Monday marks a pivotal point in this year’s legislative session: It’s the last day for a bill to clear at least one chamber to have a decent chance at becoming law this year.
Last year, lawmakers barely made it through the traditional night of marathon law-making before the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to abruptly suspend the session until the summer.
There appears to be little risk of that happening again, although the threat of another unplanned break in legislating loomed over the session when it started in January with social distancing and face masks required in the two chambers. Blue tape has mapped out limited seating in committee rooms, where TVs carry Zoomed-in advocates and cameras pipe out footage of most meetings.
Those precautions and a mandatory twice-a-week COVID-19 testing program for lawmakers and staff were designed to keep the session rolling. Even so, legislators hurried through a spending plan through the end of June, just in case. It was the fastest lawmakers have passed the amended budget in decades.
House lawmakers just approved a new budget for next year Friday without the same sense of urgency.
The House has not released its testing results, but the chamber’s leaders have said the positive cases have been low. Senate President Pro Tempore Butch Miller reminded fellow lawmakers Friday to get tested on Monday, noting that the positive test rate among Senators has been about 1% for the session.
Some lawmakers have also been able to get the vaccine and others who had COVID-19 have been glad to at least have the lingering antibodies.
“Some of that pressure’s off,” the House’s chief budget writer, Rep. Terry England, said after the budget vote Friday.
Compromises have been struck through muffled conversations inside the Capitol as state troopers with long guns stand watch outside and an 8-foot metal fence slowly encircles the grounds – daily reminders of the rising tensions that drive many of the more contentious bills trying to wind their way to the governor’s desk.
Protesters have set up outside the Capitol to decry the pile of GOP voting bills that have followed unsupported claims of voter fraud in the November election. Former President Donald Trump repeatedly cast doubt on the state’s election system leading up to the election and then for weeks afterwards, and multiple Georgia GOP lawmakers backed efforts to overturn the election results. Republicans are now pushing measures that they say are meant to restore voter confidence.
House Lawmakers just passed a sweeping bill that would require a government ID to vote and restrict early voting. The Senate is poised to vote on a more restrictive voting bill that would end no-excuse absentee voting in Georgia, which was a popular alternative to voting in person during the pandemic.
Senate Republican Majority Leader Mike Dugan’s bill, which would require someone to have a reason to cast an absentee ballot, is one of more than 10 voting legislation set to be considered by the Senate Monday. Another proposal would end automatic voter registration when someone signs up for a driver’s license.
Georgia Recorder reporter Stanley Dunlap contributed to this report.