by Robin Kemp

It’s the 40th legislative day at the Georgia Assembly, where a phalanx of supporters dressed in black, led by three Black armed guards carrying semiautomatic rifles and followed by several ACLU legal observers, again walked Minority Caucus Secretary Rep. Park Cannon (D-58, Atlanta) into the building this morning.

Rep. Mickey Stephens (D-165, Savannah) was wheeled into the House, where he received a standing ovation from his colleagues. Stephens has had ongoing health issues since at least 2019.

Rep. Mike Glanton (D-75, Jonesboro) was excused today. The rest of the Clayton County delegation, House and Senate, was present.

Among the bills on today’s House calendar:

  • SB 226 would allow school principals to determine which books should be banned from school libraries when a parent complains in writing.
  • Three bills about health were referred back to the House Rules Committee: SB 46, which would allow EMTs to administer vaccines during a public health emergency; SB 164, which would update language about people living with HIV, cut the penalty for knowingly infecting someone with HIV to five years instead of 10, and drop the requirement that an HIV test be approved by the regulations of the Department of Community Health; and SB 256, which would allow two public health districts to be combined, and make the district health director the CEO of the county board of health–a bill that could impact the Clayton County Health District specifically.
  • SB 204 would allow technical colleges to award high school diplomas instead of GEDs.
  • On Monday, Rep. Sandra Scott (D-76, Rex) introduced HB 822, which would declare March 8 “Southern Crescent Women in Business Day.” The bill was referred to the Committee on State Planning and Community Affairs.

The morning session involved a predictably corny bit of points of privilege about making the “puh-con” or “pee-can” the state nut of Georgia.

The afternoon was far less collegial. During a debate on the final passage of SB 115, a bill that would require students taking drivers’ ed to learn how to interact with police. Specifically, it would include “(1) The best practices of what a driver should do during a traffic stop initiated by a law  enforcement officer;  (2) Recommendations for interacting with law enforcement officers during traffic stops;  (3) The consequences associated with continuous citations and habitual violations; and  (4) Understanding officer discretion in relation to action taken during a traffic stop,  which may include, but not be limited to, requesting identification, use of force,  detainment, pursuits, and legal warnings.” Black legislators spoke against the bill, introduced by Sen. Randy Robertson (R-29, Cataula), sponsored in the House by Rep. Martin Momtahan (R-17, Dallas). Rep. Jasmine Clark (D-108, Lilburn), Rep. Erica Thomas (D-39, Austell) took the well, invoking the beating of Roderick Walker by Clayton County Sheriff’s Deputies, among other traffic stop incidents. Cannon, less than a week after Georgia State Troopers and Capitol Police removed her from the Gold Dome for knocking on Gov. Kemp’s door during his signing of SB 202, also stated a point of privilege against the bill. Several Black legislators left the floor for the sideroom, while another group of white legislators removed to the hall. One of the white representatives said, “We’re out here because it’s easier to hear. It’s too loud in there.” (No speaker who took the well was shouted down and the proceedings were audible.) Momtahan and other Republican House leaders dismissed the opposition’s concerns. Momtahan said a move to include information about constitutional rights had nothing to do with drivers’ ed. Pointing out that he is a person of color from Persia (Iran), he said his father graduated from Clark Atlanta University and asked repeatedly, “Did you read the bill?…Hijacking bills just to politicize public safety has to stop.” He added the bill would educate teenage girls to pull into a well-lit area in case they are pulled over–as a way to avoid being raped by predators posing as police officers. The bill passed 98-72.

The House agreed to pass a Senate substitute for HB 98, which included language requiring government bodies who meet by teleconference to conduct the online meeting as it would an in-person meeting–and allow the public to take part as if they were there, too: “The participation by teleconference of members  of agencies or committees means full participation in the same manner as if such  members were physically present. In the event such teleconference meeting is a public  hearing, members of the public must be afforded the means to participate fully in the  same manner as if such members of the public were physically present.” The bill passed 151-1.

House Bill 286 with a Senate substitute would prevent county governments from cutting police department budgets more than 5%, annually or over five years. If actual or anticipated revenue decreases are more than 5%, the county cannot cut the police department budget more than that percentage.

