February 5, 2021

The Georgia legislature met Monday through Thursday this week and has completed twelve legislative days.  They will reconvene on Monday, February 8, with the Senate session beginning at 10:00 a.m. and the House session beginning at 1:00 p.m.

The Senate Appropriations Committee passed out the supplemental budget yesterday morning.  The Senate version had some increases in certain areas of the budget but overall agreed with the House version.  Senate Appropriations changes include an $11M bond redirect to go to the Department of Public Health, $7.5M to go to the Governor’s emergency fund, and money for a new position to deal with unemployment claims within the Department of Labor.  This budget should be voted on by the full Senate next week.

The Senate unanimously passed legislation (SB 6) that would allow the Chairs of the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways & Means Committee to request independent economic reviews of tax breaks that are given to businesses on the promise of creating jobs in order to track the value of the tax credits to the state.  The Senate has passed similar versions of this bill several times, but those bills have either failed to make it to final passage or were vetoed by Governor Kemp.  Senate Finance Chair Chuck Hufstetler has also stated that he would like a broader-based study of the state’s current tax system.

There were many House and Senate committee meetings this week.  The House Economic Development committee passed legislation that would legalize online sports betting (HB 86).  The bill authorizes the Georgia Lottery Commission to manage this online betting and would provide an estimated $40M in proceeds going to HOPE college scholarships. It is supported by the Atlanta Braves, Falcons, Hawks and United organizations. The House Special Committee on Access to the Civil Justice System approved legislation (HB 112) to extend until July 2022 the protection of businesses from COVID lawsuits, unless a business shows “gross negligence or reckless or intentional infliction of harm.”  The Senate Regulated Industries committee held two days of hearings to get an update on broadband expansion and hear presentations from telecom, cable, and satellite companies as well as, the EMCs and the Public Service Commission.

Rep. John Carson is recommending changes to the distracted driving law that he authored and the General Assembly approved in 2018.  This bill (HB 247) would eliminate the option that first offenders could bring in proof of purchase of a cell phone holder in order to have their distracted driving charges dropped.  It would also set the penalties at $50 for the first offense, $100 for the second offense and $150 or the third offense.  Currently, a judge could impose a lower fine but has the option to penalize an offender up to those amounts.

For the third year in a row, Rep. Wes Cantrell has introduced legislation for the state to be on permanent Daylight Saving Time (HB 44).  While the idea is gaining in popularity with Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee also considering it, it is unlikely to pass, and if it were to pass, it would need Congressional approval. Senator Ben Watson has introduced a different time observance bill calling for the state to be on Standard Time year-round until Congress approves the Daylight Saving option (SB 100).

Both parties have introduced numerous bills to revise current election law.  In the Senate, election-related bills are going to the Ethics Committee.  In the House, Speaker Ralston created the Special Committee on Election Integrity, chaired by Rep. Barry Fleming, to handle these bills.  Yesterday that House committee passed a bill to change the deadline for requesting an absentee ballot from the Friday prior to a Tuesday election to 10 days prior to election (HB 270).

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