PG A.M.: Countdown to Sine Die begins. Expect the unexpected

Your daily jolt of news and analysis from the AJC politics team
Sen. David Lucas, D-Macon, speaks in opposition of a bill. Today is the last day of the legislative session.

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

Sen. David Lucas, D-Macon, speaks in opposition of a bill. Today is the last day of the legislative session.

You’ve seen words like “chaotic,” “frenetic,” and “frenzied” used to describe the last all-out rush to pass pending measures before the final gavel ends another 40-day session of the General Assembly.

But that hardly does justice to the hurry-up-and-wait process that defines the do-or-die last day, which begins at 8 a.m. with a meeting of the House Higher Education Committee. There are strangely quiet lulls interspersed with furious bouts of legislating. Lawmakers vote on stacks of bills they haven’t had time to read.

Tempers flare, especially between the House and Senate. Controversial legislation gets shelved, other long-forgotten measures or brand-new initiatives surface in lightning-quick moves.

 Lt. Gov. Burt Jones is eager to continue to build a conservative record that he hopes will boost an expected run for governor in 2026.

Credit: Miguel Martinez/AJC

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Credit: Miguel Martinez/AJC

This year will be no different. Lt. Gov. Burt Jones is eager to continue to build a conservative record he hopes will boost an expected run for governor in 2026. House Speaker Jon Burns, R-Newington, has his own distinctly different policy agenda in his more moderate chamber. And Gov. Brian Kemp is picking his spots to exert influence.

There will be tears shed for retiring lawmakers, along with warm bursts of camaraderie. Republican state Rep. Marcus Wiedower of Watkinsville compared Day 40 to the final day of summer camp, with legislators emotional about leaving “family” but eager to return home.

There will also be plenty of fiery moments, like the time in 2021 when then-House Speaker David Ralston cracked open a Pepsi in a rebuke to Coca-Cola after the Atlanta-beverage giant criticized a GOP elections overhaul. (The late speaker, a Republican from Blue Ridge, would later make peace with Coke and abandon the Yankee fizz, saying “redemption is always possible.”)

Rep. Marcus Wiedower, R-Watkinsville, compared the last day of the legislative session to the final day of summer camp.

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

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Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

This year, one of the stranger battles involves a fight over bingo. Senate leaders made clear they were upset that House lawmakers stripped a provision that allowed electronic bingo in rural McIntosh County while preserving another in the ritzy enclave of Sea Island.

Other fights are brewing that involve constitutional amendments governing how judges are paid and how federal funding can be appropriated by the state. (The latter drew opposition from Kemp’s floor leaders in the Senate.)

One thing is certain. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

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State Rep. Michelle Au, D-Johns Creek, favors Medicaid expansion.

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

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Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

LAST PUSH? Democrats are angling for a last-ditch effort to expand Medicaid — and planning to vote en masse against GOP priorities to protest Republican refusal to extend the program.

State Rep. Michelle Au, a Johns Creek Democrat, was among several members of her party who said at a news conference Wednesday that GOP lawmakers have privately told her they support expanding the program but don’t want to run afoul of Gov. Brian Kemp.

Sen. Carden Summers, R-Cordele, voted to expand Medicaid.

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

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Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

The governor actively worked to scuttle a late push in the Senate to pass a Medicaid expansion. Even so, two GOP lawmakers — state Sens. Matt Brass of Newnan and Carden Summers of Cordele — broke with their party.

House Minority Leader James Beverly, D-Macon, said it would only take 13 “brave souls” in the House to join Democrats to pass an expansion. Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler of Stone Mountain, her chamber’s top Democrat, said it would take seven additional votes in her chamber.

“You ran for office. You chose to lead,” Au said. “Why are you still so afraid? What are you waiting for?”

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It's the final day of the Georgia legislative session.

Credit: Miguel Martinez/AJC

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Credit: Miguel Martinez/AJC

ON THE AGENDA. What could come up for a vote today? Plenty. Our colleagues Maya T. Prabhu and Mark Niesse have the world of possibilities, including the must-pass conference report of the state budget as well as possible votes on changes to election rules, restrictions on transgender youth, stricter immigration enforcement, sports betting, and temporary protections for the Okefenokee Swamp.

