The Jolt: Buckle up for the last day of the Georgia General Assembly

House members toss papers in the air as Sine Die was proclaimed shortly after midnight. Thursday was the 40th and final day of the 2018 General Assembly. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM
House members toss papers in the air as Sine Die was proclaimed shortly after midnight. Thursday was the 40th and final day of the 2018 General Assembly. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

Last year’s delayed Sine Die might have been the strangest end-of-session ritual ever, but this year’s final gavel could be a close second.

In June of 2020, legislators closed out a messy 40-day session interrupted by a months-long pandemic hiatus amid ongoing racial justice protests and a huge security presence at a socially-distanced Capitol.

Even the traditional bill ripping at midnight (photo above) had to be scrapped because of COVID restrictions.

This year, the session went forward without any COVID-related delays, though a handful of legislators went into quarantine at various times and House members still voted from three different locations in the building to abide by safety guidelines.

And, like last year, the halls of the Capitol were largely empty, save for the dozens of backslapping lobbyists outside the chambers.

Security fencing to keep protesters at bay was erected around the perimeter of the Statehouse, and law enforcement officers wielding heavy-duty weaponry stood vigil across the Gold Dome’s campus.

As a marathon day of bill-writing looms Wednesday, other hallmarks of the final closeout are up in the air. Gov. Brian Kemp would normally address both chambers in the evening, but he’s in self-quarantine after being exposed to someone with the deadly virus.

Outside, the state GOP is planning an 10 a.m. rally at Liberty Plaza to thank Republican legislators who backed a sweeping overhaul of the state’s election system that includes new voting restrictions.

And religious leaders plan to hand out water bottles to legislators and lobbyists, a rebuke of the provision in the new law that bans outside groups from offering food or drinks to people in long voting lines.

It’s going to be a weird day.

ExplorePHOTOS: Final day of Georgia 2021 legislative session

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Under the Gold Dome (Legislative Day 40):

  • 10:00 am: The House convenes for the last day of the legislative session;
  • 10:00 am: The Senate gavels for Day 40.
  • Midnight: Sine Die, which officially ends the 2021 Regular Session.

AJC Bill Tracker: Live updating bills we are following in the Georgia Legislature

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Among the possible last-minute movers we’re keeping an eye out for:

  • The 2022 state budget;
  • House Bill 479, legislation to overhaul Georgia’s citizen’s arrest statute, a priority for Gov. Brian Kemp which has been sent back to the House after Senate amendments;
  • The “Right to Visit” bill (House Bill 290), which would require hospitals and nursing homes to allow limited patient visits. The measure has passed the House and Senate, but in very different versions;
  • A vehicle to allow sports betting in Georgia, which has been much-discussed throughout the session;
  • House Bill 286, the “anti-Defund the Police” bill, which would prohibit local governments from substantially decreasing funding for police departments;
  • Hanky panky. Sine Die is always the day for unanticipated additions, substitutions and last-minute maneuvers. Expect the unexpected.

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Leaders in the Georgia House want a review of how Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger spent millions of dollars of federal money last year.

House Speaker David Ralston and House Appropriations Chairman Terry England are asking the state auditor this week to look into the state’s elections spending.

Their request comes after passing an elections bill last week that limits ballot drop boxes, requires absentee ID and noticeably curtails the secretary of state’s power.

Georgia received at least $4 million in federal money last year through the Help America Vote Act, which funded two TV ads promoting absentee voting and early voting.

“Our members are specifically interested in a detailed expenditure account of these funds, to include all required and discretionary activities, all required and discretionary purchases, all grants made to local entities with the purpose, all contracts for services, and any remaining fund balances,” Ralston and England wrote in a letter to the auditor.

In addition, the secretary of state’s office distributed some $11 million in coronavirus relief funds to counties for protective gear, sanitation supplies, high-speed ballot scanners and drop boxes.

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Savannah Mayor Van Johnson is speaking out against the new voter restrictions in Senate Bill 202, the state’s now-passed elections law.

Johnson tweeted last week that he is no longer buying Coke products and that he is “reevaluating” his relationship with Atlanta-based Delta, Home Depot and UPS “as long as they remain complicit silent.”

