Tonight, legislators, lobbyists, and reporters will all groggily pack up their things and leave the State Capitol long after midnight and hope to stay away for a little while. Today is Sine Die, which literally translates from Latin as “without a day,” meaning the legislative calendar does not have a single day left. The Georgia Constitution restricts the state legislature to 40 ‘legislative’ days, and although anything can happen under the Gold Dome there is one certainty: if a bill is going to pass this session, it must happen tonight.
Unlike some previous sessions, much of the heavy lifting for this year has already been accomplished. Last week Senators made final tweaks to Speaker Ralston’s (R-Blue Ridge) “Mental Health Parity Act,” HB 1013. The bipartisan bill met some late resistance from Republican activists, but after a few changes the Senate passed an amended version of the bill that the House accepted. The Speaker gave kudos to Lt. Governor Duncan and his team for making sure the bill passed through both chambers. The bill will be signed by Governor Kemp this afternoon.
For much of the session, Governor Kemp has supported legislation that might help the Republican base remember their burnished conservative credentials. SB 226 creates a new process by which parents might request certain books be removed from school libraries. Under this bill, principals would have an expedited timeline for making decisions on books and school boards would have an expedited timeline to decide appeals. The bill passed the House and the Senate agreed to the House Substitute last week. The bill is now headed to the governor’s desk. Representatives will have to decide today whether to accept the Senate’s changes to HB 1084, a bill to combat the supposed tide of “Critical Race Theory” in schoolrooms. This bill along with SB 226 are measures to keep Governor Kemp’s promises from his State of the State Address.
Although legislative leaders did not seem supportive of any effort to pass new election laws this session, conservative legislators have pushed HB 1464 to the brink of passage. Earlier versions of the bill stoked controversy due to the inclusion of election fraud units in the GBI. However, last week the Senate Ethics Committee rewrote the bill and removed much of the controversial language. The bill will look to pass the Senate today before the House decides whether it will accept the changes.
While there are sure to be surprises today, legislators are constitutionally required to pass a budget before the end of the session meaning that process will likely take up some time in both chambers. However, there are other bills and ideas that have yet to pass that could squeak through and make a sudden appearance (or reappearance). Many legislators thought this session might finally see the passage of a sports gambling bill and referendum. Interested parties will pay close attention to see if this is finally the year that sports betting crosses the finish line.
Sine Die is the last day of the legislative session and it brings with it a certainty often out of place during these first few months of the year. It is certain that ideas long thought dead will make their last gasp for life during today’s proceedings. It is certain that legislators will find themselves forced to take a vote on a bill they haven’t read yet. Certainly there will be dejected legislators who will leave the Gold Dome tonight knowing they must be reelected in order to finally pass legislation that stalled this session. And certainly, when the sun comes up tomorrow, some of the same actors who have played a part in the last 40 (legislative) days will not return to the State Capitol to face another day.