t get anything from the change if it passes.

That bill has stalled in the Senate and is one of several property tax measures awaiting final consideration.

Still in play during this year's legislative session is a bill that would set limits on Georgia's lucrative tax break for film and television production.

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Whether any limits will be placed on the lucrative Georgia film tax credit — which has helped turn metro Atlanta into Y’Allywood — remains up in the air as well. The House last month passed House Bill 1180, which would put some limits on state spending, but the Senate has traditionally been more aggressive in trying to rein in the cost of the program. It’s unclear what will happen in the next two weeks.

Election changes

Every session since Republican Donald Trump lost the 2020 presidential vote, the GOP-run General Assembly has pushed changes to election laws. Usually the aim, according to the authors, is to “restore trust” in the election. Trump has spent the past three years claiming that election was stolen, even though a manual audit of all 5 million ballots cast confirmed the computer count that showed he lost the state by about 12,000 votes.

Among the measures that could be debated in the next two weeks: more election audits, putting ballot pictures online, prohibiting campaign contributions from foreigners (not a major problem in Georgia), banning the use of QR codes to read ballots, increasing penalties for election interference and allowing the State Election Board to investigate Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger, who turned down Trump’s request to help him overturn the election.

Republicans have also proposed reducing the number of voting machines in precincts on election day and stopping the current process of registering people to vote when they get their driver’s license.

Much of it won’t make the final cut, but some of it might. The House has already gutted the Raffensberger bill and replaced it with a Georgia Ethics Commission proposal to change the filing dates and deadlines for candidate campaign finance reports.

Also, because all 236 legislative seats are up for reelection this fall, there will be a few last-minute culture war issues to deal with, often brought by Republicans who have primary opposition or who thought they might get an opponent.

Anti-abortion legislation is usually a winner in a Republican primary, but there’s been no movement this year. A year after passing a bill that banned minors from receiving any potential permanent changes from hormone treatment therapy and surgery to aid in gender transitions, a Senate panel last week approved further restrictions.

House committees now have control over a Senate bill and constitutional amendment that would allow sports betting. The fate of each is uncertain, especially the constitutional amendment because it would require the support of two-thirds of the House to pass. (AJC photo by Ken Sugiura)

Credit: Ken Sugiura

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Credit: Ken Sugiura

The Senate has passed both a bill and a proposed constitutional amendment to legalize sports betting in Georgia. Both are in House committees and their fate is unknown. Getting the two-thirds majority needed to pass a constitutional amendment in the House will be difficult.

There are myriad school bills still up for grabs, but the most closely watched one may be nearing passage.

After many years of trying, Georgia Republicans last week finally got a general private school voucher bill through the state House. Senate Bill 233 would give families $6,500 a year to subsidize the cost of private schooling. The Senate may quickly pass the amended version of its bill and send it to Kemp for his signature.

In another long-standing fight, versions of a bill to eliminate some requirements to establish new hospitals and medical facilities has passed the House and the Senate, but a conference committee of three lawmakers from each chamber will spend the upcoming days trying to work out a compromise on the amended proposal.

A bill more likely to pass soon is House Bill 1105, which would require sheriffs and jail officials to comply with requests from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to detain people suspected of being in the country illegally. It has passed the House and a Senate committee, spurred by the killing last month of 22-year-old nursing student Laken Riley in Athens.

A Venezuelan national who authorities say was in the United States illegally has been charged in the slaying.

Jose Antonio Ibarra, a Venezuelan national who authorities say entered the U.S. illegally in 2022, has been charged with murder in the death of 22-year-old Laken Riley, who was running on the University of Georgia campus when she was killed. Lawmakers have responded to Riley's death with a push for legislation that would require greater cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration officials.

Credit: Clarke County Sheriff's Office

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Credit: Clarke County Sheriff's Office

Staff writers Michelle Baruchman and Mark Niesse contributed to this article.