Credit: Riley Bunch | GPB News
Crossover Day: Dozens of bills fly across lawmakers’ desks, but only some live on
Hundreds of bills making their way through the Georgia State Legislature have to pass one critical deadline: Crossover Day. Where if a proposal doesn’t make it through at least one chamber, it’s knocked out of the running to become law.
Tuesday marked the infamous day during the 2022 legislative session and although many big bills passed ahead of the date, lawmakers still spent a grueling number of hours signing off on quick-fixes and debating hot-button issues.
Controversial bills like those that limit discussions around race in classrooms, do away with a state permit to carry a concealed handgun in public or ban transgender athletes from school sports already passed out of their respective chambers ahead of Crossover Day.
But that didn’t mean smooth sailing for lawmakers under the Gold Dome.
For example, Senate lawmakers tried — unsuccessfully — to finally push a constitutional amendment for horse betting past a number of Republicans against it. And Democrats didn’t let the House majority pass new voting changes without a fight at 11 p.m.
Here’s a rundown of what did pass the deadline on the 28th day of session:
Lawmaker pay raise
House lawmakers passed a resolution that would let voters decide their salary in November. The constitutional amendment would put the question of a lawmaker pay-hike to voters on the ballot.
Currently, lawmakers make around $17,300 with a $5,000 state employee raise approved in the new budget. But legislators have been vying for a bigger increase for years without success.
If voters OK the measure, lawmakers would be paid 60% of the median household income in the state, beginning in 2025. Woodstock Republican Rep. Wes Cantrell, the bill’s sponsor, said it would raise the legislative salary to about $36,000 per year.
Both the House and Senate passed bills Tuesday that revisit the state’s broken medical marijuana system — one that has left patients empty-handed for years.
Georgia legislators are desperately working to revise the clumsy licensing system that drew protests from companies that missed out.
House Bill 1425 throws away the six licenses already granted to companies and starts the process over completely. Senate Bill 609 pushes forward with the current process but stipulates that six licenses be granted by the end of May. But both solutions could still face litigation either by companies who were granted the initial licenses or those who were denied.
Over 20,000 registered patients use cannabis oil to treat illnesses like Parkinsons, terminal cancer, and severe seizures. Many families say they’ve resorted to underground channels to get the life-saving drug.
The state Senate approved a measure that would add stiffer penalties for people convicted of certain crimes during protests. Senate Bill 171, sponsored by Cataula Republican Sen. Randy Robertson passed along party lines after a 45-minute debate.
“I promise you, this is needed legislation if you want to live in a safe community,” he said. “All we are telling citizens to do is if you want to go out and protest your government, if you want to go out and protest wrongdoing, you can absolutely do that.”
Sen. Michelle Au (D-Johns Creek), asked why the legislature would vote to remove the permitting process for concealed carry of firearms but add more requirements for public protests.
“We've recently heard the argument that a permitting process for carrying loaded firearms in public violates Georgians’ Second Amendment rights,” she said. “And here we see a permitting process required for assembly, protests and rallies. So given this, why is the Second Amendment more important than the First Amendment?”
A 39-page election bill that makes changes to behind-the-scenes voting rules passed the state House late Tuesday.
House Bill 1464, brought by Rep. James Burchett (R-Waycross) restricts outside grant funding for county offices, adds more chain of custody requirements to the elections process and allows the Georgia Bureau of Investigations to directly investigate election law violations, among other changes.
Democrats and voting rights groups say the GBI doesn't need new broad powers since the State Election Board investigates violations already, and that local elections officials are unnecessarily burdened by many of the new proposals.
Wrongful conviction compensation
House Bill 1354 takes the grueling process of granting compensation for Georgians wrongfully convicted of a crime out of the hands of lawmakers.
Traditionally, lawmakers offer resolutions to be voted on for how monetary compensation an individual gets from the state if they served time for a crime they were exonerated from.
Individuals would first have to be deemed innocent by the courts. Then, under the proposal, a board consisting of a judge, a district attorney, defense attorney and forensic science experts would review cases and recommend compensation — with a minimum amount of $50,000 and a maximum of $100,000.
Lawmakers hope the legislation brings more consistency across wrongful conviction compensation.