The Jolt: Surprise! Sweeping new election bill makes late-session appearance

In the list of omnibus election bills moving through the Georgia legislature, you know about Senate Bill 241 from Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan and House Bill 531 from Rep. Barry Fleming.

A third, new comprehensive bill popped up Wednesday afternoon at a hearing of the House Special Committee on Election Integrity, when Fleming, the Republican from Harlem, produced a wide-ranging House substitute to Senate Bill 202.

The original version of SB 202 was a narrow, two-page bill that would prevent third-party groups from sending absentee ballot applications to voters who have already requested an absentee ballot.

The Fleming substitute ballooned to 93 pages, added 50 new sections to the original Senate-passed language, and came about an hour before the 3:00 hearing. Democrats and voting-rights advocates balked at the swap, especially since they had come prepared to speak against the original SB 202, which was the announced topic of the hearing.

Fleming said that much of the new material isn’t really new, since it has been presented elsewhere in the House or Senate already, and added that the committee wouldn’t vote on the bill until a hearing scheduled for Thursday afternoon at the earliest.

As of Thursday morning, the posted agenda for the hearing is “TBD.”

As always, stay tuned.

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When President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris visit metro Atlanta on Friday to tout the coronavirus relief measure, they’re set to hold a drive-in rally in Gwinnett County, the heart of the Asian-American community.

Local Democrats tell us the Gwinnett visit was in the works before Tuesday’s deadly shootings targeting victims of Asian descent. But the visit meant to celebrate the sweeping legislation takes on a painful new resonance.

Both Biden and Harris strongly condemned the “brutality” against Asian-Ameircans and lamented the surge in racist rhetoric spurred partly by the anti-Chinese attacks by former President Donald Trump.

Now advocates hope they’ll bring more attention to the rise in hate crimes targeting people of color.

On the same note, the Democratic National Committee is unveiling a new billboard in Atlanta to greet President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris ahead of their visit Friday.

The billboard, located along I-85 to target Georgians driving south toward downtown, will be up for a week. It reads: “Thank you Georgia Democrats for helping pass the American Rescue Plan. $1,400 checks and vaccines in arms.”

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Under the Gold Dome (Legislative Day 35):

  • 8:30 am: House and Senate committees begin meeting;
  • 10:00 am: The House convenes;
  • 10:00 am: The Senate gavels in.

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Georgians aren’t just getting $1,400 checks now that the $1.9 trillion covid relief package has passed Congress. They’re also getting plenty of incoming political messages about it, too.

A tipster in the 6th Congressional District reports getting a robocall from Rep. Lucy McBath recently to tune into a virtual town hall tonight about the relief package.

Another loyal Jolt reader sent along a glossy mailer that hit mailboxes last week from the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity. “Tell Sen. Raphael Warnock to side with Georgians and VOTE NO on President Biden’s $1.9 trillion partisan wishlist.”

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We promised you the race for Georgia’s top elections official was about to heat up.

Shortly after we reported that former Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle planned to challenge Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Monday, rumbling about another major GOP contender heated up.

U.S. Rep. Jody Hice has confirmed he’s seriously considering running for the statewide post. He appeared on Doug Collins’ radio show on Wednesday to say that former President Donald Trump is “supportive” of his potential candidacy and that he’ll soon announce his decision.

The four-term congressman would not only pose a serious threat to Raffensperger, who is under fire from fellow Republicans after the 2020 election, but also leave vacant his deeply-conservative northeast Georgia seat.

Among the Republicans definitely interested: State Rep. Houston Gaines, the Athens Republican and former student government president of the University of Georgia. He told us he’s “humbled by the outpouring of support and encouragement” and is now focused on finishing the legislative session.

Other potential candidates are former Georgia GOP chair John Padgett, who is also based in Athens, and Mike Collins, a trucking executive who was runner-up to Hice in the 2014 GOP runoff.

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The conservative Heritage Action for America is putting big money behind a push to back controversial GOP-led elections measures.

The organization financed a $600,000 TV ad buy to support the Republican-backed measures, along with $100,000 in digital advertising and other efforts to promote “election safeguards.”

The ads feature a diverse cast and promote “equal rights for voters.” They specifically endorse ID requirements for absentee ballots, a provision that’s central to several of the legislative proposals moving through the Legislature. There’s no mention of restrictive efforts to limit who can vote by mail or curtail weekend voting.

“After a year of challenges to its electoral system, restoring Georgians’ trust in elections should be the top priority of legislators,” said Jessica Anderson, executive director of Heritage Action. “Every eligible voter deserves to have confidence in their election system and know their vote will be counted.”

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One issue that Biden administration officials might hear plenty about during the president’s Friday visit: The ongoing trade dispute that will decide the fate of the giant SK innovation battery factory in northeast Georgia.

South Korean company LG Energy Solution has informed Georgia officials it could build its own factory in the state if SK innovation can’t proceed. Meanwhile, Gov. Brian Kemp and other state officials are pushing Biden to reverse a federal trade decision that threatens SK’s ability to move ahead.

A state Senate resolution backing SK’s position is moving forward, despite a plea by former Attorney General Sam Olens and others to block the measure.

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Two Georgia U.S. representatives were among a dozen conservative House members who voted against a House resolution awarding Capitol police officers medals for their service during the Jan. 6 riots at the Capitol.

Reps. Andrew Clyde, Marjorie Taylor Greene and other lawmakers said they have no problem honoring officers for their bravery but they disagreed with the wording of resolution, particularly how it described those who broke into the building as “a mob of insurrectionists.”

These members backed an alternate proposal by Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert that watered down that language.

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Count it as an early win for U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux. Her bill, an extension of the Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, was approved on the House floor Wednesday.

The Suwanee Democrat tweeted that she is the first member of the freshman class to pass a bill as its primary sponsor.

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Members of the U.S. House Republican caucus voted Wednesday to end their ban on earmarks, freeing members to participate in Democrats’ new process for requesting money for specific projects at specific locations.

But there are still some holdouts. Georgia Reps. Jody Hice, Andrew Clyde and Marjorie Taylor Greene are among 19 lawmakers who signed a pledge Wednesday that they will not request earmarks.

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It is a longstanding Washington tradition for retiring senators giving their final floor speeches to get a round of applause at the end of their remarks for their work.

But in a highly unusual moment on the Senate floor yesterday, U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock got a standing ovation after his first speech as a senator. Warnock spoke on the fundamental need for voting rights in America and called for passage of federal legislation to protect the right to vote.

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The state House approved a measure yesterday to place a statue of former governor and senator Zell Miller on the Capitol grounds.

House Speaker David Ralston brought the bill to the floor and noted that 1.9 million Georgia students have gone to college with the help of the HOPE scholarship since Miller created it as governor.

Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway, talked about meeting Miller at the 1972 Democratic convention and then working for Miller as the first Black legislative session aide for a Georgia lieutenant governor after Miller won the spot in 1974.

“He made the lieutenant governor’s office look like Georgia,” Williams said.

Rep. Calvin Smyre, D-Columbus, remembered the day Miller called him to the governor’s office to talk about creating the Georgia Lottery to pay for education in the state. “We need to give Georgia hope,” Miller said.

Smyre said he then went with Miller to buy the first lottery ticket on Peachtree Street, “and the rest is history.”

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