PG A.M.: Sine Die at the Georgia Capitol — a tale of two chambers

Your daily jolt of news and analysis from the AJC politics team
State Rep. Anne Allen Westbrook, D-Savannah, votes on an election bill on Thursday at the state Capitol in Atlanta.

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

State Rep. Anne Allen Westbrook, D-Savannah, votes on an election bill on Thursday at the state Capitol in Atlanta.

At certain points during the final day of the Georgia General Assembly’s legislative session, the clashing agendas of the House and the Senate — both chambers led by Republicans — could not have looked more different.

While the Senate dug in to work on a series of base-pleasing measures, such as passing a bill to ban puberty blockers for transgender youth, the House preferred more workaday bills instead.

Lawmakers gather in the House Chambers on Sine Die at the Georgia Capitol in Atlanta.

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

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Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

Among the Senate-passed bills spurned by the House: A push to place a statue of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in a state judicial building, a range of measures targeting transgender youth and a revived “religious liberty” bill.

The Senate ignored its share of House bills, too, including a measure to temporarily ban certain mines near the Okefenokee Swamp. And while House Speaker Jon Burns, R-Newington, backed a resolution to protect access to in vitro fertilization in Georgia, the Senate left the IVF issue unaddressed entirely.

As Burns put it shortly after he banged the final gavel of the session at 12:59 a.m. Friday: “Some folks choose politics, the House chooses results.”

Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, not surprisingly, had a distinctly different take.

“I’m proud of all that the Senate accomplished this session, promoting an agenda to help Georgia families, expand access to health care, support HBCUs, crack down on sanctuary policies, and protect women’s sports,” he said in a statement.

“These issues are a marathon, not a sprint, and we’ll continue to build on our accomplishments year after year to enact policies that lift up the middle class and fight back against radical Democrats’ insanity.”

State Sen. Ben Watson, R-Savannah, sponsored a bill that bans puberty-delaying medications.

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

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Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Tensions between the chambers have been simmering all session and began to reach a boiling point Thursday evening.

After the state Senate voted to declare 7 p.m. the “Walker Hour of Power,” in honor of state Sen. Larry Walker, a Republican from Perry, House Appropriations Committee chairman Matt Hatchett, R-Dublin, joked he planned to adopt a House resolution honoring Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Activists for trans rights, including Sen. Kim Jackson (center), D-Stone Mountain, watch the voting for House Bill 1170.

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

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Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Hatchett praised his Senate counterpart on the Appropriations Committee — state Sen. Blake Tillery, R-Vidalia — but took a clear swipe at the upper chamber when he criticized Jones’ push to pay teachers to carry weapons.

“Just so we are clear. This budget does not include funds for teachers to carry guns in schools,” Hatchett said to the applause of House members.

The diverging agendas of the two chambers can be traced directly back to their leaders. While Burns is settling in for what is expected to be an extended term as speaker, Jones is expected to run for governor in 2026. And he’ll need to woo the GOP base to do it.

Gov. Brian Kemp waits to address the House of Representatives at the Capitol in Atlanta on Sine Die, the last day of the legislative session.

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

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Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

The clashes between the chambers left some members exasperated. “A fun fact is that you only need a simple majority to abolish the state Senate,” an agitated House member quipped as the evening wore on. “And I bet I could get the votes in both chambers to do it.”

Burns offered a nuanced take.

“Look, we know there are some social issues that are important to Georgians,” he said. “There are some we embraced, but we also know the timing maybe wasn’t right today for some of those issues.”

Gov. Brian Kemp declined to push any 11th-hour agenda items. He delivered the same speech in each chamber in the early evening. The theme was a thank you to members and did not include any legislative demands, such as the lobbying he did on behalf of a ”fairness in girls sports” bill in the dying hours of the 2022 session.

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House Speaker Jon Burns (right), R-Newington, speaks at a news conference following Thursday's session at the Capitol in Atlanta.

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

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Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

FULL CIRCLE? The session began with House Speaker Jon Burns hinting that he is open to an expansion of Medicaid modeled after the Arkansas “private option” program. It ended with Burns keeping the door open.

“It’s been a journey on health care,” he said early Friday. “We’re not there yet. But we’ve made a lot of steps toward ensuring that Georgians are all protected and have access to quality health care.”

