2021 State Legislative Session

The 2021 Georgia General Assembly legislative session is currently ongoing, scheduled to end April 2. Here’s a guide to some of the legislation being considered:

Voter Suppression Bills

HB 228: Requires that driver’s licenses granted to non-citizens include the words “BEARER NOT A U.S. CITIZEN — NOT VOTER ID.”

HB 270: Would prevent elections boards from issuing absentee ballots within 10 days of an election.

HB 366 / SB 69: Would make voter registration through obtaining one’s driver’s license opt-in rather than opt-out.

HB 373 / SB 72: Would require county coroners to send monthly updates to the county election board of citizens that passed away the month prior. County Boards are already required to monitor and record deaths.

HB 531: Photo IDs with absentee ballots, shrinks the amount of time in which to request an absentee ballot, reduces the number and times during which one can use dropboxes to vote, gives less time to count votes. Here, read GPB on it. HB 531 has passed the house (Frye – N, Gaines – Y, Wiedower – Y) and is being considered by the senate.

SB 29 / SB 67: Would require photo ID with both absentee ballot request and absentee ballot submission. SB 67 has passed the senate (Cowsert – Y, Ginn – Y) and is being considered by the house (the Special Committee on Election Integrity). Here’s a call to action about it.

SB 68: Eliminates voting dropboxes.

SB 70: Prevents anyone who didn’t cast a ballot in a general election from voting in a runoff.

SB 71: Eliminates no-excuse absentee voting.

SB 73: Makes it illegal for third party groups, such as nonprofit groups geared toward “get out the vote” efforts, to mail out absentee ballot applications. Prohibits anyone other than the Secretary of State, elections superintendents, Board of Registrars, the candidate, or the candidate’s campaign committee from sending out absentee ballot applications.

SB 74: Adds additional regulations to poll watchers and their access at polling/tabulation locations. Allows poll watchers all-access to the tabulating center, instead of being restricted to designated areas, except as needed for security or to prevent interference.

SB 89: Allows the State Elections Board to replace County Elections Superintendents for “low-performing” election offices and creates an “elections assistance officer” in the secretary of state’s office. Passed the senate (Cowsert – Y, Ginn – Y) and is being considered by the house.

SB 93: Restricts portable/mobile polling locations unless the existing polling place is deemed unsafe.

SB 178: Bans governments from mailing unsolicited absentee ballot request forms.

SB 184: Reduces the amount of time to count absentee ballots; co-sponsored by Bill Cowsert. Passed the senate (Cowsert – Y, Ginn – Y) and is being considered by the house (the Special Committee on Election Integrity).

SB 241: Another omnibus bill full of voter suppression: ends no-excuse absentee voting for anyone not 65+, disabled, out of state, observing a religious holiday, or other narrow excuse; require ID and a witness signature for those who meet the standards above; restricts the use of mobile voting buses; requires judges to hear election lawsuits within two business days of filing and decide them as soon as possible; creates a voter intimidation and illegal election activities hotline; limits the ability of the State Election Board and the Secretary of State to enter into certain consent agreements; bans drop boxes and requires that ballots are returned to Election Clerk’s offices; prohibits early in-person voting at non-government owned buildings; requires a court order to extend voting hours; allows the Secretary of State to audit mail ballots either statewide or to target individual counties; and allows the State Elections Board to recommend a board of elections be removed and replaced with members of their choosing. YEESH.

Criminal Justice Reform

HB 45 / HB 479: Eliminates citizens’ arrest, with a few exceptions. One of the few actual good things that might pass this session. Prompted by murder of Ahmaud Arbery.

HB 286: Authored by Rep. Houston Gaines (R-Athens) and co-sponsored by Marcus Wiedower, this bill prohibits county governing authorities from reducing funding for county police departments beyond the most minute amount, taking away local control over budgets. Here’s Flagpole writing about it.  See also SB 171HB 286 has passed the house (Frye – N, Gaines – Y, Wiedower – Y) and is currently in the senate.

