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Senate, House and other key races to watch

Georgia lawmakers took steps this week to rein in what they see as rogue prosecutors and cities acting to protect undocumented immigrants. They also want to hold event organizers accountable for loud and expensive gatherings, and bring back a public defender to help keep electric bills under control.

On Thursday, the House approved its fiscal year Budget 2025making modest changes to the governor's proposed spending plan, and sent it to the Senate for consideration.

Discipline prosecutors. After lengthy debate, the House voted 97 to 73 to pass Senate Bill 332which creates rules to empower the new Prosecutor Qualifications Commission to investigate, discipline and remove state prosecutors who, as Rep. Joseph Gullett, R-Dallas, puts it, “abuse their office, sexually harass their employees and do not appear at the hearing. work.”

House Minority Whip Sam Park, D-Lawrenceville. (Credit: Georgia House)

Minority Whip Rep. Sam Park, a Lawrenceville Democrat, said the bill “is a partisan attempt to control and discipline prosecutors who make decisions that Republican politicians don't like,” adding that the bill would “protect twice-impeached former President Donald Trump.” of a criminal investigation.

At a news conference after the vote, House Speaker Jon Burns, R-Newington, said, “This is not about any one prosecutor or any one action or any lack of action by a particular prosecutor in our state. But it's about ensuring that our district attorneys enforce the rule of law (and) ensure the safety of our citizens in every jurisdiction they are responsible for in our state.

Meanwhile, a special Senate investigative committee has launched its investigation into allegations of misconduct by Fulton County Prosecutor Fani Willis, which Sen. Greg Dolezal, the Senate's chief deputy whip, said includes “l 'use of public funds and accusations of unprofessional relationship'.

On Wednesday, the committee, made up of six Republicans and three Democrats, called as its first witness Ashleigh Merchant, a lawyer representing Michael Roman, Trump's co-defendant in the election interference case. Merchant shared texts and other evidence from witnesses alleging that Willis had a romantic relationship with special prosecutor Nathan Wade before his hiring, and alleged that Wade was overpaid for his work on the case while offering Willis sumptuous trips to tropical regions.

Senate Minority Whip Harold Jones, D-Augusta (Georgia Senate)

Sen. Harold Jones, D-Augusta, the minority whip, questioned Merchant's premise that the trips were lavish or provided evidence of a conflict of interest that hurt his client. “Your argument is that a person who makes $200,000 a year is actually suing for taking a trip that costs $3,500?” He asked.

Here are some other highlights from the General Assembly's work this week:

In the House

  • Events that become nuisances. Senate Bill 443 would require promoters and organizers of unauthorized events that cause property damage or force local governments to spend money on trash pickup, public safety or other costs, to take responsibility and pay the note. The bill was prompted by the annual Orange Crush spring beach party on Tybee Island, an unsanctioned event that last year drew tens of thousands of students to the island and whose revelry reportedly cost $187,000 to the small town and led to the arrest of 18 people. people. The House voted 163-4 to pass the bill. If the governor signs it, it will be just in time for the next Orange Crush event scheduled for April 19-21.
  • Power to the people. The House is considering a Senate bill that would restore an oversight position that could help reduce Georgia Power's electric bills. Senate Bill 457 would reestablish the Consumers' Utility Counsel, an attorney who would represent customers' interests before the Georgia Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities. Bill sponsor Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, said he filed the bill after the PSC approved a series of increases to Georgia Power's utility bill due to rising electricity costs associated with the construction of units at the Vogtle nuclear power plant.
  • The medical marijuana bill is coming back. The House pressed hard on its version of a bill that would change how the state's slow-growing medical marijuana program is regulated. Parliamentary Bill 196, got bogged down in major last-minute changes last session, leading the Senate to hesitate to pass it. The House passed a separate bill to regulate hemp products that most senators had never seen. The bill will now be debated in a conference committee made up of three representatives from both chambers.

