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Political Reporter’s Notebook: ‘Divisive Concepts’ Bill Signed Into Law

Plus, a federal judge sides with Abrams in court battle over Kemp campaign fundraising.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp laughs while signing a series of education bills Thursday in Cumming, Ga. (Jeff Amy/Associated Press)

This story has been updated.

It’s the beginning of the end. The final countdown is underway for Georgia’s Democratic and Republican primaries, which take place in less than a month on May 24.

Gov. Brian Kemp spent the week signing some contentious GOP-backed bills into law after engaging in a spirited debate with his Republican rival David Perdue on Sunday.

The conservative contenders clashed again Thursday night during their second of three debates leading up to their GOP primary showdown.

Kemp’s Democratic gubernatorial challenger, Stacey Abrams, won a key court victory on Thursday. And Atlanta’s elected leaders are preparing to finalize the city budget beginning next week.

Here’s a rundown of the week’s most important political storylines to start your weekend:

Kemp signs ‘divisive concepts’ bill into law

Discussing race-related issues in Georgia K-12 classrooms is going to be more complicated next school year now that Kemp has signed HB 1084 into law.

The measure, known as the “Protect Students First Act,” was one of seven education-related bills that Kemp signed on Thursday.

It bars grade-school educators at public and charter schools from teaching a number of “divisive concepts” including the idea that the United States is “fundamentally racist” and that certain individuals are “inherently racist” based solely on their skin color or ethnicity.

The law also gives any athletic association in the state the power to bar trans athletes from competing in girls sports.

It’s one of several similar measures passed in state legislatures across the country as conservatives fought against instruction that attempted to put America’s racial history in context.

HB 1084 also requires the governing bodies of local schools to create “complaint resolution” policies for addressing alleged violations, which can be reported in writing by parents, teachers, students over 18, and administrators.

Black state lawmakers were highly critical of the senate version of the divisive concepts bill, which Republicans passed in March.

“The intent is to silence certain conversations that may make others [feel] embarrassed,”  Nikki Merritt (D-9th) told her fellow state senators at the time. “The fact we even have this bill shows that we haven’t healed from our past because we’re trying to hide it.”

The law’s supporters argue it’s necessary to protect children from being made to feel guilty for past and present misdeeds committed by people of the same race.

Leaders from the Georgia Association of Educators and the Professional Association of Georgia Educators expressed concern that such laws will discourage teachers from addressing race at all in their classrooms and may compel many to leave the profession at a time when teacher recruiting and retention is already challenging.

Judge rules in Abrams’ favor in fundraising challenge to Kemp committee

Abrams scored a key courtroom victory over Kemp on Thursday when a federal judge ordered a special committee to stop raising campaign money for the governor until after the GOP primary.

Abrams filed a motion last week asking Judge Mark H. Cohen to bar Kemp’s “Georgians First” leadership committee from raising campaign funds prior to their anticipated general election matchup.

Georgia law allows certain incumbent elected officials to form leadership committees to which donors can give unlimited campaign funds, while other statewide office candidates face fundraising limits.

Critics contend the law unfairly favors incumbents over challengers. Cohen agreed in his ruling, which said the current set of circumstances violates the First Amendment.

“Allowing Governor Kemp’s re-election campaign to be the beneficiary of unlimited contributions raised through a leadership committee he chairs while, at the same time, Abrams is restricted to the statutory limit of $7,600 by Georgia law is ‘antithetical to the First Amendment,’” Cohen wrote in his ruling. “The balance of harms therefore weighs in favor of Plaintiffs.”

Kemp rebuffs Perdue ‘election integrity’ attacks during two GOP primary debates

Emotions ran high on Sunday and Thursday in a pair of Republican primary debates between Kemp and his Trump-endorsed challenger Perdue.

Perdue, a former U.S. senator from Macon, spent much of his time Sunday and Thursday accusing Kemp of not doing enough to investigate false claims of widespread voter fraud and ballot tampering that many conservatives believe took place in Georgia during the 2020 presidential election.

Perdue erroneously claimed that the Kemp administration signed a consent decree with Democrats that “invalidated all voter ID law” and permitted the processing of “fraudulent ballots.”

State GOP election officials have said they found no evidence of widespread voter fraud following the 2020 election.

Kemp deflected Perdue’s critiques by pointing to the enactment of the controversial “election integrity” bill known as SB 202, which ratified a number of controversial policies to address GOP concerns about voter fraud. Those include limiting the number of absentee ballot drop boxes across the state and barring volunteers from giving food and water to people standing in line outside polling stations.

Critics have argued SB 202 was designed to reduce minority voter turnout after Democrats won several key statewide races for the first time in decades in 2020.

Recent polls show Kemp leading Perdue by an average of more than 15% ahead of their May 24 primary matchup. The governor needs a majority of primary votes to avoid a runoff with Perdue during the summer.

Kemp enacts law allowing GBI to investigate elections

Kemp signed another election-related bill into law on Wednesday. This one authorizes the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to launch probes into voter fraud allegations that could impact the outcome of an election.

GOP-led state lawmakers passed SB 441 during the last day of their legislative session on April 4. The measure still permits the secretary of state to look into potential election law violations.

SB 441 is the latest in a series of bills passed to address baseless claims of widespread voter fraud in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election between Donald Trump and President Joe Biden.

Atlanta leaders prepare to finalize the city budget

The rush to finalize Atlanta’s annual budget is set to begin next week. Mayor Andre Dickens and his staff are expected to unveil their proposed budget on Monday before City Council members review and evaluate the draft with municipal service leaders during a set of committee hearings  beginning later in the week.

City Council leaders expect funding for policing and raises for city employees to be hot topics this year. Atlanta residents are encouraged to weigh in on discussions during public hearing sessions.

Read our explainer to find out when and how.