In 1964, state Rep. Denmark Groover, D-Macon, nearly fell over the state House railing trying to adjust the hands of the clock to keep it from reaching the mandatory hour of adjournment on the last day of the legislative session.

Credit: Joe McTyre/AJC

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Credit: Joe McTyre/AJC

And don’t miss James Salzer’s annual tale of Sine Dies of yesteryear, including the time state Rep. Denmark Groover, D-Macon, leaned over from the balcony to keep the clock from striking midnight.

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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, Legislative Day 40:

  • 8 a.m.: Committee meetings begin.
  • 10 a.m.: The House gavels in.
  • 10 a.m.: The Senate convenes.
  • Sessions continue until the work is done or the clock strikes midnight, whichever comes first. At that point, the chambers go out, Sine Die.

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House Appropriations Chairman Matt Hatchett has vented his frustration over the state's latest spending plan.

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

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Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

BUDGET BATTLE. A year after Gov. Brian Kemp told state agencies to ignore the Legislature’s instructions on how to spend more than $200 million in the budget the General Assembly approved, House Appropriations Chairman Matt Hatchett vented his frustration over the latest spending plan.

The AJC’s resident budget guru James Salzer reports that Hatchett is generally one of the more mild-mannered, deliberate legislators. But the Dublin Republican broke character on Wednesday.

“It’s just come to light to me that many of our agencies and some of our constitutional officers consider this document to be a suggestion,” he said of the fiscal 2025 spending plan. “Well guys and ladies, it’s not.”

He added: “You are probably going to see some of my frustration reflected in this budget.”

The governor makes recommendations for spending, but the House and Senate approve the final budget and typically add their priorities.

The General Assembly will have to pass the $36.1 billion spending plan on the final day of the 2024 session.

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Sheriffs listen to Rep. Jesse Petrea, R-Savannah, present a bill requiring jailers and sheriffs to report when someone in custody lacks legal documentation to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

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Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

NO ICE INPUT. No Georgia lawmakers have reached out to the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Atlanta office regarding pending legislation involving state immigration policies.

That’s according to Sean Ervin, director of ICE’s Atlanta field office. He declined to comment on a pair of proposals designed to require law enforcement to contact federal authorities when they believe someone is in the country illegally.

Ervin said he wants “sheriffs to work with us voluntarily and not be forced into it. But that’s a state decision, not mine.”

In a conversation with the AJC’s Michelle Baruchman, Ervin also addressed criticism from sheriffs that ICE does not follow through with detainers the agency issues to hold someone for deportation.

“To the best of our ability, we cover all 159 counties in the state of Georgia,” Ervin said. “If there’s a sheriff, anywhere, who feels that they’re underserved by ICE, then I would welcome them to bring that to my attention.”

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Sen. Larry Walker III, R-Perry, is the primary author of Senate Bill 390.

Credit: Courtesy photo

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Credit: Courtesy photo

LINGERING LEGISLATION. Sine Die eve was a quiet day at the Capitol. What little action there was happened across the street in a committee room at the legislative office building, where members of the House Higher Education Committee heard updates and held discussions on two high-profile measures that have yet to get committee votes.

The first, Senate Bill 390, involves state-funded libraries and how they purchase materials, services, or operations offered by the American Library Association or any of its affiliates. Republican lawmakers want to curb the influence of the American Library Association, an organization they say leans too far to the left as evidenced by its endorsement of books about gender identity and racial bias.

Sen. Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, is the primary sponsor of Senate Resolution 579.

Credit: Steve Schaefer/AJC

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Credit: Steve Schaefer/AJC

The other committee topic was sports betting and Senate Resolution 579. The measure passed the Senate but has faced several amendments in the House, changes that make the possibility of receiving the required two-thirds majority for passage unlikely.

The resolution’s sponsor, Sen. Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, attended Wednesday’s committee meeting to discuss a fund set aside for education and treatment of problem gambling. Rep. Sam Park of Lawrenceville, the House Democratic whip, suggested an amendment involving how revenues would be distributed and that would make the legislation “more bipartisan.”

The committee reconvenes at 8 a.m. this morning and is expected to vote on a new version of the bill.

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No Labels Founding chairman and former Sen. Joe Lieberman speaks in Washington on Jan. 18, 2024. He died Wednesday at age 82.