Johnson expanded on his tweet in an interview with Will Peebles of the Savannah Morning News.

“These are major corporations that play a major role in lobbying efforts. And so personally, I’m very concerned about what transpired,” Johnson said. “We had an election system that seemed to be changed because the majority did not like the results, which is unfortunate.”

Johnson also hosted U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff Tuesday in Savannah, where the two visited a mass vaccination site and urged Savannahians to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Earlier in the month, Johnson did the same with Gov. Brian Kemp.

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Former congressman Paul Broun and an AR-15, a tool to keep at bay the “looting hordes from Atlanta.” (From the Broun campaign video)
Former congressman Paul Broun and an AR-15, a tool to keep at bay the “looting hordes from Atlanta.” (From the Broun campaign video)

Former U.S. Rep. Paul Broun is fast becoming a perennial candidate.

The Republican is joining what will be a crowded field to succeed U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, who last week announced his Trump-backed candidacy for secretary of state.

Broun, an Athens-area physician, finished in fourth in a GOP primary last year for the nearby 9th District seat vacated by Doug Collins. His primary challenge to Collins in 2016 also failed, and he finished in fifth-place in 2014 in a bid for the open Senate seat that David Perdue eventually won.

Other potential contenders for the northeast Georgia seat include construction executive Ames Barnett, businessman Mike Collins, state Sen. Bill Cowsert and state Rep. Houston Gaines.

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The saga of pro-Trump attorney Lin Wood keeps getting sadder.

The once-respected Atlanta trial lawyer has been ostracized by Republicans and vilified by Democrats for propagating lies about the election and bringing baseless lawsuits to court.

Now he’s been publicly abandoned by former President Donald Trump.

A day after Wood announced he was in the running to chair the South Carolina GOP -- he recently moved across state lines -- Trump doubled down on his earlier endorsement of incumbent chair Drew McKissick’s reelection, whom Trump endorsed in February.

In a new statement Tuesday, Trump said McKissick has done an “outstanding job” and “has my complete and total endorsement for re-election!”

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U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., yells at journalists as she passes through a newly installed metal detector outside the House Chamber in Washington, D.C. (Chris Kleponis/Sipa USA/TNS)
U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., yells at journalists as she passes through a newly installed metal detector outside the House Chamber in Washington, D.C. (Chris Kleponis/Sipa USA/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene is the latest Georgian to make the pilgrimage to former President Donald Trump’s resort at Mar-A-Lago, and she posted a short video of the two smiling as they stood side by side.

“It’s great to be with Marjorie, a very special person, she’s out there fighting hard, and the people of Georgia love her,” Trump said.

“Thank you so much, Mr. President, and the people love you,” she responded.

The freshman congresswoman has already been stripped of her committee posts in the U.S. House for her history of violent, hate-filled stances.

A box truck parked in front of the Capitol in Washington Tuesday was emblazoned with images of Greene and fellow freshman Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., with the message “EXPEL THEM.”

Could the trip to Florida be a step for Greene toward a run for a different, higher office?

“Just the thought of that is enough to give our side heart palpitations,” texted a senior Georgia Republican.

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Democratic National Committee chair Jaime Harrison is headlining a fundraiser on Thursday for the Democratic Party of Georgia. The virtual event will include Georgia U.S. Reps. Carolyn Bourdeaux, Lucy McBath and Nikema Williams. Tickets range from $25 to $10,000.

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President Joe Biden has announced his first slate of nominees to federal judgeships. Although none of the vacancies are in Georgia, the list of nominees includes an attorney with Atlanta ties.

Biden nominated Julien Neals to serve as a judge for the U.S. District Court in New Jersey.

Neals received a bachelor’s degree from Morehouse College in 1986 and his juris doctorate from Emory University’s School of Law in 1991.

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The winners are…The AJC’s Maya Prabhu’s much-anticipated Best Dressed List is posted for the 2021 legislative session.

Prahbu talked to the members about their fashion inspirations and sourcing, which range from Goodwill to bespoke tailoring to helpful spouses. The result is a collection of surprisingly candid insights into the lives and backgrounds of the men and women shaping Georgia’s laws.

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