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Local News

Crossover Day wrap-up: new immigration laws, power company rules and state white shrimp homage

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Jill Nolin and Toni Odejimi, Georgia Recorder
March 1, 2024

Georgia lawmakers voted on dozens of bills Thursday as a key legislative deadline came and went.

They dubbed the white shrimp as the state’s official crustacean and moved forward a GOP bill creating an “America first” license plate but only after a Democrat tried to change it to a “Donald Trump first” plate.

“I think what I’m really trying to get at here is just the heart and the spirit of the legislation,” said Sen. Josh McLaurin, a Sandy Springs Democrat.

 The Legislature wound down on Crossover Day shortly before midnight. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

But the day of marathon voting also featured its share of tense debates as lawmakers raced to get their bills out of at least one chamber by the close of Crossover Day, when a bill must pass out of at least one chamber for a smooth path to the governor’s desk.

The House passed a bill that would force local law enforcement to work with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement after the murder of an Augusta University nursing student made immigration a political flashpoint

And the Senate passed a controversial religious freedom bill that some say is a license to discriminate and pushed through a bill pulling Georgia out from the American Library Association. 

And several closely watched bills also failed to get a vote at all. For example, a proposal to impose a three-year moratorium on new permit applications for dragline mining never got a vote in the House even after being fast-tracked through the committee process. The bill was floated as public pressure ramps up on lawmakers to block a mining proposal near the Okefenokee Wildlife National Refuge.

Senate moves to revive consumers’ utility council

A measure that would bring back a consumers’ utility council that was eliminated in 2008 during the Great Recession sailed through the Senate Thursday.

The bill, sponsored by Rome Republican Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, would create the Office of Consumers’ Utility Council with an independent director under the Georgia Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities in the state.

The final measure to clear the Senate Thursday, it passed unanimously with little discussion. It now heads to the House for consideration.

The bill acknowledges that the commission exists to represent the public interest but said the commissioners “must be furnished with all available information concerning the effects of its decisions in rate cases and proceedings before it.”

In recent years, the PSC has signed off on multiple utility bill increases requested by Georgia Power.

Another proposal seeking to force Georgia Power to provide more information about their fuel costs to customers passed out of committee this week but did not make it to the floor for a vote by Thursday.

The sponsor of the late-filed bill, Rep. Don Parsons, expressed frustration with the powerful electric utility during a discussion Tuesday. The Marietta Republican chairs the House Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications Committee.

House backs bill to end subminimum wage for people with disabilities  

A proposal to phase out Georgia’s participation in a federal program that allows employers to pay people with disabilities below the minimum wage easily cleared the House.

Currently, eight Georgia community rehabilitation providers are legally paying subminimum wage to 245 workers with disabilities through a U.S. Department of Labor program. The national average wage of workers under this disability provision is $3.34 per hour.

The bill, sponsored by Marietta Republican Rep. Sharon Cooper, would require employers to pay at least half of minimum wage in the first year of the phaseout and then pay minimum wage by July 2026.

Participation in the program has been waning in Georgia. Cooper called the remaining eight participants as “holdouts” and said federal grant funding is available to help them transition out of the program.

“We will be sending a message to people with disabilities across our state that we value them, that they have a great deal to give their communities, that they can be employed, and that they are very valuable employees,” Cooper said Thursday.

The bill now goes to the Senate.

Proposed new housing program clears the House  

The House signed off a bill that creates an accountability-court structured program to help those who are unhoused.

The bill is called the State Housing Trust Fund for the Homeless Act, and it would be funded by local private companies like QuikTrip, which supports the bill.

Those in the program would be in it for a maximum of 18 months, with job opportunities and therapy available to them. The goal is for unhoused people to get stable jobs and support themselves after they leave.

Republican Majority Leader Chuck Efstration said that the program is entirely voluntary, not tied to criminal convictions or any other qualifications.

“If we could allow the homeless to voluntarily enter into these programs, we think we’d get some great success,” said Efstration.

The bill creates a commission for the program with some appointees hand-picked by the governor, lieutenant governor and the speaker of the House.

If passed, the application is supposed to be posted on the Department of Community Affairs website at the beginning of next year.

Age verification for porn watchers

Georgians attempting to open up their favorite pornographic website could be greeted by an unexpected sight: a window asking them to prove they are over 18.

The House approved a plan by Jasper Republican Rick Jasperse to require age verification for adult websites 165 to one, with Stonecrest Democrat Angela Moore the sole nay vote.

If the bill becomes law, if more than a third of a website’s content is deemed harmful to minors, the owners of the site would need to take steps to verify users’ age. That could involve having users submit a drivers’ license or other form of ID, or via mobile phone records or credit reference agency databases.

“I’m just trying to understand your legislation for someone who is not a porn watcher,” said Butler Democratic Rep. Patty Marie Stinson. “I’m trying to – really, this is a serious question, I’m trying to understand how this legislation actually impacts people in rural Georgia, you’re saying they have to have a driver’s license to be able to watch porn?”

“Yes,” Jasperse said.

“I’m sure there’s other alternatives, but if you’re on a site that has 33% of pornographic material on it, you would have to verify that you are over 18, just like you are to verify if you went into an adult bookstore, bought alcohol or anything like that,” he added.

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: info@georgiarecorder.com. Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Georgia Recorder under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.