Voting and citizen’s arrest limits up for key votes at Georgia Capitol

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

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

The fate of some of Georgia’s most pressing bills might be decided Monday, a long day of voting on proposals that could include measures addressing absentee voting and citizen’s arrest laws.

In addition, state legislators could take up bills to raise their own pay, increase visitation with COVID-19 patients and people living in nursing homes, and limit transgender girls from participating in sports.

Monday is Crossover Day at the Georgia Capitol, the Legislature’s self-imposed deadline for bills to pass at least one legislative chamber, either the House or the Senate.

If a bill fails to make it out of a chamber by Monday, it is unlikely to pass this year.

But bills can still be revived even after the deadline. Lawmakers can add their bill onto legislation that has already advanced.

Several major proposals have already passed either the House or Senate, including a $27.2 billion state budget, a proposed constitutional amendment to allow sports betting and a bill that would put new limits on absentee and early voting.

ExploreAJC Bill Tracker for Crossover Day

Here’s a look at the bills that could be debated Monday:

Voting restrictions

All Georgia voters have been allowed to cast an absentee ballot since 2005, but that could change under Senate Bill 241.

The legislation would restrict absentee voting to people who are at least 65 years old, have a physical disability or are out of town.

The Republican-backed measure comes after a record 1.3 million Georgia voters used absentee ballots in last year’s presidential election, when Democrat Joe Biden defeated Republican Donald Trump.

In addition, the Senate could vote on a bill to end automatic voter registration, which signs up people to vote when they get a driver’s license. Under Senate Bill 69, Georgians would only be registered to vote if they check a box when applying for a license at the Department of Driver Services.

Since Georgia implemented automatic voter registration in fall 2016, the number of registered voters has increased by about 1.5 million, to a total of 7.7 million.

About our coverage

Providing the facts and context that help readers understand the current debate over voting laws is a priority for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. For a better understanding of the issues driving Legislative action, click on these links.

15 headlines that explain the current debate

Latest news on voting bills

Read and track status of voting bills

Citizen’s arrest

During his State of the State address in January, Gov. Brian Kemp made it a priority to overhaul the state law that allows Georgians to arrest someone they suspect of committing a crime.

House Bill 479 would repeal citizen’s arrest from state law while still allowing employees at businesses, security officers, private investigators and inspectors at truck scales to detain someone they believe has committed a crime. The bill also would allow law enforcement officers to make arrests outside their jurisdictions.

Critics of citizen’s arrest have said it has been systemically abused to disproportionately target Black Georgians.

The law gained national attention last year after the death of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man who was shot to death after being chased by three men who claimed they believed he was a burglar. Local prosecutors initially declined to charge the men, who are white, citing the citizen’s arrest law.

After video of Arbery’s death became public in May and the GBI began to investigate the case, the citizen’s arrest defense was disregarded and all three men were charged with murder. They have pleaded not guilty.

COVID-19 visits

Hospitals and nursing homes would be required to allow visitors, even during a health emergency such as the COVID-19 pandemic, according to House Bill 290.

The proposal would allow some contact with family members separated because of strict rules about human contact during the coronavirus.

Under the bill, health care facilities would have to allow a “legal representative” of the patient to be at his or her bedside at least one hour per day. A legal representative is defined as someone who is at least 21 years old and designated as someone who can act on behalf of the patient.

Opponents of the measure say they’re concerned that allowing more people into health care facilities could lead to more health risks among ill patients.

Transgender sports

Georgia’s senators could consider legislation that would require students who participate in high school sports to compete according to the gender that appears on their birth certificate.

Senate Bill 266 would ban schools from allowing transgender girls from participating in sports that align with their gender identity.

According to the bill, schools would have to define a student’s gender based on “a person’s reproductive biology and genetics at birth.” A young athlete who could prove she was deprived of an opportunity that was given to a transgender girl, or was harmed by a transgender girl while playing a sport, could then sue the school or school system for damages.

Lawmaker pay raise

Georgia’s part-time legislators are preparing to vote on a bill that would nearly double their pay, giving themselves a raise for the first time since 1999.

Legislators’ pay would increase from $16,200 a year to $29,908 under House Bill 675.

In addition, House Speaker David Ralston’s salary would go from about $99,000 to $135,000, and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan’s pay would rise from $91,609 to $135,000. Other statewide elected officers would also get a pay bump. The governor’s pay would remain the same, at $175,000.

The increases would cost about $3.2 million a year.

Crossover Day coverage

Follow coverage of Georgia’s most important bills all day Monday on AJC.com as the General Assembly votes on dozens of measures. In addition, readers can track key bills as they move through the process by using the AJC’s Legislative Navigator.