PG A.M.: With Sine Die looming, House-Senate clashes take shape

Your daily jolt of news and analysis from the AJC politics team
Lawmakers vote on a bill at the Capitol in Atlanta on Tuesday.

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Lawmakers vote on a bill at the Capitol in Atlanta on Tuesday.

The marathon second-to-last day of the state legislative session kept lawmakers in session until nearly midnight Tuesday and revealed key differences between several House and Senate bills, with little time left to resolve them.

The state Senate passed the $36 billion budget, which now goes to a conference committee to hammer out several disparities with the House-approved budget.

Along with passing raises for about 300,000 state workers and teachers, the Senate-passed budget added money for literacy coaches but cut funds favored by the House for reduced-priced school breakfasts and lunches.

The Senate’s budget also removed most of the House-approved funds to boost judges’ pay, but added $5 million that could help finance Lt. Gov. Burt Jones’ proposal to pay teachers a $10,000 stipend to carry guns in schools and other school safety initiatives.

Advocates for transgender rights speak against several bills at the Capitol in Atlanta on Tuesday.

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

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Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Separately Tuesday, the Senate passed a culture-war issue packed “Frankenbill,” which took a freshman Democrat’s suicide prevention measure, House Bill 1104, and added four unrelated Republican base-pleasing items all at once. The legislation now includes a measure to ban transgender students from using restrooms or locker rooms that do not align with their gender identity.

State Rep. Omari Crawford, D-Decatur, said he can’t vote for his own overhauled bill if it comes up for a vote in the House. “If you have a piece of legislation that you feel strongly about, debate it on its own,” Crawford said. “Don’t put it into someone else’s bill where, at this point, coincidentally, the language that was added is probably going to exacerbate suicide rates.”

Rep. Omari Crawford, D-Decatur, listens to senators speak on House Bill 1104 at the Capitol in Atlanta on Tuesday.

Credit: Courtesy photo

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Credit: Courtesy photo

Another bill got an attention-grabbing rider Tuesday when the Senate passed a measure, Senate Bill 479, restructuring top judges’ pay but with unrelated provisions on electronic bingo games.

Other bills passed a single chamber Tuesday, leaving sponsors racing to get them through to final passage across the Capitol before time runs out later this week. The House passed a bill backed by Speaker Jon Burns, R-Newington, that would effectively stall new mining permits near the Okefenokee Swamp, but SB 132′s chances for passage in the Senate are unclear.

Georgia state Sen. Clint Dixon, R-Gwinnett, speaks in favor the revised House Bill 1104.

Credit: AP

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Credit: AP

Meanwhile, the Senate passed a series of changes to election law, including a bill, HB 1207, to allow election officials to reduce the number of voting machines on Election Day. Those bills now go to the House.

It wasn’t all House-Senate clashes. The Senate passed a House bill, HB 1010, to extend paid parental leave for state workers while the House approved a measure, HB 404, that had stalled in the Senate last year, to boost tenant protections after an AJC investigation into squalid conditions in Georgia rental units.

Both pieces of legislation now go to the governor for his signature. But the remaining measures on the table have just one day left to pass both chambers until the session ends, Sine Die.

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Sen. Max Burns, R-Sylvania, speaks in favor an elections bill on Tuesday.

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

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Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

POLLING ELECTIONS. As Georgia GOP lawmakers consider a variety of changes to the state’s election laws, a poll released today by a nonpartisan organization offers a gauge of how conservative voters view voting laws in the state.

The poll, conducted by Secure Elections Project, surveyed more than 300 voters who consider themselves Republicans or conservative-leaning independents and found two-thirds say they’re happy with how elections are run in Georgia.

Another 71% say they have confidence with how election officials freely and fairly tally votes in the state, and a majority say election security is not a concern ahead of the November elections. Most rank it after the economy, immigration and other issues.

Trey Grayson, a former Kentucky secretary of state who chairs the organization, said the poll shows the vast majority of conservatives “trust their leadership to administer elections in a fair and impartial manner.”

