The Jolt: Lawmakers rush to finish favorite bills before time runs out

News and analysis from the politics team at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
03/31/2021 —Atlanta, Georgia — House Representatives throw paper in the air in the House Chambers following Sine Die, legislative day 40, at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta, Wednesday, March 31, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

03/31/2021 —Atlanta, Georgia — House Representatives throw paper in the air in the House Chambers following Sine Die, legislative day 40, at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta, Wednesday, March 31, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Georgia’s legislative session is headed toward a crescendo at midnight next Monday, with some late-breaking action setting the stage for dramatic developments. Bills that don’t pass both chambers before Sine Die will be dead for the year and need to start over in 2023 once a new Legislature is seated.

Let’s take a spin through some of the most recent shenanigans ahead of the end-of-session dash for the doors.

Late Monday, a Senate panel gave the go-ahead to a far-reaching mental health measure that would reimagine the way mental health and addiction are treated, despite pushback from far-right groups who framed it as a government takeover.

In its committee-approved version, the Georgia Senate stripped a requirement that all medical insurers cover mental health, a key element of the original version that House Speaker David Ralston championed.

But the Speaker’s office signaled he was happy the bill was progressing, while his allies expressed confidence that the wrinkles in the measure could be smoothed out.

Another late-breaking push to legalize sports betting and pave the way toward other forms of gambling emerged Monday and passed a House committee, though GOP senators say it still doesn’t have the needed two-thirds in that chamber.

The House seems unlikely to move forward on a Senate effort to limit the film tax credit that’s turned Georgia into a TV and movie behemoth by capping the amount of money spent on the incentives to $900 million a year.

And bipartisan local election officials spoke out against an election law that aims to expand police investigations, allow public inspections of paper ballots and restrict nonprofit contributions. Its fate remains uncertain.

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UNDER THE GOLD DOME, Tuesday, March 29:

  • 8:00 a.m.: Committee work begins;
  • 10:00 a.m.: The House gavels in;
  • 10:00 a.m.: The Senate convenes.

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Also Monday:

  • The House passed a ban on the state of Georgia doing business with or investing in Russian interests;
  • The House passed a bill to add “courage” to the pledge of allegiance to the Georgia state flag, which is, ironically, recited only by the Georgia state Senate.

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For Tuesday, we’re keeping an eye on:

  • A possible House vote on the package with more changes to Georgia’s elections, which county elections officials have raised objections to;
  • The next steps for Brian Kemp’s proposed income tax cut. The House has passed its version, which a Senate committee deviated from in a vote Monday;
  • Former Sen. David Perdue will be back on the campaign trail, this time with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, for stops in Fayetteville, Duluth, and Marietta.

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It may not be the vote of confidence Republican leaders are looking for as they push for final passage of HB 1013, but Stacey Abrams-founded Fair Fight Action has endorsed the mental health parity act, along with a coalition of Georgia’s largest hospitals, health care providers, and the Georgia Chamber.

Hillary Holley, Fair Fight’s organizing director, said on Monday that the “life-saving” measure is being endangered by Republicans’ base voters pushing misinformation about it. “It is a shame to see their base acting this way, but it is our hope the legislature will do the right thing.”

Separately, Senate candidate Herschel Walker, who has struggled with mental illness, encouraged lawmakers to reach a compromise.

”There is a real mental health crisis in this country and it’s been swept under the rug for too long. Thanks to the Speaker and House and Senate Republicans for having the courage to take on a tough subject to try and solve a problem.”

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The newest edition of the Politically Georgia podcast is live in your podcast feed now on Apple or Spotify, at the AJC. You can sample it below, can even tell Alexa, “Play Politically Georgia podcast” and she’ll know what you’re talking about.

In this special Tuesday show, we break down Donald Trump’s visit to Georgia Saturday, how the Trump-picked candidates made the most, or the least, of their moments on stage, and how we feel about Greg Bluestein’s new stage name.

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Republican Senate hopeful Herschel Walker indicated recently that he would avoid debates against his GOP rivals and instead focus on Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock.

At a fish fry over the weekend, Walker elaborated on his position when pressed by a voter on whether he would sidestep a showdown with his Republican opponents.

“That is true. I didn’t refuse to debate them. I said I can’t debate them because the day of that debate, y’all will find out, I’m getting inducted into the Horatio Alger (awards) … that was scheduled a year out from the debate.”

The awards are April 7-9, so that conflict would cover just a single April debate. Walker has been invited to multiple events, including an Atlanta Press Club showdown that has yet to be determined.

We also have a feeling that debate organizers would be willing to reschedule their events if it meant landing the GOP frontrunner’s participation.

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During Georgia’s last election, left-leaning operative Lauren Windsor caught David Perdue in some double-speak about his role challenging Joe Biden’s victory on January 6th. Windsor returned to Georgia last week to spotlight another GOP candidate.

This time, her target was U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, the contender for secretary of state whom she tracked down at a Columbia County GOP gathering over the weekend.

When she pressed him several times on whether he would “decertify” the 2020 election results if he wins office, he said, “That’s why I’m in this race. We have got to deal with what happened in this thing.”

Of course, there’s no such process as “de-certifying” an election. And a phony attempt to do so would have no impact on the outcome of the 2020 election.

But it’s yet another example of the GOP embrace of Donald Trump’s obsession with overturning Georgia’s election.

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POSTED: A recent review of election procedures in Georgia found that no noncitizens were able to cast a ballot in 2020.

Our colleague Mark Niesse reports that Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger called for the review in an attempt to bolster a legislative effort to pass a new constitutional amendment permanently banning noncitizen voting, a practice that is nonexistent already in Georgia but is allowed for local elections in New York City and a handful of other cities.

Raffensperger, who is running for re-election, said the review shows that existing citizenship precautions are working.

“We want to make sure that noncitizens aren’t voting in the state of Georgia,” he said. “Hopefully, that’s another allegation of 2020 we can put to rest. Noncitizens are not voting in the state of Georgia.”

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Although the Buckhead cityhood effort sputtered out this year, that’s not been the case for several Cobb County cityhood proposals that have gotten the green light for a 2022 referendum from the General Assembly.

The Marietta Daily Journal has a handy running update on the many issues surrounding the possible cities of Vinings, East Cobb, Mableton, and Lost Mountain.

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Congratulations to the AJC Politics Team, winner of the prestigious Toner Prize for Local Reporting. The team won for, “Inside the campaign to undermine Georgia’s elections,” a multipart package examining the period between the November 2020 presidential election and the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

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As always, Jolt readers are some of our favorite tipsters. Send your best scoop, gossip and insider info to patricia.murphy@ajc.com, tia.mitchell@ajc.com and greg.bluestein@ajc.com.

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