Burns said Gov. Brian Kemp’s limited Medicaid expansion, known as Georgia Pathways and which has drawn about 3,500 recipients, is “gaining some momentum.” But he said he wanted a newly formed commission to study expansion in the coming weeks.

“We want to take a look at every possibility that can impact Georgians, and we’ll be doing that,” said Burns.

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State representatives throw paper in the air to celebrate the end of the legislative session at the House of Representatives in the Capitol in Atlanta on Thursday.

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

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Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

HEAD SLAMMING SESSION. Lawmakers weren’t shy Thursday about expressing their desire to return home after what many considered a frustrating 2024 legislative session.

Said one veteran House member, who was particularly perturbed with the inaction of his Senate colleagues regarding House bills, “It’s like slamming your head in a car door every day around here lately.”

A sign celebrating Sine Die is displayed at the Capitol in Atlanta on Thursday.

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

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Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Another longtime legislator said the spirit of bonhomie that’s marked other sessions has been missing from this one.

“I can’t wait to get away from this place,” he said.

For the record, he has qualified to run for another term.

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Rep. Lauren Daniel, R-Locust Grove, holds her baby Zane in the House chambers on Thursday in Atlanta.

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

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Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

SEER SUCKERS. Maybe it was the cool temperatures or pre-Easter date that kept the numbers low. But a few bold dressers in the state Capitol embraced the annual seersucker day at the Capitol Thursday.

The tiniest taker: Zane Daniel, the infant son of state Rep. Lauren Daniel, R-Locust Grove. Zane sported a blue-and-white striped jumper and also boasted better attendance and behavior this session than many members.

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The Georgia State Capitol.

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, Sine Die.

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U.S. Rep. David Scott, D-Atlanta, is running for a 12th term in the redrawn 13th Congressional District.

Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC

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Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC

RACE IN THE NEW 13TH. Veteran U.S. Rep. David Scott, D-Atlanta, is running for a 12th term in the redrawn 13th Congressional District, which is mostly made up of territory he has never represented before.

The challengers are lining up, most of them hopes of defeating Scott in the Democratic primary. One of them, former East Point City Councilwoman Karen René, has received the backing of state Rep. Karen Bennett, D-Stone Mountain.

“Karen René has the energy and smarts that we need in Washington to protect and promote the wishes and rights of the nearly one million people of the 13th Congressional District,” Bennett said in a news release announcing the endorsement.

Representatives for Scott reiterated Thursday that the 78-year-old lawmaker has no plans to abandon his reelection bid. Scott was the first Black person to chair the Agriculture Committee and is known for hosting popular job and health fairs.

Similar to President Joe Biden, Scott has sought to downplay concerns about his age and abilities to keep up with the rigors of the job. Despite this theme playing out the past two campaign cycles, he won the primary without a runoff.

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Georgia Power has reached a tentative agreement with state regulators to build three new fossil fuel power generation units.

Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC

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Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC

POWER PLAY. Georgia Power has reached a tentative agreement with state regulators to build three new fossil fuel power generation units to meet electricity forecasts, with much of that increased demand coming from new data centers.

The new oil-and-gas-fired units will be located at Plant Yates in Coweta County — and are already under construction.

According to reporting from the AJC’s Drew Kann and Meris Lutz, Georgia Power projects the increased revenue from data center and industrial customers will result in $2.89 in monthly savings for the average residential customer. But the savings come at a cost to the environment in the form of greenhouse gas emissions, argue critics such as Bryan Jacob of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy,

“It reeks of methane,” Jacob said of the deal.

The Public Service Commission will vote on the agreement at an April 16 meeting.

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Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr is challenging an expansion of Environmental Protection Agency pollution regulations regarding meat and poultry processors.

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CARR VS. THE EPA. Attorney General Chris Carr has joined the attorneys general of 26 other states in challenging an expansion of Environmental Protection Agency pollution regulations regarding meat and poultry processors.

Carr signed onto a letter that asserts the proposed rule exceeds the EPA’s statutory authority under the Clean Water Act. According to the attorneys general, the expansion would increase the number of meat processing facilities under EPA oversight from about 150 to more than 3,000.

“The massive costs associated with these unnecessary and unlawful regulations would undoubtedly result in decreased production or, even worse, facility closures throughout our state,” Carr said.

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Activists hold signs in support of House Bill 976 at the Georgia State Capitol on Thursday.

