Governor to decide on immigration crackdown and election law changes as other controversial proposals fade away

The 2024 legislative session came to an end as state lawmakers tirelessly casted votes that extended well into the early morning hours.

The House witnessed the night culminate in disappointment as several highly anticipated bills failed to make headway. Among them were proposals to prohibit the use of puberty blockers for minors and to include sports betting on the upcoming ballot this fall.

Votes were taken well past the usual midnight deadline, amid a cloud of confusion.

As lawmakers eagerly awaited the speaker’s announcement of “sine die,” the House was filled with the playful chaos of paper airplanes, balls, and tatters soaring through the air. Just when some House lawmakers had already departed, they were quickly summoned back to their desks shortly before 1 a.m. Their task? To pass a bill that would rename roads and another that aimed to provide property owners with some tax relief by increasing the state’s homestead exemption.

On the final day, controversial bills were not in short supply. Republican lawmakers approved a comprehensive election measure, which drew immediate criticism from the ACLU of Georgia. The organization wasted no time in stating their intent to file a lawsuit if the bill is enacted into law by the governor.

GOP leaders have successfully passed a bill aimed at penalizing sheriffs who fail to enforce federal immigration laws. This legislative action gained traction following the tragic death of a nursing student on the University of Georgia’s campus, which has now become a significant political issue throughout the country.

One of the session’s most significant storylines concluded last week. Despite months of speculation, the proposal to expand Medicaid entirely was not successful in a Senate committee. However, the lawmakers did pass amendments to the state’s health care business regulations and established a commission to examine the possibility of full Medicaid expansion.

Speaker Jon Burns reiterated his belief that there are no topics off-limits for discussion in the House. Despite facing criticism in the past for this stance, he remains committed to open dialogue and seeking out facts to understand how certain issues may affect the state.

According to Burns, the commission will continue having discussions throughout the summer while they start their work. He also mentioned that he believes the governor’s plan for partial expansion is gaining momentum. Since its launch last summer, approximately 3,500 individuals have already enrolled in Pathways to Coverage.

Still no statue for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas

House lawmakers decided not to vote on a proposal to erect a statue of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, a native of Georgia.

The Senate faced strong opposition over the past two years regarding the proposed tribute to the controversial figure. State senators had intended to honor the individual by placing their statue on the state Capitol grounds.

Lawmakers in the House of Representatives have recently been considering alternative options for the relocation of the statue. One suggestion that was put forward earlier this week involved placing the statue of Thomas inside the nearby Nathan Deal Judicial Center, along with statues of other Supreme Court justices from Georgia. It is worth noting that three other justices also hailed from Georgia.

The House plan was revised to limit the tribute to only Thomas, while keeping it at the judicial center. The Senate followed suit and added it to another bill. However, the proposal ultimately did not receive a vote in the House.

Attempts to protect Okefenokee from mining sink

The Senate rejected a recent proposal to establish a three-year ban on new mining permits in the vicinity of the Okefenokee Swamp.

House lawmakers, feeling the pressure, employed a legislative maneuver on Tuesday to advance the proposal.

The bill presented in the House was a modified version of a previous proposal that faced opposition from environmental groups. Its main objective is to impose a temporary ban on dragline mining, which is the method planned by Twin Pines Minerals from Alabama for the Trail Ridge area. This ban would apply to untouched areas, including Trail Ridge.

Twin Pines would still have been able to mine for titanium dioxide and zirconium at a demonstration site spanning almost 600 acres, located just three miles away from the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.

According to Rep. Lynn Smith, a Newnan Republican and chair of the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee, the purpose of the bill is to “quiet things down.” Despite having over 91 signers, a bill that would have permanently halted new or expanded mining permits at Trail Ridge was stalled in Smith’s committee and did not make it to the full House.

The bill received overwhelming support in the House on Tuesday, passing with a vote of 167 to 4. However, a few members voted in favor of it while expressing some reservations.

Representative Debbie Buckner, a Democrat from Junction City, expressed her reservations about the bill regarding mining. However, she acknowledged that it is the only viable solution currently available to preserve the swamp. Despite her lack of enthusiasm for the bill, she recognized that it is the sole option at this moment.

Buckner expressed her hope that a three-year moratorium would provide opponents of mining near the Okefenokee with enough time to find a solution to “preserve the swamp.”

The Senate, however, did not warmly receive the bill. Majority Leader Steve Gooch expressed his belief on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Politically Georgia podcast that the state Environmental Protection Division should have the authority to determine the necessary actions.

The Environmental Protection Department (EPD) recently released draft permits and is currently seeking feedback from the public. However, these permits have been met with strong opposition from the public.

Dahlonega Republican, Doug Collins, expressed his concerns about circumventing the rule makers and regulatory agencies in regards to a particular issue. He emphasized that if the process of bypassing these authorities begins, it could set a precedent for other issues such as landfills, quarries, water treatment, and wastewater treatment. Collins believes that this could potentially create a never-ending list of circumvented regulations and rules.

Rough Draft is proud to present this story in partnership with Georgia Recorder.

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