“This is a bright spot in what can often be a dark political landscape, and sounds an encouraging note as we head into the 2024 election,” he said.

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State Sen. Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta, wants Gov. Brian Kemp to summon legislators back to the statehouse this year to pass an overhaul of tort litigation rules.

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

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Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

GLUTTON FOR PUNISHMENT? The legislative session is set to come to a crashing halt on Thursday, but at least one Republican lawmaker is eager to return to the Capitol.

State Sen. Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta, urged Gov. Brian Kemp to summon legislators back to the statehouse to pass an overhaul of tort litigation rules. Kemp earlier said he would wait to push a comprehensive package until 2025, though legislators have passed smaller piecemeal measures.

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Rep. James Beverly, D-Macon, is greeted by Rep. Debbie Buckner, D-Junction City, following his farewell speech at the Capitol in Atlanta on Tuesday.

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

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Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

BEVERLY BIDS FAREWELL. Georgia House Minority Leader James Beverly, D-Macon, delivered an emotional address Tuesday as he prepares to leave the Legislature after 12 years. Beverly has been the House’s top-ranking Democrat since 2020.

“I laid it all on the line. I know I was faithful to the little things and I suspect that God will have me do something else,” Beverly told his colleagues.

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Kevin Millican and Holt Rogers, students at Marietta Sixth Grade Academy, were the last pages standing on day 39 of the legislative session on Tuesday.

Credit: Courtesy photo

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Credit: Courtesy photo

MIDNIGHT STRONG. Even the most hardened lobbyists were tiring late Tuesday when legislators called it a day close to midnight. But a pair of pages in the Senate stuck it out until the bitter end.

Kudos to Kevin Millican and Holt Rogers, students at Marietta Sixth Grade Academy!

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The Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta.

Credit: Casey Sykes for the AJC

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Credit: Casey Sykes for the AJC

UNDER THE GOLD DOME:

  • The House and Senate are out of session for a final committee work day.
  • Day 40 floor sessions gavel in Thursday morning and will continue through Sine Die.

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State Rep. Chuck Efstration, R-Auburn will be a guest on the "Politically Georgia" show.

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

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Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

LISTEN UP. Today, state Reps. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur, and Chuck Efstration, R-Auburn, join the “Politically Georgia” radio show ahead of Sine Die.

AJC reporter Tamar Hallerman also talks about the latest in the former President Donald Trump election interference case and recaps her interview with defense attorney Ashleigh Merchant, who launched the effort to remove District Attorney Fani Willis from the case.

Listen live at 10 a.m. on 90.1 FM, at AJC.com and at WABE.org.

In case you missed Tuesday’s episode — now available in podcast format — state Reps. Marcus Wiedower, R-Watkinsville, and Stacey Evans, D-Atlanta, spoke on the bills they’re watching most closely as the session nears an end.

Listen on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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A new poll found that President Joe Biden (pictured) is gaining ground on former President Donald Trump in six of seven swing states.

Credit: Stephanie Scarbrough/AP

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Credit: Stephanie Scarbrough/AP

SWING STATE GEORGIA. A new poll from Bloomberg News/Morning Consult found that President Joe Biden is gaining ground on former President Donald Trump in six of seven swing states — but not Georgia.

The survey was conducted in mid-March after Biden’s well-received State of the Union address to Congress. Biden appeared to be nearing even with Trump or even slightly ahead in several states, although within the margin of error.

But in Georgia, the poll shows Biden losing support and trailing Trump who polled at 49% compared to Biden’s 42%. That is well outside of the 3-point margin of error.

Bloomberg News and Morning Consult plan to poll Georgia and the six other swing states — Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — on a monthly basis through November.

President Joe Biden has gained ground against Republican Donald Trump in six of seven key swing states, according to a poll by Bloomberg News/Morning Consult released on Tuesday.

Credit: Bloomberg News/Morning Consult

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Credit: Bloomberg News/Morning Consult

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Busy Bee owner Tracy Gates and Vice President Kamala Harris share a laugh outside the local restaurant on Dec. 16, 2023.