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

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Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

LISTEN UP. Today on the “Politically Georgia” radio show, the legislative session has ended and it’s time to take a look at what bills did and did not get approved on the final day with WABE’s Sam Gringlas.

AJC Publisher Andrew Morse also joins the show to talk about why he has taken such an interest in protecting the Okefenokee Swamp.

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

State Sen. Gloria Butler, D-Stone Mountain, and Lt. Gov. Burt Jones share a warm moment following the farewell speech Butler delivered on Thursday at the Capitol in Atlanta.

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

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Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

If you missed it, Thursday’s Sine Die show featured two top state senators — Majority Leader Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, and Minority Leader Gloria Butler, D-Stone Mountain. For Butler, Thursday was her final legislative day. She is retiring and delivered a moving farewell speech in the Senate chamber.

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

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ILLEGAL VOTES. The Georgia Republican Party’s first vice chairman, Brian Pritchard, violated state election laws when he voted while still on probation, an administrative law judge has ruled.

The AJC’s Mark Niesse reported that Pritchard will be required to pay a $5,000 fine and receive a public reprimand from the State Election Board. He told the court that he thought he had completed his probation before voting in Georgia. But Judge Lisa Boggs wrote in her ruling that “the court does not find the respondent’s explanations credible or convincing.”

Brian Pritchard, first vice chairman of the Georgia Republican Party, violated state election laws when he voted while still on probation, an administrative law judge has ruled.

Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC

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Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC

Republican U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Rome called for Pritchard to “resign immediately or be removed” from his position in the Georgia GOP.

“At a time when the Georgia Republican Party is successfully building its effort to protect our state from a total Democrat takeover, it is unacceptable for our party to have a man in leadership who has repeatedly committed voter fraud himself,” Greene wrote on X.

Both Greene and Pritchard have peddled false theories that the 2020 presidential election was fraudulent despite recounts and court reviews finding no evidence to support those claims.

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The U.S. House of Representatives voted Feb. 13 to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. The articles have not been sent to the Senate for that chamber to act.

Credit: Santiago Billy/AP

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Credit: Santiago Billy/AP

MARK YOUR CALENDARS. The House voted Feb. 13 to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, but the articles still haven’t been sent to the Senate for that chamber to act.

That will change after lawmakers return from their two-week Easter break. House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., announced the pending move in a letter Thursday that was signed by the other impeachment managers, including U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Rome.

Johnson’s letter reads the two articles of impeachment will be sent to the Senate on April 10, and he urged senators to immediately launch a trial instead of taking steps to table the matter or send it to committee.

Senate Leader Chuck Schumer said that the Senate will be sworn in as jurors on the next day. But the New York Democrat also resurfaced his statement from the day of the House vote criticizing the impeachment effort.

“House Republicans failed to produce any evidence that Secretary Mayorkas has committed any crime,” Schumer said then.

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Preparations are underway at the White House for the annual Easter Egg Roll on Monday.

Credit: Evan Vucci/AP

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Credit: Evan Vucci/AP

TODAY IN WASHINGTON:

  • President Joe Biden participates in a campaign event in New York City before departing to Camp David for the weekend.
  • The House and Senate are on a two-week Easter break.

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Mercedes and Matt Schlapp appear at a Florida event in 2021.

Credit: Stephen M. Dowell/TNS

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Credit: Stephen M. Dowell/TNS

WALKER TALKER. A staffer for Herschel Walker’s 2022 campaign for U.S. Senate has taken a nearly half-million dollar settlement related to accusations of sexual misconduct against American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp during the Walker campaign, CNN reported.

In exchange, Carlton Huffman also dropped his defamation suit against Schlapp and said in a statement he regrets bringing legal action in the first place.

“The claims made in my lawsuits were the result of a complete misunderstanding, and I regret that the lawsuit caused pain to the Schlapp family,” he wrote.

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Sammy Murphy, grabbing a cat nap, as many post-Sine Die Georgia politicos will do today.

Credit: Courtesy photo

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Credit: Courtesy photo

DOG OF THE DAY. Shh. Sine Die stretched until almost 1 a.m. Friday morning, so Sammy Murphy is here to introduce you to the fine art of the cat nap.

First, Sammy advises, curl up into a tiny ball like so. Next, close your eyes. Finally, do not disturb. Until next time, General Assembly!

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.