Immigration crackdown, election law changes go to the governor as other hot-button proposals fizzle

Lawmakers throw paper to celebrate the final day of the 2024 Legislative session. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

State lawmakers closed out the 2024 legislative session with a flurry of votes that spilled over into the early morning hours.

But the night ended with some of the most closely watched bills – like a bill banning puberty blockers for minors and a proposal to put sports betting on the ballot this fall – fizzling out in the House.

The last votes were taken well after the traditional midnight deadline and in a fog of confusion.

Paper airplanes, balls and tatters were already flying around the House as lawmakers waited anxiously for the speaker to yell “Sine Die!” Some House lawmakers had already left when they were called back to their desks shortly before 1 a.m. to pass a bill renaming roads and another that increases the state’s homestead exemption in a move to give property owners some tax relief.

House lawmakers wait for a chance to throw shredded bills and other documents early Friday morning as part of the usual sine die tradition in Georgia. Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

But the final day offered its share of controversial bills, too. Republican lawmakers signed off on a wide-ranging election measure Thursday, prompting the ACLU of Georgia to immediately issue a statement saying it would file a lawsuit if the governor signs the bill into law.

And GOP leaders pushed through a bill designed to punish sheriffs who do not enforce federal immigration laws, though another related bill did not survive. These bills gained momentum after the death of a nursing student on the University of Georgia’s campus, which has become a political flashpoint nationally.

One of the biggest storylines of the session, though, wrapped up last week. After months of chatter, a proposal to fully expand Medicaid failed in a Senate committee. Instead, lawmakers passed changes to the state’s health care business regulations and created a commission that will look at fully expanding Medicaid.

“I’ve gotten in trouble for saying this, but I’ll say it again: There’s nothing that the House cannot talk about, that we can’t discuss,” Speaker Jon Burns told reporters early Friday morning. “And we can look for the facts on it to see how it may impact our state.”

Burns said those conversations will continue this summer as the commission gets to work. But he also said he thought the governor’s partial expansion plan is “gaining some momentum.” About 3,500 people have signed up for Pathways to Coverage, which launched last summer.

Still no statue for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas

House lawmakers took a pass on voting on a proposal calling for a statue of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who is from Georgia.

The proposed tribute to the controversial figure was met with intense opposition in the Senate the last two years. State senators wanted to place the statue on the state Capitol grounds as a high honor.

House lawmakers explored alternatives this week. A proposal floated earlier this week would have put the statue of Thomas within the nearby Nathan Deal Judicial Center – along with statues of other Supreme Court justices from Georgia. Three other justices called Georgia home.

A revised House plan would have limited the tribute to just Thomas but kept it at the judicial center. The Senate mimicked that idea and tacked it onto another bill, but in the end, the proposal was never called up for a vote in the House.

Attempts to protect Okefenokee from mining sink  

A late attempt to impose a three-year moratorium on new mining permits near the Okefenokee Swamp hit a brick wall in the Senate.

Under pressure, House lawmakers used a legislative maneuver Tuesday to usher forward the proposal.

The bill was a scaled-down version of another House proposal that had picked up opposition from environmental groups. Specifically, it calls for a moratorium on dragline mining – the method Alabama-based Twin Pines Minerals plans to use at Trail Ridge – in previously untouched areas like Trail Ridge.

Lawmakers throw paper after the adjournment of the 2024 legislative session. Toni Odejimi/Georgia Recorder

Like other proposals, it would not have stopped Twin Pines from mining for titanium dioxide and zirconium at a nearly 600-acre demonstration site about three miles from the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.

Rep. Lynn Smith, a Newnan Republican who chairs the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee, said the bill is intended to have the effect of “quieting things down.” Another bill that would permanently block new or expanded mining permits at Trail Ridge was stuck in Smith’s committee despite having more than 91 signers – enough support to clear the full House.

It passed out of the House Tuesday with a 167-to-4 vote, though some voted for it with reservations.

“Although I’m not really in love with this bill and I’m not ever going to be for the mining … this is the only thing we can do right now to save the swamp. It’s the only option,” said Rep. Debbie Buckner, a Junction City Democrat.

Buckner said she hoped a three-year moratorium would at least buy opponents of mining near the Okefenokee some time to figure out a way to “save the swamp.”

But the bill faced an even cooler reception in the Senate. Majority Leader Steve Gooch said on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Politically Georgia podcast Thursday that he thought the state Environmental Protection Division should be left alone to decide what should be done.

The EPD issued draft permits last month and is in the process of collecting public input on those permits. Those permits have faced intense public opposition.

“If we began the process of circumventing the rule makers and the regulatory agencies on this issue, then the next issue will be landfills, quarries, water treatment, wastewater treatment, so the list goes on and on and on,” the Dahlonega Republican said.


The post Immigration crackdown, election law changes go to the governor as other hot-button proposals fizzle appeared first on Georgia Recorder.