The House voted unanimously for a Senate amendment to House Bill 479, which specifically outlaws use of deadly force during citizens’ arrests, as in the case of Ahmaud Arbery and, in Clayton County, Kenneth Herring. (The bill repealed Georgia’s citizens’ arrest law, dating from 1863.) Both Black men were shot and killed by white people who were attempting citizens’ arrests. The bill, which had bipartisan support and the backing of Gov. Brian Kemp, repealed Georgia’s existing citizens’ arrest laws, which The suspect in Herring’s shooting, Hannah Payne, was charged in June 2019 and was granted bond twice. The last recorded action in her case was July 23, 2020, when Superior Court Judge Shana Rooks Malone denied a motion to modify Payne’s bond. A jury had been called in November 2019 and a jury trial date set for December 9, 2019. Soon after, the COVID-19 pandemic put jury trials on hold.

The bill does not do away with citizens’ arrests; it defines narrow circumstances under which they may take place. It also does not eliminate Georgia’s “stand your ground” law. It requires that “A private person who detains an individual under this Code section shall either release  said individual or, within a reasonable time, contact the law enforcement unit with  appropriate jurisdiction. An individual detained by a private person under this Code section who is not released shall be surrendered to a law enforcement officer together with  any personal belongings removed from such individual.” It also allows law enforcement officers to make arrests without a warrant outside their jurisdictions if they see a crime in progress, if they chase a suspect from their jurisdiction into another, and if they’re assisting another law enforcement officer. The bill does allow retail business and restaurant owners, as well as weight inspectors, private detectives, and security guards to detain people. It prevents those suspects from recovering damages for false arrest if “competent evidence” establishes “That the plaintiff had so conducted himself or herself or behaved in such manner as  to cause a person of reasonable prudence to believe that the plaintiff, at or immediately  prior to the time of the detention or arrest, was committing an offense.”

Watch the House floor action here:

You also can watch the Senate floor here:

https://livestream.com/accounts/26021522/events/7940809/player?width=960&height=540&autoPlay=false&mute=true&enableInfoAndActivity=true

During the evening break for dinner, three people stood in the street between the Capitol and the Coverdell Legislative Offices Building, waving burning bundles of sage to “purify the intentions” of lawmakers as they passed back and forth:

The House will take up the state budget this evening. Keep an eye on proposals to:

  • audit public schools
  • more funds for Kinship Care and Weighted Caseload
  • more money for recruiting prosecuting attorneys and giving assistant district attorneys a pay raise
  • more funds for Superior Court judges and Supreme Court personnel
  • add two auditors, an attorney, a financial assistant, and training specialist at the Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission (formerly known as the Ethics Commission)
  • $45.9 million in American Rescue Act of 2021 funds for substance abuse prevention and treatment
  • another $45.9 million for Community Mental Health Services Block Grants for child and adolescent mental health services
  • $12.3 million for the Emergency Food and Shelter Program CFDA for special housing initiatives in the Department of Community Affairs
  • cutting half a million dollars from the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority’s budget that would have gone to the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District to complete the state’s five-year water plan update
  • increase funding to stabilize nursing home staff levels
  • increase Medicaid funding by 2% for skilled nursing centers and insurance for those centers, 10% increase for home and community-based providers, 3% increase for dental reimbursement rate “for 15 select dental codes,” 5.9% increase for nursing home ventilator reimbursement rate, and increase to make up for loss of Federal Medical Assistance Percentage funds during COVID-19
  • increase PeachCare dental reimbursement rates by 3% for “15 select dental codes”
  • consider a $2,000 raise for “critical positions” in the Department of Driver Services
  • recognize $914,000 in American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARP) for the Georgia Council for the Arts (no state appropriation)
  • restore funds to the Georgia Historical Society to reflect a 10% reduction
  • one-time finding increase for the Georgia World Congress Center for operations (recognizing $2.9 million in business interruption insurance funds)
  • recognize $1.14 in ARP funds for National Endowment for the Humanities grants
  • add a Young Farmer position in Fulton and four other counties
  • transfer $139,007 in Department of Education Business and Administration Program funds, $68,941 from the Central Office program, $6,740 from the Charter Schools Program, $80,586 from the Curriculum and Development Program, $2,843 from the Georgia Network for Educational and Thereapeutic Support, $4,452 from the Georgia Virtual School Program, $179,738 from the Information Technology Services Program, $8,732 from the Nutrition Program, $55,507 from the School Improvement Program, $6,192 from the State Schools Program, and $27,754 from the Technology/Career Education Program to the Testing Program “to reflect rent savings due to the transition to a remote workforce model” (that’s $580,492)
  • Increase $250,000 for a Law Enforcement Teaching Students (LETS) program in the Central Office Program and leverage matching funds
  • Transfer $323,000 from Technology/Career Education to Curriculum Development for the Rural Teacher Training Initiative
  • More funds for computer science grants under SB109 from the 2019 session
  • $1.63 increase to fund SB 48 from the 2019 Session and add a state educational agency dyslexia specialist
  • $240,000 for rural oding equipment in partnership with Georgia Cyber Center
  • Recognize $89.9 million in ARP special education grants for states, preschools, infants, and toddlers
  • Recognize $65.5 million in ARP funds for Emergency Assistance to Non-Public Schools
  • $1.2 million to establish the Office of Health Strategy and Coordination
  • recognize $4.65 billion and $261 million to the Governor’s Office in COVID-19 aid
  • recognize $2.67 million in ARP funds to the Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency for Emergency Management Performance Grants
  • $197,002 to the Professional Standards Commission for Troops to Teachers alternate certification
  • recognize $117.9 million in ARP funds for LIHEAP assistance (low-income heating and energy aid)
  • recognize $20.3 million in ARP funds for Special Programs for Aging-Nutrition Services
  • $25,000 increase to the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency for Friends fo Disabled Adults and Children (FODAC) equipment for disabled individuals
  • $2.4 million increase to the Insurance Commissioner’s Special Fraud Department for 15 positions and operations
  • $10 million to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Council for a law enforcement training grant program for state and local law enforcement agencies, a 2% increase for domestic violence shelters, $150,000 for two rural domestic violence shelters, $150,000 increase for sexual assault centers

