Georgia lawmakers worked through midnight early Tuesday to get a set of bills passed on Sine Die, the last day of the state’s 40-day legislative session.
Several of the General Assembly’s most contentious proposed laws – including a measure giving the Georgia Bureau of Investigation greater authority to oversee elections – were passed by both legislative chambers.
Some have already been signed into law by Gov. Brian Kemp. Others are expected to be signed in the coming days.
Here’s a breakdown of key legislation that made it through and other measures still being considered:
Senate Bill 441 — Criminal Records Responsibility Act
What’s in the bill: General Assembly members passed SB 441 on Monday. The bill would allow GBI to investigate fraud allegations that potentially could change the outcome of an election. It would give GBI the ability to launch its own election fraud investigations and subpoena records supplementary to the secretary of state’s authority.
A similar measure, House Bill 1464, would have made original ballots public records subject to investigation and mandated that the State Elections Board dole out any outside election funding in a “fair and equitable” way throughout Georgia (instead of concentrated in counties with higher populations and a disproportionate number of Black residents.)
Those provisions of the bill were removed last week after numerous bipartisan complaints from county election officials.
Why it matters: SB 441 is the latest GOP-sponsored state measure to include legislative language designed to address “election integrity” in the aftermath of former President Donald Trump’s baseless allegations of widespread voter fraud during the 2020 election. Those claims led to the passage of SB 202, which critics argue is intended to make voting harder for Black residents.
Voting rights activists in Georgia say the law has dampened Black voter enthusiasm ahead of this midterm election season, but the Rev. Tim McDonald of First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta said he expects SB 441 will do the opposite. McDonald recently joined a group of Black clergy members and other voting rights activists in condemning the passage of SB 441 at a press conference earlier this week.
“What they’re passing and the negative seeds they are sowing is going to excite and energize our people,” McDonald said regarding Black Georgia voters. “You don’t suppress us and think that we’re not going to respond. Those days are over.”
What’s next: Kemp is expected to sign SB 441 into law in the near future. If he does, the measure would take effect on July 1.
HB 1084 — “Divisive Concepts” and Trans Athletes in Schools
What’s in the bill: The bill limits how race-related “divisive concepts” can be taught in K-12 public schools. HB 1084 would require local boards of education and charter school system governing bodies to create “complaint resolution” policies to handle alleged violations reported in writing by parents, adult students, teachers, administrators, or other school personnel.
An amendment to the bill, added on Monday, would give any athletic association in Georgia the authority to bar transgender student athletes from competing on girls’ sports teams.
HB 1084 was sponsored in the wake of the conservative-led national moral panic over critical race theory, which began during the summer of 2020 after civil unrest erupted in cities across the U.S. following the police murder of George Floyd. CRT – an academic principle primarily taught in college classrooms – isn’t mentioned or directly addressed in HB 1084.
Why it matters: Critics of a similar measure passed by Georgia senators in March argued the proposed law puts an undue burden on already overworked teachers and school administrators and discourages them from addressing issues of race at all in the classroom.
What’s next: Kemp is expected to sign HB 1084 into law in the near future after declaring his support in January for legislation that would bar CRT and “ensure fairness” in sports.
HB 1013 — The Mental Health Parity Act
What’s in the bill: Kemp was surrounded by a bipartisan group of state lawmakers on Monday when he signed HB 1013 into law. HB 1013 requires insurance companies offering mental health coverage in Georgia to provide it the same way they do for physical ailments, in accordance with a federal law known as the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008.
The new Georgia law mandates “parity” in health coverage – meaning insurers can’t provide less-favorable coverage for mental health treatment than they do for other health-related issues. The legislation also authorizes student loan forgiveness for mental health and substance abuse professionals working in underserved regions of the state.
Why it matters: Georgia currently ranks among the worst states in the nation when it comes to most categories for mental health care. The Georgia division of the National Alliance on Mental Illness says Black people tend to have less access to mental health treatment due to disproportionate levels of poverty and other racial and economic disparities.
“This historic bipartisan law is a win for all of GA,” Sen. Sonya Halpern said via Twitter Monday night.
What’s next: Kemp has signed the measure, which is set to take effect on July 1.
HB 910 — Raises For Teachers and State Employees
What’s in the bill: The General Assembly also approved HB 910, a $30.2 billion budget package for fiscal year 2023 that includes teacher and state employee raises as well as record funding for K-12 schools, colleges and mental health programs.
HB 910 turns the $2,000 teacher bonuses included in the current fiscal year’s budget into raises that are included in the educators’ future salaries.
Why it matters: The proposed raises come at a time when teachers are rapidly leaving the profession due to being overworked and underpaid in addition to experiencing pandemic fatigue. A National Education Association poll conducted in January found 55% of respondents, including 62% of Black educators, intend to leave the profession earlier than previously planned. Ninety percent of those polled said burnout was a serious problem.
What’s next: Fiscal year 2023 for the Georgia state government is set to begin on July 1.