A proposal to create a new school voucher program, legislation banning transgender girls from playing on girls sports teams and a pay raise for state lawmakers were among the bills left behind as a key legislative deadline came and went Monday.
House lawmakers continued to flirt with passing their own version of a bill that would legalize and regulate sports betting, all for naught. It was not necessary, though, after the Senate passed a bill and accompanying constitutional amendment last week.
Monday was dominated with emotional debate in the House over visitor access at long-term care facilities and hospitals during a pandemic. The Senate, meanwhile, heard hours of debate over voting bills that are among the most restrictive in the country.
Citizen’s arrest overhaul passes in the House
A Civil War-era law that was originally cited as justification in the murder of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery cleared the House with a unanimous vote Monday.
A southeast Georgia prosecutor initially said three white men were attempting to make a citizen’s arrest last February when one of them shot Arbery, who is Black, in a Brunswick-area neighborhood.
The measure that passed Monday repealed the law with a few exceptions, such as retaining a shoplifter at a store and police officers who are out of their jurisdiction. The bill follows a hate crimes law that passed last year in the wake of Arbery’s death.
“Ahmaud’s death is not in vain,” said Rep. Bert Reeves, a Marietta Republican who sponsored the bill. “Because we’re going to bring change. We are bringing change. Ahmaud – and his life and legacy – is going to be that agent of change.”
Reeves, who is the governor’s floor leader, said there were “decades of lynchings that took place in Georgia where this law was used as part of that justification.” Most states have some version of a citizen’s arrest law on the books.
Democrats have pressed for the repeal of the law for years. That push gained momentum – and bipartisan support – after a video of Arbery’s death was widely viewed in May.
“Now is the time. If not now, when? Now is the time for us to act,” said longtime Rep. Calvin Smyre, a Columbus Democrat.
Lawmaker pay raise flops
A late push to give lawmakers a pay raise starting in 2023 floundered Monday after the Senate rejected the proposal.
The bill would have nearly doubled what lawmakers are paid, bringing their $17,342 up to about $30,000. Statewide elected officials, except the governor, would have also seen a significant pay raise. The new salaries, which would have been the first pay hike since 1990s, were in line with recommendations from a 2018 compensation study.
The Senate defeated the measure with a 20-to-33 vote. House lawmakers had planned to put it to a vote but the bill was never called Monday.
Sen. Greg Dolezal, a Cumming Republican, said the increases are just too steep for part-time legislators.
“I do think that our salaries are too low,” Dolezal said. “But I do think moving us to a salary that is in line with full-time jobs for the average Georgians that send us here is not reflective of the work that we during the three months we spend here at the Capitol.”
Chief labor officer bill passes the Senate
State senators followed through on a threat to hire an appointed chief labor officer at the Department of Labor.
Sen. Marty Harbin, a Tyrone Republican, said he hopes the “oversight assistance” will expedite unemployment claims and help the state agency respond quickly to requests for documents for auditing purposes. Lawmakers have already started socking away $100,000 for the person selected by the governor and approved by Harbin’s Senate committee.
Lawmakers have said they have heard a groundswell of complaints from constituents who found themselves out of work after the COVID-19 pandemic brought the economy to a crawl, causing historic unemployment claims.
But Harbin ran into concerns from his own party that the measure was an overstep by legislators that would undermine the work of the state’s elected statewide labor commissioner.
Mark Butler, who is a Republican, has held the office for a decade. He said in an earlier interview that the bill was “not a very helpful or fruitful proposal.”
The bill passed with a 32-to-18 vote, with a couple Democrats voting with Republicans in opposition. It now goes to the House.
‘Pay to play’ one day?
Rep. Chuck Martin says his bill will allow Georgia’s college athletes to “have a seat at the table” when it comes time to negotiate compensation for the commercial use of their name, likeness and image.
“That is certainly something that is going to be done nationwide,” the Alpharetta Republican said. “This bill seeks to put in Georgia code that – when that happens – our Georgia student-athletes in public or private institutions will be treated fairly and will have a seat at the table.”
His bill easily cleared the House with a unanimous vote and heads to the Senate.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association has banned players from being compensated beyond scholarships, but that has been challenged in the courts and Congress may weigh in too. Other states, like Florida and California, have already passed their own laws.
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