On Wednesday night, the House voted 166-3 to approve a Senate substitute amendment to HB 676, creating a Farmers Market and Produce Terminal Legislative Oversight Committee. The chairs of both the House and Senate Agriculture Committees would appoint members.

The House also agreed 163-0 to a Senate substitute on HB 631, “Logan’s List,” which creates a voluntary list for E-911 operators of people with mental, physical, or neurological conditions that may affect their ability to communicate.

The House passed HR 52, which establishes a Joint Study Committee on Childhood Lead Exposure. Georgia law allows for four times the limit of lead in children’s blood than the 2012 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation of 5 micrograms per deciliter of blood. The committee will be abolished on December 1.

SB 174 from Sen. Majority Whip Steve Gooch (R-51, Dahlonega) requires signature bonds to be “executed in the full-face amount of such bond through secured means as provided for in Code Section 17-6-4 or 17-6-50 or shall be executed by use of  property as approved by the sheriff in the county where the offense was committed.” In other words, it would expand the use of cash bail instead of signature bonds. Rep. Josh McLaurin (D-51, Sandy Springs) said that, last session, SB 402 got rid of signature bonds (in which someone signs to get out, but doesn’t have to pay unless they don’t show up for court) and changed the name of “own recognizance” bonds to “unsecured judicial release” bonds. The third option, secured cash bond, means you have to pay cash up front to get out of jail. Opponents say the bill, which was aimed at Fulton County judges releasing defendants due to jail overcrowding, is a gift to the cash bond industry and would eliminate non-cash bond altogether. The bill passed 99-71.

HB 617, the “Name, Image, Likeness” bill allowing student athlete licensing, which was amended by the Senate and then the House again, adds the option of student athletes pooling funds to redistribute them across the team. It passed 163-5 and goes back to the Senate.

HB 327 (passed by Senate substitute) requires merchants to keep records of gift card sales.

HB 477 reimposes jet fuel sales tax collections as of July 1. Exceptions include the sales and use tax suspension between August 1 and November 30, 2018 and another running from December 1 2018 and June 30, 2021, “shall remain suspended indefinitely and due and payable upon the termination of such suspension.” The change to the bill is aimed at Delta Air Lines. After nationwide reaction against SB 202 (the elections bill), which Delta had soft-pedaled in its official statement, the CEO issued a stronger statement against it. This angered Gov. Brian Kemp and proponents of the election bill, who amended the Senate substitute to HB 477, a

The Judiciary Non-Civil Committee was scheduled to meet at 10 p.m.– by 10:34 p.m., the meeting was cancelled.

Check back throughout the day–we’ll update periodically and The Clayton Crescent will be here until sine die.