Gun access and sports betting among bills that fall short in Georgia

210331-Atlanta-Sen. Matt Brass (R-Newnan), center, is in the middle of a huddle about hemp farming during the final day of the 2021 Legislative session Wednesday, March 31, 2021. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

210331-Atlanta-Sen. Matt Brass (R-Newnan), center, is in the middle of a huddle about hemp farming during the final day of the 2021 Legislative session Wednesday, March 31, 2021. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Lawmakers stopped short of pushing through some of the most contentious proposals at the Capitol this year, including bills that would have expanded gun rights, allowed sports betting and required hospitals to accept visitors regardless of circumstances.

They were among many bills that failed for a variety of reasons. Some didn’t have enough support. Others never got a final vote as Wednesday’s deadline for bills to pass expired. There were also bills that fell short after legislators added unattractive amendments.

No bill is truly dead, especially since this was the first year of the General Assembly’s two-year cycle. That means the same measures can be revived in 2022.

But for now, here’s a look at some of the bills that didn’t make the cut:

Gun reciprocity

Republican lawmakers could be heard in the halls after the House adjourned asking each other, “Why didn’t he do the gun bill?”

House Speaker David Ralston said he declined to move forward with a bill that would have expanded access to firearms in Georgia partly because he said he hadn’t had a chance to go over the particulars of the legislation and because it had been just two weeks since shootings at three Atlanta-area spas left eight people dead.

“We’re less than two weeks out from two major mass killings and so, you know, that heightens my level of sensitivity to that,” said Ralston, a Republican from Blue Ridge, adding that the chamber has historically supported gun rights.

House Bill 218 would have made it legally easier for travelers to bring their guns into the state, allow probate judges to process gun carry licenses and license renewals online, and prohibit the governor from closing weapons manufacturers, shooting ranges, churches or businesses during a public emergency.

Sports betting

Sports betting bills were probably the most on-again-off-again legislation of the session.

Senate Resolution 135 would have asked Georgia voters whether the state’s constitution should be amended to allow online sports wagering. Passage in the Legislature would have placed the measure on the 2022 ballot for voters to make the final decision.

The legislation was scheduled for floor debate in the House, pulled from the calendar, tweaked and sent back to the floor several times this year, but Democrats in the House refused to support the measure and there wasn’t enough Republican backing to revive it.

Delta tax

The House passed a bill late Wednesday that would have eliminated a jet fuel tax break, Republican payback against Delta Air Lines for CEO Ed Bastion’s statement that Georgia’s new elections law was “unacceptable” and “based on a lie” of widespread election fraud.

The move could have cost Delta more than $35 million a year, but the state Senate never took up the bill for a vote.

“It is purely retaliation for the business community speaking out on a bill everyone feels is Jim Crow 2.0,” state Rep. David Wilkerson, a Democrat from Powder Springs, said from the floor of the House.

Some senators said they weren’t comfortable with the measure, House Bill 477, because it contained expensive tax credits for capital investment, something the head of the Senate Finance Committee called a “scam.”

Hospital, nursing home visitation

What was first filed as a bill to stop health care facilities from banning visitors from seeing sick loved ones was eventually weakened to one that would have instructed hospitals and long-term care facilities to establish visitation policies that were no more restrictive than guidelines set by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

House Bill 290 underwent myriad revisions throughout the legislative session, and most legislators empathized with those who had been kept from their sick and elderly loved ones during the pandemic. But the chambers were unable to reach an agreement on what allowing access should look like by the time the gavel fell. The House sent a revised version of the bill to the Senate, but senators voted against taking the amended measure up for debate.

Ralston, who spoke in support of the measure during the House debate, called the Senate’s move “disrespectful.”

“I thought it was the right thing to do. The Senate took a different view, and so they really let down a lot of Georgia families,” he said after the Legislature adjourned. “I was just very disappointed that they didn’t at least give it a fair debate.”

How to interact with police officers

Senators voted down a bill that would have taught new Georgia drivers how to interact with police officers during a traffic stop.

But the measure didn’t fail because of its education goal, a proposal that divided Republicans who sought to protect officers and Democrats who said programs should instead focus on drivers’ rights when dealing with aggressive law enforcement officers.

The bill fell short after the House amended it to include a provision that would have allowed local governments to put speed cameras in school zones. Ralston’s son lobbies for an Arizona-based company that sells camera systems to local governments. Senators voted 26-23 against the new version of the bill.

Legislators said the measure, Senate Bill 115, would have resulted in the Department of Public Safety creating a course teaching drivers “best practices” during a traffic stop, such as pulling over in a well-lit area, turning on their car’s dome light and putting their hands on the steering wheel as an officer approaches.

Banning campaign contributions during session

The Senate refused to take up House Bill 333, which the state ethics commission requested to give it more tools to go after politicians that it suspected had broken campaign finance laws. The House passed the bill overwhelmingly, twice, once as HB 333 and a second time in another bill.

Senate leaders had a disagreement over the proposal when Sen. Steve Gooch, a Dahlonega Republican, amended the bill to include a provision that would have prevented newly created leadership committees — fundraising groups for Gov. Brian Kemp and legislative leaders — from raising money from lobbyists and special interests during the session.

It’s illegal for individual lawmakers to raise money during the session, but committees can do it.

The Senate sat on the bill without taking it up.