March 5, 2021

This week the legislature met for three days.  In between these session days, there was a myriad of committee meetings with everyone pushing to get their bills out of committee.  Monday, March 8, is “cross-over” day which means that a bill must have passed the chamber where it originated and crossed-over to the other chamber in order to still be alive for the 2021 legislative session.  As always, cross-over day will be an incredibly hectic and long day with lengthy calendars in both House and Senate.  Bills that don’t cross over can sometimes be tacked onto other bills that have crossed, otherwise they will be dead for this session.  Since Georgia has two-term sessions, bills that do not pass this time will still be alive for consideration in the 2022 session.

At the end of last week, the legislature adopted the Adjournment Resolution (HR 264) that will set the schedule for the remainder of the 2021 session. If there are no changes to this schedule, the final legislative day will be March 31.

The first bill taken up by the House this morning was the $27B FY ’22 budget which passed 136-31, after the House Minority Leader unsuccessfully tried to amend it.  This budget, as passed, highlights education and mental health.  In addition to the more than $1B restored to education in the amended ’21 budget, it restores an additional $567M in austerity cuts to K-12 education, and it more than doubles the budget for the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities.

On Monday, after a lengthy debate, the House passed Chairman Fleming’s election reform bill (HB 531) along party lines with a vote of 97-72.  The Senate Ethics Committee has continued to hold multiple hearings on various Senate election reform bills, and many of these bills are on the Senate calendar for March 8.

The House passed Chairman Blackmon’s “Tax Relief Act of 2021” (HB 593) which would cut state income taxes by increasing standard tax deductions.  The increases in standard deductions would be $800 for single taxpayers, $1100 for married couples filing jointly, and $1300 for over 65 or blind.  The cost to the state is an estimated $140M.  And they unanimously passed the Governor-backed bill that calls for fees collected to be used for their stated purpose rather than go into the state’s general fund (HB 511).

With bipartisan support, the House Judiciary Committee unanimously passed the bill supported by Governor Kemp that would repeal Georgia’s citizen’s arrest law (HB 497).

One of the Senate’s first orders of business this morning was taking up Chairman Mullis’ sports betting legislation (SR 135 and SB 142).  The constitutional amendment (SR 135) would require approval of sports betting by voters and SB 142 is the enabling legislation. Also this week, the Senate unanimously approved legislation (SB 140) to provide a monument to honor long-serving North Georgia native Zell Miller on the Capitol grounds.  The Senate also passed “nutty” legislation (SB 222) declaring the pecan to be the official state nut (because the peanut is a legume).

The Senate Government Oversight committee passed two bills that would suspend pay for public officials who have been indicted for felonies:  SB 218 deals with local officials and SR 134 covers state officials and legislators.  SR 134 is a constitutional amendment and would need to be approved by voters.

Chief Justice Harold Melton addressed the Senate after they honored him with a special resolution recognizing his years of service.  He announced last month that he would be retiring from the Ga. Supreme Court in July, 2021.  His State of the Judiciary speech will be delivered to House and Senate on March 16.


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