Credit: Jose Luis Magana/AP

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Credit: Jose Luis Magana/AP

RIP. Our condolences to the many friends and family of former U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, who died Wednesday at the age of 82 from complications following a fall.

The four-term senator was the first Jewish candidate on a major-party ticket when he was chosen by Al Gore in 2000 as his Democratic running mate. He was later briefly considered by U.S. Sen. John McCain as a vice presidential candidate to join the Republican ticket in 2008. Lieberman’s son, Matt, waged a U.S. Senate bid in 2020 in Georgia as a Democrat.

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State Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler, D-Stone Mountain, will be a guest on the "Politically Georgia" show.

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

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Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

LISTEN UP. The Sine Die edition of the “Politically Georgia” radio show features the Senate’s heavy hitters — state Senate Majority Leader Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, and Minority Leader Gloria Butler, D-Stone Mountain.

Plus there will be a live update from the Capitol as lawmakers begin the final day of the legislative session.

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

If you missed it, Wednesday’s show featured state Reps. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur, and Chuck Efstration, R-Auburn. Neither sounded enthusiastic about taking up the Senate-amended bill that took legislation on suicide prevention and added in a number of GOP culture war priorities.

AJC reporter Tamar Hallerman also recapped her interview with defense attorney Ashleigh Merchant and provided an update on the Fulton County election interference case.

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

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U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen toured Suniva in Norcross on Wednesday.

Credit: Jenni Girtman for the AJC

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Credit: Jenni Girtman for the AJC

YELLEN VISIT. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Wednesday toured what will soon be the largest solar cell manufacturing plant in the Western Hemisphere. The Norcross facility, operated by Suniva, is reopening this year after shuttering in 2017.

The factory is meant to cut the U.S. solar industry’s reliance on imports, writes the AJC’s Josh Reyes.

While in metro Atlanta, Yellen also addressed the economic impact of the Baltimore port closure in the wake of Tuesday’s collapse of Maryland’s Francis Scott Key Bridge. She said the Biden administration is evaluating potential supply chain disruptions and the rerouting of Baltimore-bound shipping to other East Coast ports, including terminals in Savannah and Brunswick.

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U.S. Rep. Mike Collins, R-Jackson, will hold a news conference in Atlanta today.

Credit: Nathan Posner for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Credit: Nathan Posner for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

TODAY IN WASHINGTON:

  • President Joe Biden travels to New York City to headline a fundraiser at Radio City Music Hall with former presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and a host of celebrities.
  • The House and Senate are on a two-week Easter break.
  • U.S. Rep. Mike Collins, R-Jackson, holds a news conference following a visit to the Hermeus airplane factory in Atlanta to see the rollout of a new aircraft.

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Representatives from the offices of U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, D-Atlanta, will hold an event this afternoon at the College Park Library.

Credit: Nell Carroll for the AJC

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Credit: Nell Carroll for the AJC

IN THE COMMUNITY. Representatives from U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams’ offices will hold an event this afternoon to help constituents access various government services.

Williams’ Congress in Your Community event will be held from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the College Park Library, 3647 Main St. The Atlanta Democrat’s staff will assist visitors with questions about their taxes, Social Security, Medicare and more.

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DOG OF THE DAY. The honorary distinction today goes to the enormous pile of papers waiting on lawmakers’ desks, telling them which bills they could be considering on this final, marathon day of the session.

Capitol regular Tom Gehl snapped a photo of the annual “walking the dog” process Wednesday, when House and Senate staffers assembled lawmakers’ color-coded packets ahead of Day 40.

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Kaiser Truman Balinger called state Rep. Mandi Balinger his person.

Credit: Courtesy photo

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Credit: Courtesy photo

SINE DOG! If anyone is ready for the legislative session to be over, it’s the dogs of the Georgia Capitol.

The session for these loyal pooches means long nights waiting by the door and early mornings with an extra scoop of food to get them through the long days.

Kaiser Truman Balinger was just such a dog, dutifully keeping watch on the front door until state Rep. Mandi Balinger, R-Canton, came home each night. KT died last year from cancer, but like a great legislative session, he leaves behind friends and memories to last a lifetime.

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.