Early in the 2018 session, all eyes were on a bill to update the adoption code in Georgia. After failing to pass in 2017, when last minute discriminatory language was added, the adoption bill became a priority legislative issue for Democrats and Republicans alike going into 2018. Ultimately, a clean version of the adoption bill (HB 159) was passed and signed by Gov. Nathan Deal on March 5, bringing a simpler and more streamlined process to Georgia families seeking to adopt.
One theme that emerged this legislative session was efforts by Republican members to usurp local control. SB 262/263 (a measure to de-annex large portions of the City of Stockbridge) became the standard bearer of local control by circumventing the normal process of creating cities through a local legislative process. Instead, the de-annexation was placed in hands of the state lawmakers without allowing all affected citizens to vote. Senate Democrats fought this pair of bills at every juncture and attempted to amend the bill on the floor in the final hours, but the Lieutenant Governor blocked the attempt claiming the effort was out of order.
Another attempt to usurp local government control came via SB 418, which sought to override the authority of local governments to ban certain products regulated by the federal government. And SB 363 was aimed at forcing the City of Atlanta to reduce their polling hours.
Voting rights was another common theme. Efforts to replace Georgia’s outdated and vulnerable voting machines came to fruition in the form of SB 403. The bill died at midnight of this year’s legislative session, since the House and the Senate could not come to an agreement about how to add the use of the paper ballot system. Georgia remains one of five states that rely entirely on electronic voting machines that don’t leave an independent paper backup trail. As mentioned above, SB 363 was an attempt to curtail access to the polls, not only by limiting polling hours in Atlanta, but also by imposing restriction on weekend voting that would impact the ability of African American churches to hold “Souls to the Polls” Sunday voting events.
For the first time since 2002, the State’s portion of the K-12 education formula will be fully funded. Otherwise known as Quality Basic Education (QBE), this budget item will replenish the decade-long “austerity cuts,” some $166.7 million, and is an important step forward to provide students and school districts the resources they need to succeed.
Gun legislation was an important issue for voters this legislative session, but efforts by Democrats to bring real gun reform to Georgia were quashed by Republican committee chairs and leadership.
Georgia lawmakers considered a bill that posed serious risk to the state’s immigrant community and threatened to harm local governments and the state’s economy. Senate Bill 452 would have required communities to work more closely with the federal deportation apparatus, disrupting families and making local taxpayers foot the bill. The bill took on several changes throughout March, but ultimately failed to reach the House floor on final night of the legislation session.
In the waning hours of the 40-day session, lawmakers handed a landmark win to Georgia’s future college students. In HB 787, lawmakers authorized a new grant for college students that gives weight to financial need. If the governor approves, the Georgia Student Finance Commission will establish a needs-based financial aid program for full-time students in the university system, subject to future appropriations. The commission gets flexibility to determine eligibility criteria and grant amounts.
Senate Democrats were successful in passing a number of bills this session, including:
- SB 331, by Sen. Steve Henson, Tucker, would allow state lottery winners to remain anonymous by submitting a written request and paying up to 4% of their winnings for anticipated costs of maintaining confidentiality.
- SB 457, introduced by Sen. Horacena Tate, would require public and private schools to have drills to practice handling dangerous situations. Public schools would base the drills on their existing school safety plans. A version passed on HB 763.
- SR 685, introduced by Sen. Lester Jackson, Savannah, allowing for Runaway Negro Creek to be renamed. The creek runs along the edge of Skidaway Island State Park. The new name of the creek as selected by the residents will now be called Freedom Creek
- SB 82, also introduced by Sen. Jackson This would allow Georgia residents that are in the National Guard or the reserves to receive HOPE without waiting to establish residency in the same manner as currently allowed for active duty military
- SB 345, introduced by Sen. Jen Jordan, Buckhead, (Jordan, 6th) would prohibit credit reporting agencies from imposing any fees for freezing or unfreezing a credit report. This passed on SB 376.
The following Legislative Summary recaps all the legislative highlights of the 2018 session.