    The bill's lead sponsor, Rep. Alan Powell, R-Hartwell, wants to abolish the Georgia Medical Cannabis Access Commission and put the Department of Agriculture in charge of managing marijuana cultivation licenses and other related activities. The commission was heavily criticized last year for its lack of transparency and its methodology for licensing companies that grow marijuana, leading nine growers whose bids were unsuccessful to sue the state in justice. The proposed legislation would allow the agriculture commissioner to arbitrate legal complaints and award new grower licenses to those whose operations are deemed meritorious, and the department's work on cannabis would be subject to open meeting laws and public records.

  • No elevated cars. Legislators said “no” to “Carolina Squat', a modification to the front or rear suspension of a car, often a truck, that causes the front to ride higher than the rear, as if the car were squatting. Rep. John Carson, R-Marietta, said BS 352, which prohibits modifying a car's suspension so that one end of the frame is four inches higher or lower than the other end, is necessary for safety reasons. The squat modification creates “a public safety effect of not having headlights or the driver's eyes on the road,” he said. The bill passed by a vote of 136 to 33.

In the Senate

This week, several Senate committees approved bills and education-related legislation that would crack down on sanctuary cities, as well as home invaders who stay in a home and intend to commit domestic violence.

  • Pressure mounts for sanctuary cities. The Senate Public Safety Committee this week hijacked a bill originally related to penalties for passing school buses to create a new law regarding sanctuary cities. The commission approved a new version of HB 301 It would impose more financial penalties on jurisdictions that the state determines have policies that protect undocumented immigrants in violation of state and federal laws.
  • Help with heart attack. All schools would be equipped with automated external defibrillators and emergency action plans to deal with people suffering cardiac arrest, based on the provisions of the HB 874which cleared the Senate Education and Youth Committee this week.
  • Funding public charter school leaders. The Senate Committee on Education and Youth adopted HB1122 provide funding for local and state charter school principals and superintendents. Additionally, this bill would increase opportunities for students to attend public schools, including charter schools, where their parents or guardians work.
  • Better protection against domestic violence. The Senate Committee on Children and Families adopted HB 509 which would expand the offense of first- or second-degree burglary to include entering or remaining in another's dwelling with the intent to commit an act of domestic violence. The bill aims to combat domestic violence. For example, if an ex-spouse breaks into the house, two crimes will be committed: criminal trespass and battery. If that person steals something, they are guilty of a crime because it is considered burglary.

In other news

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens (Jill Jordan Sieder)

Andrew Dickens, Mayor of Atlanta visited the House and Senate on Thursday. In both chambers, he highlighted the city's partnership with the state's public safety agencies and touted declining violent crime rates in Atlanta, where major crimes against people are down 15 percent and homicides by 21%, “the third largest decline in homicides.” than any other city in the United States,” he said.

Dickens also discussed the city's work to bring more affordable housing to Atlanta, particularly for people experiencing homelessness, which he said is another priority shared by state leaders.

“I hope we can maintain open lines of communication between this House and my administration,” Dickens told lawmakers. “We are all committed to making the best choices in the best interest of the people of this city and those of the great state of Georgia. Thank you for having me today and I look forward to remaining in great partnership with the city and state.

House Speaker Jon Burns told Dickens, “This House believes in you on both sides of the aisle, and we look forward to continuing our partnership.” As Atlanta evolves, so does the state.

The Georgia Legislative Black Caucus on Thursday offered its condolences on the death of Naomi Ruth Barber King, the sister-in-law of the late civil rights icon the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Mrs. King died Thursday in Atlanta. She was 92 years old. King was the wife of the late Rev. AD King, a civil rights activist and community leader.

“Her unwavering commitment to justice and equality extended beyond her activism, as she dedicated herself to improving her community through education, mentoring and philanthropy” , said caucus chairman Carl Gilliard in a statement.

Read these related stories:

2025 House budget calls for more funds for education, housing, state workers

Georgia student’s death spurs Gov. Kemp and lawmakers to push state solutions for ‘failed federal policies’ on immigration 

Have questions? Contact Jill Jordan Sieder on X @journalistajill or to (email protected) and Tammy Joyner on X @lvjoyner or to (email protected).
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