With new Republican Gov. Brian Kemp at the helm of the state, Georgia’s 2019 legislative session brought plenty of action.
Several of Kemp’s main priorities, including teacher pay raises, a restrictive abortion ban and a Medicaid waiver authorization, translated into legislative action and were passed by the General Assembly.
But several other proposals introduced by lawmakers failed to move forward before the session’s end this past Tuesday. They include enhanced penalties for hate crimes, greater protections for actions driven by religious belief, a state takeover of Atlanta’s airport, and a 20-year extension on a jet fuel tax exemption.
The Georgia legislature operates on two-year cycles, meaning that legislation not passed this year can generally be taken up again when lawmakers return next January for the 2020 session.
Here’s a look at some of the legislative proposals that did not receive passage in 2019:
A hate crimes bill that would have added penalties for those convicted of targeting certain groups passed the state House in March but failed to gain traction in the Senate amid concerns that crime victims wouldn’t be treated equally under the statute.
Georgia is now one of only four states, along with South Carolina, Wyoming and Arkansas, without a hate crimes law, after Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb signed legislation there Wednesday.
The Georgia bill would have applied to those who target others because of race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, and mental or physical disability.
The Georgia Supreme Court struck down a 2000 hate crimes law, saying it was “unconstitutionally vague” and could be applied to any prejudice.
A proposal to require a “compelling governmental interest” before the state interferes with someone’s religious practices stalled in early March when a state Senate committee postponed public testimony on the proposal.
Republican Sen. Marty Harbin of Tyrone, the bill’s author, said then that he requested the delay because of time constraints, just before a midsession legislative deadline by which bills must generally pass out of one chamber or the other. He said he hoped to push the legislation forward next year.
Critics say the bill would legalize discrimination against the LGBT community.
Harbin said it would protect people of faith and was drafted to mirror the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a federal law passed by Congress in 1993 and signed by President Bill Clinton, with some slight changes to accommodate state law.
Similar proposals have been defeated or stalled in recent years, including one vetoed by former Republican Gov. Nathan Deal in 2016.
Deal took a stand against his own party and averted threatened boycotts by major corporations by vetoing a bill that enumerated actions that people of faith would not have to perform for other people.
Last year while campaigning for governor, Kemp supported enacting a mirror image of the federal RFRA law, saying he would sign “nothing more, nothing less.”
AIRPORT TAKEOVER AND JET FUEL TAX EXEMPTION
A plan for the state to take control of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport passed the Senate in early March, but encountered skepticism in the House amid strong opposition from city officials.
A twenty-year extension on a jet fuel tax exemption, a tax break that saves Delta Air Lines millions per year, was a priority of the House and governor and took the opposite track. It was approved by the House in early March but failed to move forward in the Senate.
Then the two proposals were tied together in various forms, as lawmakers tried to bring the other side into a compromise.
While considering the House’s jet fuel tax exemption bill, the Senate Finance committee tacked on their airport takeover bill, stunning the House sponsor of the underlying bill.
Just a few days later, there were similar turns in the House.
The House Rules committee took the Senate’s airport takeover bill and changed it to instead establish a legislative committee to oversee 10 of Georgia’s major commercial airports. The bill also bundled in two other proposals: the jet fuel tax exemption and one seeking to improve transit options across rural parts of the state.
Ultimately, both sides dug in and neither plan advanced.