Credit: Tia Mitchell/AJC

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Credit: Tia Mitchell/AJC

GOOD EATS. As campaign season builds in Georgia, the AJC’s food and dining team offers a look at the Atlanta restaurants that often double as stump spaces. The Varsity, Busy Bee, Manuel’s Tavern — all are places for politicians to refill their tanks and squeeze in a speech.

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U.S. Reps. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., (left) and Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., will be allowed to move forward with lawsuits against two California cities.

Credit: TNS

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Credit: TNS

MTG LAWSUIT. U.S. Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Rome Republican, and Matt Gaetz of Florida will be allowed to move forward with lawsuits against two California cities which canceled rallies they had planned in 2021.

The ruling from U.S. District Judge Hernán Vera said that Greene and Gaetz had grounds to claim the cities of Riverside and Anaheim discriminated against them based on their political views.

But MSNBC also reported that Vera criticized the lawmakers’ claims that the cities had conspired with civil rights groups, calling it “a conspiracy theory that relies purely on conjecture.”

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Abortion rights activists gathered outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington on Tuesday. Justices were hearing arguments on an abortion pill case. The activists unfurled a banner filled with names of people they said support access to the pill.

Credit: Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/AP

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Credit: Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/AP

TODAY IN WASHINGTON:

  • President Joe Biden has no public events on his schedule.
  • The House and Senate are on a two-week Easter break.

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The State Bar of Georgia and a legal ethics watchdog organization in Washington both dismissed complaints against Georgia attorney Stefan Passantino.

Credit: Bita Honarvar/AJC

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Credit: Bita Honarvar/AJC

CLEARED. The State Bar of Georgia and a legal ethics watchdog organization in Washington both dismissed complaints against Georgia attorney Stefan Passantino over his conduct related to the Jan. 6 pro-Trump mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol. Passantino was an ethics attorney who worked in President Donald Trump’s Office of White House Counsel and faced allegations that he pressured Trump aide Cassidy Hutchinson to protect Trump in her testimony to the House Jan. 6 committee. The New York Times has more on this.

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Georgia Ports Authority officials envision the Talmadge Bridge in Savannah one day being replaced by a tunnel underneath the shipping channel.

Credit: J. Scott Trubey/AJC

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Credit: J. Scott Trubey/AJC

TUNNEL VISION. Tuesday’s collapse of Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge after it was struck by a cargo ship reinforced the opinion of Georgia Ports Authority officials that Savannah’s Talmadge Bridge one day be removed and replaced by a tunnel underneath the shipping channel.

Insider Adam Van Brimmer detailed the bridge designs that prevent such tragedies from happening in Savannah or at Georgia’s other deep-water port in Brunswick. But as evolving cargo ship designs result in ever taller vessels, removing any chance that a vehicle bridge could obstruct access is the right thing to do, Ports Authority CEO Griff Lynch said.

According to a preliminary study by the Georgia Department of Transportation, replacing the Talmadge Bridge with a tunnel would cost $2 billion.

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Pampered pooch Annie Garner enjoys a recent spa day. Be like Annie.

Credit: Courtesy photo

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Credit: Courtesy photo

DOG OF THE DAY. You don’t have to look hard at the Capitol to find exhausted members, staff and lobbyists wondering if they can make it one more day to the end of this session.

To those tired toilers, may we suggest taking a page out of Annie Garner’s self-care playbook? Annie is the adorable dachshund who calls former State Sen. Wayne Garner and his wife, Jerri, her best pals. A reliable source reports this photo was snapped at one of Annie’s recent spa days.

The moral to the story is: Be like Annie.

Send us your dogs of any political persuasion, and cats on a cat-by-cat basis, to patricia.murphy@ajc.com, or DM us at @MurphyAJC.

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AS ALWAYS, Politically Georgia readers are some of our favorite tipsters. Send your best scoop, gossip and insider info to greg.bluestein@ajc.com, tia.mitchell@ajc.com, patricia.murphy@ajc.com and adam.vanbrimmer@ajc.com.