The Closing Act

Setting the Scene: Long Days and Lots of Bills

As the curtain opened on legislative days 36, 37 and 38, legislators deliberated bills in Committees until midnight, sending a regular flow of House bills to the Senate floor.

As Senators came to the well to give quick bill summaries, I started documenting all the ways legislators refer to a bill.

Here are the Top Ten:

10) Housekeeping bill
9) Transparency bill
8) Frankenstein/Zombie bill
7) Department bill
6) Lawyer bill
5) Christmas tree bill
4) Governor’s bill
3) Clean-up bill
2) Good bill

And the Number One kind of bill. Ta-da!

1) Simple bill. (Beware the simple bill!)

A Cold-Reading: Agrees and Disagrees

When a bill is amended in the other chamber, it must come back to the original chamber so a motion can be made to agree or disagree to the changes. Printouts of these amended bills are placed on our desks prior to the motion being made, but there is no mandatory waiting period to give us time to read the changes. One day last week, I picked up a printout of an amended bill just before the motion was made, and the pages were still warm from the copier. It was not a simple bill!

Thankfully, that’s why we have a Caucus lawyer who supervises a team of law school externs! I don’t know what we would do without them.

School Vouchers: The most significant motion to agree/disagree we had this week in the Senate was SB233, the school vouchers bill. Governor Kemp has been trying to pass this bill since his first year in office. Until now, Democrats, along with rural Republicans, have been able to stop school voucher bills from passing. But this year, with significant pressure from the far-right and primary elections imminent, the Senate agreed with the House and the bill is ready for the Governor’s signature. If taxpayers paid enough taxes to support both public and private schools, vouchers would be okay, but that is not the case.

Cue the Bad Bills


In the wake of UGA student Laken Riley’s death by an undocumented immigrant, Republicans pushed bad immigration bills fraught with unintended consequences. Sanctuary cities have been illegal in Georgia since 2009, but HB 301 allows anyone, even those living outside the local area, to sue local governments they suspect to be loose with immigration reporting laws, which could ultimately result in a loss of federal or state funds, or removal of local elected officials. This has the potential to tie local jurisdictions up in endless unnecessary litigation.

HB 1105 requires law enforcement officers to arrest and detain anyone involved in criminal activity and suspected of being an undocumented immigrant. They must then work with ICE to confirm their immigration status and generate regular reports. This puts additional administrative burdens on local law enforcement and could result in racial profiling.

Tax Cut:

HB 1015 accelerates a state income tax reduction, a top Republican priority, down to 5.39% from 6% where it had been since the 1930s. Democrats oppose these cuts because our state government is already severely underfunded. Year after year during budget hearings, state department heads report severe staff turnover — some as high as 40% — and difficulties hiring new staff. So many important priorities, like our University System and our public health system, are underfunded.

Tort Reform:

Limiting consumer access to the courts is one of Governor Kemp’s top priorities. HB 1114 allows the State Insurance Commission to collect a variety of data from insurance companies to analyze how tort liability affects insurance rates. While the bill may seem harmless, it sets the stage for changes in the law that could disadvantage consumers. Democrats united to vote against it and at least two Republican lawyers abstained from voting. The bill only got 28 yes votes, just one short of passing. This is yet another example of how shrinking Republican margins help stop bad bills. The Senate Pro-Tem moved for reconsideration, so this bill may come up again next week.

A Medicaid Expansion Minidrama

Senator Davis Lucas from Macon, who has served in the legislature since 1974, became the lead actor in orchestrating a compromise between Democrats pushing for Medicaid Expansion and Republicans wanting to reform Certificate of Need (CON) laws that regulate the healthcare market. Both Medicaid expansion and CON reform play a role in stabilizing our healthcare market and expanding access to healthcare.

All session long, Sen. Lucas worked with senior Senate Republicans on a Medicaid expansion bill. Then he got several Democrats to support CON reform. Then our Caucus Leader got the Lt. Governor to agree to a floor vote for Medicaid expansion.

The drama came to its final and tragic conclusion this week. Sen. Lucas thought he had the votes, including the Committee Chair, to pass his Medicaid expansion bill out of Committee. Once the hearing got underway, it was clear the Governor had gotten to the Chair who kept asking, “Why not allow the Governor’s Pathways program more time to work?” Only a fraction of those eligible for Georgia Pathways have signed up so far, probably due to impractical work requirements. A non-committee Republican Senator was temporarily added to the Committee to bolster votes. Ultimately, the dramatic vote was 7-6, forcing the Chair to tie the votes with a no, for a final vote of 7-7. While extremely disappointing, this was the furthest we’ve ever gotten with Medicaid expansion and proof that Republicans are interested in expanding Medicaid because they know their hospitals need it.

A Plot Twist and a Cliffhanger: SB 198

We learned on Day 37 that SB 198, my bill to create an Innovation Commission for Adults with Developmental Disabilities was hijacked, which means it was completely stripped and replaced by the House Committee with a pharmacy manager bill.

Will this be the end for SB 198? Stay tuned…

Waiting in the Wings: Study Committee Resolutions

My highlight of the week was a hearing in the Senate Higher Education Committee for SR 770, a Study Committee resolution to examine how to best expand higher education opportunities in prisons. I so enjoy mentoring students and it was a real pleasure to give Lillian Hanson, our Intern this session, the chance to take a deep dive into her interest in criminal justice reform, build relationships with partners, write the legislation, organize testimony for the resolution and ultimately present it to the Committee. She did a beautiful job and SR 770 passed unanimously, even gaining the support of the lone Senator (who shall-not-be-named) that always votes no!

Lillian also helped write my other Study Committee resolution, SR 806, “The Impact of Social Media on Children and Platform Protection.” This year, the Lt. Governor passed SB 351 which requires parental permission for kids to create social media accounts. But kids know how to get around parental permissions and age verification. SR 806 will help us find ways to go downstream to keep harmful content and addictive features from being available on social media platforms and keep digital companies accountable for known harms.

A Curtain Call: The Last Two Legislative Days

The Senate Rules Committee will meet Monday morning. They’ll set the calendar for the last two legislative days. I’ll be there to present both of the Study Committee resolutions.

Next week, we may also name the Official State Crustacean (HB 1341) — can you guess what it is?

Sine Die is on Thursday. I’ll be in touch after session to let you know how you can help me with my Primary election. Early voting starts April 29th!