What bills from Georgia’s 2021 session will Brian Kemp sign into law?

Gov. Brian Kemp has 40 days to decide which bills he will sign into law and which ones he will veto. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Gov. Brian Kemp has 40 days to decide which bills he will sign into law and which ones he will veto. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

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

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

The end of the legislative session kicks off the start of a 40-day window for Gov. Brian Kemp to decide which measures he’ll sign into law and which he’ll leave in the dustbin.

The Republican hasn’t been shy about using the red pen, nixing 14 measures in 2019 and an additional four last year, though some of the attention-grabbing measures that have come to his desk this year are either in the books or assured to earn his signature.

Kemp has already signed a sweeping overhaul of the state’s election system that includes new restrictions to voting, plus a modest state income tax cut.

He’s also sure to approve a measure to overhaul a Civil War-era citizen’s arrest law that came under scrutiny after the shooting death of a Black man in South Georgia and a $27.2 billion spending plan that includes extra money for schools, health care and roads.

But there are a range of other measures that could be trickier decisions for the governor, who is wrestling with pushback from the GOP base thanks to former President Donald Trump’s wrath as well as an expected rematch from Democrat Stacey Abrams.

ExploreAJC Bill Tracker: Which bills have been signed, vetoed by Gov. Kemp

Here’s a closer look at the top measures that passed the General Assembly:

Citizen’s arrest

Kemp turned heads in January when he devoted a portion of his State of the State address to call for the rewrite of a state citizen’s arrest law dating to the 1860s that was cited by a prosecutor to justify not charging three white men in the deadly shooting of Ahmaud Arbery.

Calling it an “archaic” rule, Kemp endorsed House Bill 479 to overhaul the citizen’s arrest law that allows most residents to arrest someone they suspect of committing a crime.

The new version, which passed with only one “no” vote in the Legislature, would no longer let most residents arrest someone they suspect of committing a crime. Instead, only security guards, store employees and certain others would be able to detain someone they believe has violated the law.

Kemp has promised to quickly sign the measure into law, saying it would send “a clear message that the Peach State will not tolerate sinister acts of vigilantism in our communities.”

Defund the police

In a backlash to last year’s protests for social justice, Georgia lawmakers approved a bill that would ban local governments from significantly cutting funding for law enforcement.

House Bill 286 was filed after some social justice advocates demanded that local officials shift money from police forces toward mental heath treatment and community programming.

Critics say the bill violates an oft-stated Republican principle of allowing local governments to have control over local issues and that it’s an unnecessary new restriction. While Athens-Clarke County and Atlanta officials considered drastically cutting police budgets, both wound up not doing so.

The final version would ban cities and counties from reducing their law enforcement budgets by more than 5% in one year or cumulatively across five years — and also give Kemp a base-pleasing talking point headed into a tough reelection campaign.

The budget

Worried the pandemic would send tax collections plummeting, lawmakers in June cut 10% from the budget. Instead, Georgia’s revenue has improved along with the economy, and the federal COVID-19 stimulus will send the state $4.6 billion or so that Kemp and lawmakers must still decide how to use.

When he signs it into law, expect Kemp to promote the budget as a vindication of his aggressive approach to reopening the state’s economy during the coronavirus pandemic.

Tax breaks

Just about every year lawmakers pin one measure with so many special-interest tax breaks that it becomes known as the “Christmas tree” bill for all of its ornamentation.

This year, Senate Bill 6 included a host of incentives for short-line railroads, medical device makers, concrete suppliers and mega-site corporate projects. But it also includes a provision that would clear the way for new reviews to determine whether some tax breaks actually do what lawmakers were told they would do.

Georgia doesn’t require an audit of industry spending and has seldom conducted a review of whether the state’s subsidies are effective. Under this measure, House and Senate leaders can request analyses of five provisions of state tax law each year.

Campaign finance

After record-breaking campaign spending in 2020, state lawmakers moved to loosen the spigots even more.

Senate Bill 221 would let powerful officials such as Kemp, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and House Speaker David Ralston create new “leadership” committees that could take money from lobbyists and special interests during the legislative session. And a late effort to restrict how those new groups could rake in campaign cash was scuttled on the session’s final day.

Cocktails to go

Georgia restaurants took a beating during the coronavirus pandemic. Now the state is on the cusp of letting them sell cocktails to go.

Georgia law already allows the sale of beer and wine to go, but Senate Bill 236 would extend that to mixed alcoholic drinks. Under the changes, the restaurants would be able to sell up to two mixed drinks in sealed containers to customers who order food.

About the Author

ajc.com

In Other News