Sine Die at the Capitol

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Often it’s a little more than, “This is a good bill. Help kids, create jobs and level the playing field. People in the room (lobbyists) all agree on that. I would appreciate your support.

For Senator Nan Orrock, D-Atlanta, which hasn’t been around as long as Smyre but was elected when Ronald Reagan was president, the last day is the time to stay super alert. It’s a moment when measures with dubious purpose suddenly appear around 11:47 p.m., when the 236 lawmakers are eager to hit the freeway home.

Especially this year, when most of them have to start campaigning for re-election.

“The train wreckage at the end allows a few people behind the curtain to do their agendas with minimal transparency,” Orrock said. “They want to get the fish to the freezer before it starts to stink.

“You have to watch your back and watch the road ahead.”

Legend

Members of the Georgia Senate throw torn paper in the air after Sine Die, the end of the General Assembly’s 40-day legislative session. (Alyssa Pointer / [email protected])

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / [email protected]

Members of the Georgia Senate throw torn paper in the air after Sine Die, the end of the General Assembly's 40-day legislative session.  (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / [email protected]

callout arrowLegend

Members of the Georgia Senate throw torn paper in the air after Sine Die, the end of the General Assembly’s 40-day legislative session. (Alyssa Pointer / [email protected])

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / [email protected]

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / [email protected]

May be more than most years, much of the heavy lifting has already been done.

As state tax coffers overflowed, Gov. Brian Kemp — in the midst of his own re-election campaign — and lawmakers had more money to spend than ever.

They passed a record mid-year budget that included big raises and bonuses for 300,000 state, college and K-12 employees, promises of increases in the cost of life for state pensioners and a host of other funding increases for crime control, mental health and pretty much every area of ​​government.

Kemp signed that budget into law earlier this month. He also signed legislation to return about $1.1 billion in state surplus to taxpayers and another bill to suspend state gasoline taxes to lower fuel prices. .

Last week, the General Assembly sent him Speaker of the House David Ralston top priority – an overhaul of the state’s inadequate mental health system. They also sent Kemp’s office — and he signed a law — legislation that allows parents who don’t want their children to wear masks as a precaution against the coronavirus to opt out of any school district mandate.

The General Assembly gave final approval to a law that would change the process for removing books from schools due to complaints from parents about obscenity, and another law that would give parents the right to see the curriculum used in their child’s class. The Republican majority also won final passage of a bill that would allow Georgians to carry handguns without first obtaining a permit.

Many of the bills that have passed — and will be debated at the end of the session — aim to shore up the Republican base. Kemp embraced the agenda this year as he faces a primary challenge from former U.S. Senator David Perdue, who is backed by former President Donald Trump.

The former president doesn’t have much to say about Kemp, as he wouldn’t agree to illegally nullify the 2020 election in favor of Trump. Kemp therefore leaves nothing to chance for the May primary.

Democrats, in the minority, have a limited chance of passing legislation, but they’ve spent a lot of time pointing out bills they say are more meant to play GOP primary voters than solve problems , real or imagined.

On the final day, lawmakers have yet to pass a state budget for the coming fiscal year and will try to determine how much of an election-year income tax cut they want to deliver.

GOP lawmakers will want to give final approval to a measure to ban certain ways of teaching about race in schools. They will debate legislation to make more changes to election laws after last year’s rewrite, which passed following Republican losses at the polls in the 2020 vote. They could consider legislation to ultimately ignite the medical marijuana production program in Georgia and may consider a bill prohibiting women from receiving the abortion pill in the mail.

And then there will likely be proposals that few have heard of except the people who proposed them.

For Ways from home and means President Shaw Blackmon, R-Bonaire, whose committee passes tax breaks coveted by business lobbyists, this will be its eighth 40th day. He describes them as “very intense”.

“You have to be super alert. I think that’s kind of how you approach it, because there’s a lot going on,” he said. “If you do your homework in advance, it’s not as chaotic.

“What you have is a lot of people who are heavily invested in the legislation that they want to see across the finish line and everyone is scrambling to get it. It’s a lot of pushing and pulling.

Last year, members of both chambers combined to garner around 200 votes on the final day of the marathon.

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House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones awaits the start of a rules committee meeting in the late afternoon. It is the panel that decides which legislation will get a floor vote. BOB ANDRES /[email protected]

Credit: Bob Andres

House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones awaits the start of a rules committee meeting in the late afternoon.  It is the panel that decides which legislation will get a floor vote.  BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

Credit: Bob Andres

callout arrowLegend

House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones awaits the start of a rules committee meeting in the late afternoon. It is the panel that decides which legislation will get a floor vote. BOB ANDRES /[email protected]

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

The last day of a session can be a long chore. But the unexpected can and does happen too.

The most famous example occurred in 1964, when Danish State Representative Groover de Macon, a brilliant lawyer and former Marine fighter pilot, hung above the House Chamber , trying to prevent time from running out in a legislative session. It didn’t fall, but the clock did.

In 1992, the General Assembly approved a bill at the last minute that included an amendment pushed by the doctors’ lobby that was so poorly drafted that it made it a crime for nurses to give injections and for diabetics from getting injections.

outgoing Rules of the Senate Chairman Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, recalls a bill passed by lawmakers at the end of a session intended to prevent unscrupulous lenders from taking advantage of the elderly. They had to fix the problem in the next session because it was also preventing Grandma and Grandpa from getting a loan.

With two hours left in the 2012 session, the Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill protecting the identity of people applying for hunting and fishing licenses. What the sponsor failed to mention is that it also sealed the records of some ethics cases filed against politicians. After a reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution discovered it and posted it on social media, good government lobbyists and bloggers picked it up and the House killed the measure.

One of the unique features of the 40th day is that although it occurs in late March or early April, it is usually celebrated with a “Christmas tree”.

It’s what lawmakers call tax relief legislation that has a bunch of other tax breaks — the adornments — attached to it. In recent years it has also been referred to as “Frankenbill”.

Bills that said one thing in January are being stripped down and changed to something else entirely. In her variation on “It’s not over until the fat lady sings,” Mullis told her colleagues last week, “The fat lady isn’t in the building, so life isn’t not finished for nothing.”

Legislators like to say that they always know what they are voting on. But Neill Herring, who lobbied the Capitol for the Sierra Club for decades, doubted it.

Regarding the proposals that appear late at night, Herring said, “Anyone who knows what they are voting on knows. And there aren’t many people there. »


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