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Your Elected Officials Were Busy Passing Laws That Affect You. Here’s a Recap.

Lawmakers declined to advance bills addressing many of the issues Black voters care about most.

Georgia state House members toss paper in the air to celebrate the end of their latest legislative session after midnight on March 30. (Chauncey Alcorn/Capital B)

Lawmakers inside the state Capitol ceremoniously threw shreds of paper in the air in celebration after working past midnight to decide the fate of several contentious bills on Sine Die, the last day of this year’s legislative session.

Many of the year’s most controversial measures, including one that would create a Georgia school voucher program that critics say poses a fiscal threat to majority-Black districts, failed to pass after intense debate in the House and Senate.

The bill’s demise was one of the few highlights for Black lawmakers.

GOP lawmakers declined to advance other legislation addressing issues affecting Black voters, including full Medicaid expansion, rent regulation, abortion rights, and gun safety measures.

Here’s a rundown of what did and didn’t get passed:

SB 233 — The Georgia Promise Scholarship Act

What’s in the bill: The bill would create $6,500 scholarship accounts for K-12th grade students to attend the schools of their choice.

Supporters argue the legislation would give underprivileged kids, often in majority-Black districts, the funding they need to enroll in better schools and increase their chances of success.

Critics contend the measure doesn’t fully fund tuition and fees for kids from low-income households to attend private schools, but it could exacerbate segregation and cause a statewide public school funding crisis that violates article VIII of the state constitution.

What happened: House members ultimately rejected the bill on an 85-89 vote last night. Republicans could reintroduce the legislation next year.

HB 404 — Safe at Home Act (aka tenants rights bill)

What’s in the bill: This bill mandates that landlords provide rental homes that are “fit for human habitation,” creating some basic guardrails for renters in a state that has some of the weakest tenant protection laws in the nation.

HB 404 would cap the amount a landlord can charge for security deposits at two times the monthly rent and bar landlords from cutting off the air conditioning of tenants facing eviction. It also requires landlords to give tenants a three-day grace period to pay their rent to avoid an eviction.

What happened: The Senate didn’t vote on HB 404 despite it passing in the House earlier this month and receiving an endorsement from Republican House Speaker Jon Burns. It was the only bill that addressed renter rights at a time when many Black tenants in metro Atlanta have complained about rising rents and their landlords neglecting repairs. A bill that would lift the state’s ban on rent regulation failed to make it out of committee earlier this month.

HB 19 — Latest Fiscal Year Budget

What’s in the bill: The measure appropriates $32.5 billion to fund the state’s next fiscal year budget, beginning July 1.

What happened: House and Senate leaders signed an agreement that includes $6.3 million for student reduced lunch recipients, funding for $2,000 teacher raises, and to fully fund the state’s HOPE scholarship program in next year’s budget. House Minority Leader James Beverly, a Democrat from Macon, says Republicans rejected key initiatives Democrats asked them to add, including additional funding for the King Center.

“Probably 80% of the Democratic stuff was stripped out,” Beverly said during an afternoon press conference.

Rep. Jasmine Clark, a Democrat from Lilburn, said Republicans also cut $66 million in budget funding for the University System of Georgia’s Board of Regents. That could mean less funding for public HBCUs.

“I’m hoping that the Board of Regents will make sure that our HBCUs can take the hit,” Clark told Capital B Atlanta.

SB 247 — Parking Boot Bill

What’s in the bill: The measure would ban booting vehicles for parking enforcement in Georgia. The car booting industry has been a costly thorn in the side of metro Atlanta residents for years.

What happened: Neither the House nor the Senate voted on the bill Wednesday, meaning it won’t become law this year.

HB 191 – Tobacco Tax Hike

What’s in the bill: This measure would increase the price of a pack of 20 cigarettes by 20 cents. And also increase the price of vape products. 

The roughly $90 million in revenue in tax revenue it generates would be used to address health care service issues affecting Georgia in the absence of full statewide Medicaid expansion.

Black Americans are more likely than other racial groups to be exposed to second-hand smoke and die from smoking-related illnesses, according to the CDC. But raising taxes on tobacco would probably hurt Black people’s pockets more than other racial groups.

What happened: Neither the House nor the Senate opted to vote on the bill, so it won’t become law this year.

SB 63 — Expanding Cash Bail

What’s in the bill: This legislation would expand cash bail requirements throughout Georgia to include 30 additional criminal charges. In 2018, Black people made up nearly 49% of those arrested for low-level drug offenses in a state with one of the highest incarceration rates in the nation.

What happened: The bill passed Wednesday night in the House before stalling in the Senate because of a disagreement over an added House amendment, so it won’t become law this year.

SB 44 — Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act

What it does: People convicted of gang-related crimes must receive a minimum additional five years in prison on top of their sentence for other offenses. Individuals who involve children or disabled people in gang-related crimes would receive a 10-year sentence at minimum.

SB 44 also would limit judges from converting offenders’ prison time into parole time.

Addressing crime has been a top concern for Black folks in metro Atlanta. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has linked gang activity to recent-year rises in violent crime across Georgia.

But criminal justice reform advocates including Sen. Gloria Butler, a Democrat representing Stone Mountain, have warned that increasing minimum sentencing guidelines could exacerbate the mass incarceration of Black Georgians.

What happened: The Senate adopted the latest version of SB 44 last night after it cleared in the House earlier this month. That paves the way for Gov. Brian Kemp to sign it into law.

SB 92 — Oversight of prosecuting attorneys

What it does: This measure would create a state board that has the power to investigate, punish, and even remove local district attorneys from office for failing to perform their duties.

Supporters claim it’s needed to make sure local prosecutors are effectively doing their jobs. Last year, some district attorneys refused to prosecute Georgians who violated the state’s reinstated abortion restriction law, following the U.S. Supreme Court overturn of Roe v. Wade.

What happened: The House and Senate signed and adopted SB 92 on Monday, clearing the way for Kemp to sign it into law.