SB 105: This bill supported by the Georgia Justice Project provides a unified process by which individuals that have served at least three years on probation and have successfully met a list of eligibility criteria can seek early termination of their probation sentence. It’s a rare good thing and has passed the senate unanimously (Cowsert did not vote on it [he was “excused”] and Ginn voted for it).

Education

HB 60: The Georgia Association of Educators says, “a voucher bill that would make students eligible for taxpayer-funded, private school tuition if the public school in which they are enrolled is not offering a full-time, in-person classroom option.”

SB 47: Expands the use of vouchers. GAE says, “SB47 would expand the use of private school vouchers, diverting desperately-needed resources away from public education, in order to fund the education of families who can afford to pay the extra costs of private schooling. Private school vouchers do not adequately serve low-income students because the cost of tuition and fees at schools that accept vouchers generally exceeds the amount of the voucher, making voucher schools unaffordable for most low-income families. Contact the members of the Education committee to tell them not to rob public education funding.” SB 47 has passed the senate (Cowsert – Y, Ginn – Y) and is being considered by the house.

Environment

HB 150 / SB 102: Would prohibit governmental entities from adopting any policy that prohibits the connection or reconnection of any utility service based upon the type or source of energy or fuel. IN other words, it limits the control of local governments to adopt environmentally minded policies. Local senator Bill Cowsert is a sponsor of SB 102. HB 150 has passed the house (Frye – N, Gaines – Y, Wiedower – Y) and is currently in the senate. Here’s a call to action on these bills.

HB 355: The Georgia Conservancy supports this bill authored by Marcus Wiedower (and cosponsored by Houston Gaines) and writes that it “seeks to establish a carbon registry in Georgia that would enable the creation and tracking of carbon credits that can be accrued and then sold by developers to companies looking to offset their carbon footprint. The registry would include carbon credits for the use of sustainable building products, such as CO2 infused concrete, mass timber, carbon-neutral flooring, and all wood products, in statewide construction projects. Housed at the State Forestry Commission, the registry allows for the verification of structures by an independent third-party so as to determine the number of credits issued to the developer. Participation in the registry would be voluntary.” It seems… okay.

Guns

HB 2: “Constitutional Carry,” i.e., eliminate gun licenses.

Healthcare

HB 146: Would provide three weeks of paid parental leave for eligible state employees and eligible local board of education employees. Sponsored by Houston Gaines. Doesn’t go nearly far enough but is better than what we have now, which is nothing. HB 146 has passed the house  (Frye – Y, Gaines – Y, Wiedower – Y) and is currently in the senate.

HB 413: Bans requiring COVID-19 vaccines “as a condition for employment, school attendance, professional licensure, educational certification or degree, admittance to any place of business or entertainment, or access to any mode of transportation.”

LGBTQ+

HB 276 / SB 266: Prohibits schools (public and private) and University System of Georgia from having athletic programs or activities “that permit a person whose gender is male to participate in an athletic program or activity that is designated for females.” Obviously, this deliberately misunderstands “gender” and is anti-trans.

HB 372: “‘Gender’ means a person’s biological sex at birth and shall be recognized based on a person’s reproductive organs at birth.” <– more anti-trans nonsense.

HB 401: Prohibits any healthcare professional from performing any procedure on a minor with the purpose of attempting to affirm the minor’s sex, if the minor’s sexual perception is different than their biological sex

Other Bad Things

HB 112: Extends business immunity from COVID-19-related lawsuits for an extra year, through August 2021, making it much harder to sue businesses who aren’t keeping the health of their employees and customers in mind during a pandemic.

SB 171: The “Safe Communities Act of 2021” is an anti-protesting bill that creates new penalties for offenses committed during “unlawful assemblies” and withholds funding from any governing authority that reduces the budget of a law enforcement agency by 30 percent or more over one year.

Other Good Things

HB 65: Houston Gaines, Marcus Wiedower and Spencer Frye are the three co-authors on this bill that would move Athens’ nonpartisan elections back to November.

HB 255: Would create a statewide rape-kit tracking system for sexual assault victims.

HB 317: Would require platforms like Airbnb and VRBO to collect and remit hotel/motel taxes on short-term rentals.