June 15, 2020: The Georgia Legislature Reconvenes

On Monday, June 15, 2020, the Georgia General Assembly will reconvene to resume the 2020 legislative session. The legislature has been in recess since March 12 because of the coronavirus pandemic. There are officially 11 legislative days left out of the yearly 40-day session. The only constitutional requirement is that the budget must be passed before July 1.  

Georgia Baptists are continuing to monitor a number of pieces of legislation that have passed from one chamber to the other. We’re also monitoring legislation that may be brought back up and added to other legislation to be voted on before midnight on the 40th day. (See a video review of some of the legislation that was approaching the Crossover date of March 12. https://vimeo.com/395986797 )

Here is a brief overview of the bills:

SB-318 The “Forming Open and Robust University Minds;” FORUM Act (Sen. William Ligon)

This legislation has to do with the freedom of expression on public colleges and universities. The bill protects three things: (1) what students can speak, (2) where they can speak, and (3) who they can speak with. It protects which students are allowed to speak by ensuring that a public college or university may not ban students from engaging in expressive activity on campus. It protects where students can speak by banning outdoor areas (“free speech zones”) on campus where expressive activities are prohibited. It also protects who students can speak with by protecting the right of free association. The bill was voted out of committee and was approved by the Senate. The bill now goes to the House Higher Education Committee for a hearing.

HB-879 Alcohol Home Delivery Bill (Rep. Bret Harrell)

This bill would make it legal for grocery stores to deliver beer and wine (not Liquor) to homes in the same as they would be for other food services like groceries. It would allow for the same amount of beer and wine that could be bought in the store to be delivered. The individual receiving the beer or wine would have to meet the same legal requirements of an in store purchase. The person of legal age would have to be the person receiving the order. If this bill passes as is, it will automatically make it legal without local approval. Local government would have the legal ability to forbid it, if they choose to do so. This legislation has passed the House and is now assigned to the Senate Regulated Industries Committee for a possible hearing.

SB-307 The Living Hope Act (Sen. Renee Unterman)

The bill is designed to create a new category for maternity homes and enable organizations to serve adult women (18 and up) without the burden of rules applied to the care of minors (particularly those who have been in the system – DFCS).  It would also enable women to stay in the home until the baby is 18 months old. A home would be required to register with the state. Currently, women have to leave the home eight weeks after delivery. Because this is not enough time, organizations often end up creating another type of home (called a second chance home) to house these women and their babies once the 8-week period is over.  This doubles the work for organizations that are focused on making sure a mom is prepared to leave the home because you have to have two facilities with two sets of staff rather than just one. This bill has passed the Senate and is now in the House Health Human and Services Committee and is awaiting a possible hearing.

HB-958 The Maternity Supportive Housing Act (Rep. Ed Setzler)

This uniquely crafted bill will allow Georgia churches and nonprofits to provide housing in private residences. This legislation will allow mothers over the age of 18 who are in need of supportive housing to care for their newborns and get back on their feet financially. This kind of supportive housing is at no cost to the government and it coordinates with local ordinances and HOAs to make sure community requirements are upheld. The bill had a hearing in the House Juvenile Justice Committee and received a favorable vote. The bill was passed by the House on Crossover Day by a 99 to 66 vote. The bill now goes over to the Senate for a committee hearing and potential vote on the Floor.

HB-479 Child Victim Protection Act of 2020 (Formerly the 2019 Hidden Predator Act (Rep. Heath Clark) 

This bill would allow adult survivors of child sex abuse to file lawsuits against alleged perpetrators and organizations that willfully covered it up. The bill raises the age limit for filing civil suits against alleged sexual abusers from 23 to 38 years of age. The legislation would also revive the statute of limitations (a year-long window beginning in July 2020) to allow victims of child sexual abuse the ability to pursue civil action against entities which, even though they were mandatory reporters, knowingly and intentionally covered up the crime. HB 479 was passed out of the House Judiciary Committee and passed by House in a floor vote of 147 for and 5 against, on crossover day. The bill now goes to the Senate for a possible committee hearing.

HB-426 Hate Crimes Legislation (Rep. Chuck Efstration)

Among other categories, this legislation enhances penalties for crimes based on the victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Such crimes are already punished under Georgia law based on the nature of the act – an assault or murder, for example, is punished as assault or murder, regardless of the motive or the identity or characteristics of the victim. This current version has already passed the House with a vote of 96-64 on March 7 of last year (2019). It is waiting to see if the Senate will take it up before the 2020 session is over.

HR 378-Constitutional Amendment for Pari-mutual Betting, Casino Gambling and Sports Betting (Rep. Ron Stephens) 

This legislation was a constitutional amendment that had been originally introduced by Rep. Ron Stephens during the 2019 legislative session. It was for the purpose of legalizing casino gambling in Georgia. The casino gambling was to be called “Destination Resorts.” On the day before the 28th day (Crossover), the House Regulated Industries Committee met and voted out House Resolution 378 with Pari-mutual Betting, Casino Gambling and Sports Betting added to it. Around 7 p.m. on Crossover Day, the Rules Committee voted out of committee HR 378 and it was placed upon the Rules Calendar to be brought up for a vote at the Speakers discretion. The legislation would require a 2/3 majority vote to pass. The bill was never brought up for a consideration because there were not enough votes between Republicans and Democrats to pass it. This legislation did not pass one chamber before crossover day, there has been talk that it would be brought back up during the final 11 days of the legislative session. There will be an attempt to make a special provision whereby it could be passed.

Please stay tuned for further updates as the session begins. We will try to keep regular updates on our Facebook and Twitter page. Also, please check out our Public Affairs Ministry web page at gabaptist.org/publicaffairs for educational information and to register for email updates. Thanks for your prayers and support as we closeout the 2020 legislative session.

Published June 11, 2020