Georgians suffered some damaging blows during the 2023 legislative session due to bills that unnecessarily target the poor, transgender children and their families, and voters. We saw some big wins, with a bill aiming to criminalize protest dying in committee and passage of another bill that will make it easier to vote early.
“I am very proud of the staff and volunteers of the ACLU of Georgia. Their expert nonpartisan analysis, thoughtful presentations, principled advocacy and persistent presence represent the ideals of our democracy,” said ACLU Ga. Executive Director Andrea Young.
Here’s an overview of the bills we followed this session:
Criminal Legal Reform
Policy Counsel Ben Lynde led the charge against criminal legal reform, testifying on the negatives of many pieces of legislation in an effort to kill them in committee, before they could advance. Lawmakers were receptive in some instances, but others appeared focused on swinging the pendulum toward harsher, more punitive criminal laws that would disproportionately impact people who could not afford to post bond.
- SB 11, which allows the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to investigate all acts of terrorism, passed the House unanimously. This bill opens the door for GBI to pursue alleged crimes that local law enforcement agencies have already deemed not worth their time. In short, it’s very contradictory in a state so concerned with local control.
- SB 44 passed the Senate on Sine Die, which proponents argued will limit gang activity, but the unintended consequences of the bill mean more people will face prison sentences if they miss a court date and then, for example, get stopped for something like a broken tail light.
- SB 92 passed and creates a Prosecuting Attorneys Oversight Commission to discipline prosecutors. The commission will prompt unnecessary and politicized reviews of what prosecutors choose to prioritize.
- Thankfully, two additional bad bills died by failing to get a vote before both chambers adjourned: SB 12/HB 103, which would have revised the state’s Gang Act and weakened protections for crime victims by eliminating some aspects of due process, and the clearly problematic SB 63 that targeted poor residents by expanding offenses requiring bail.
On the voting rights front, we saw a mixed bag of results.
- Lawmakers quickly passed SB 222 on the last day of session. The bill bans private donations for elections. Last year’s anti-voter bill SB 202 already stifled money-starved elections offices; this new bill eliminates another means of offsetting the costs of elections.
- With help from our Senior Policy Counsel Vasu Abhiraman, SB 129 made it through both chambers easily. It’s a good bill that expands that ability for employees to take time off to vote early in the same manner already provided for the day of voting.
- We’re also deeply concerned about the passage of HB 422, which reconstitutes Ware County’s local Board of Elections. This bill and others like it are aimed at removing Black members and building BOEs that heavily favor the majority party in the General Assembly. The legislature must put an end to these racially-motivated takeovers.
LGBTQ+ and Reproductive Rights
- Our First Amendment Policy Advocate Sarah Hunt-Blackwell and allies statewide worked very hard against SB 140, which passed and was signed into the law by the governor. The bill bans medical professionals from giving transgender children necessary medical treatments that align with their gender identity. Republicans pushed this bill through while ignoring the warnings of parents, medical providers, and transgender youth. We will use every legal means at our disposal to fight this bill.
- Advocates were able to stop SB 88, Georgia’s version of “Don’t Say Gay.” The anti-LGBTQ+ bill would have chilled protected speech and infringed on rights of equitable education and free expression, and Hunt-Blackwell played an integral role in defeating the bill’s initial version.
- HB 556, The Pregnancy Protection Act, successfully passed through the House Industry and Labor Committee in early March. The bill would have mirrored the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act passed by the U.S. Congress and extended its protections, including prohibiting employers from forcing pregnant workers to resign. However, the Senate did not consider the bill before closing out this session. We’ll push for its passage once again next session.
“This session should be a reminder to voters that elections matter. As local elected officials strive to represent the issues their constituents care about, the theme of this session was about imposing the will of the state legislature and devaluing local control, especially on issues regarding voting, education, healthcare and public safety. We will continue to advocate for policy in these critical areas to be driven by expertise and in response to the needs of the people,” said Policy Counsel Ben Lynde.