Ga. lawmakers grapple with COVID-19 legal issues, budget cuts and more

Published: Jun. 24, 2020 at 12:25 PM EDT
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ATLANTA - Georgia state senators want to give broad protection to businesses and others from being sued if someone blames them for contracting COVID-19.

House Bill 167 passed 31-19 on Tuesday and goes back to the House for more debate. The bill came forward after Senate leaders spurned a narrower measure intended to be something of a compromise between business groups and plaintiff lawyers.

Republican leaders placed the business community’s preferred language into a different bill and pushed it forward. Under the language approved Tuesday, a business would have to display “willful and wanton misconduct” or reckless or intentional infliction of harm to lose a lawsuit.

The big story out of the General Assembly this week remains the hate crimes legislation passed by the Senate after lawmakers struck a deal to remove language protecting police. The bill, passed Tuesday by a vote of 47-6, now goes back to the state House for debate of Senate changes, which include data collection and reporting requirements and the addition of sex as a protected factor.

In other news out of the Georgia General Assembly ...

  • Georgia state lawmakers could see their pay cut by 11% under a proposal advancing in the state Senate. Senators voted 43-3 on Tuesday to pass House Bill 1094, sending it back to the House for more debate. The bill would cut lawmakers’ yearly salary of more than $17,000 by 11% in the budget year beginning July 1. Republican Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan’s pay of nearly $92,000 a year would be cut by 14%. Lawmakers say they want to give up part of their pay to show they are sharing in suffering. State agencies, K-12 schools, universities and others are likely to face 10% budget cuts after tax revenue fell during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Gov. Brian Kemp is giving lawmakers permission to spend $250 million from Georgia’s rainy day fund to decrease budget cuts in the year beginning July 1. Kemp agreed to tap the state’s piggy bank Monday as he set a new revenue estimate for the 2021 budget year. The Republican governor cut the ceiling for spending state-collected revenue from $28.1 billion to $25.9 billion. Kemp’s new estimate of $2.2 billion less in state funds is actually an improvement over earlier outlooks. It will equal a 10% funding cut for state agencies, K-12 schools, universities and colleges. That’s down from earlier forecasts of as much as 14% reductions.
  • Georgia lawmakers are advancing a proposed state constitutional amendment that would let members meet electronically or away from the state Capitol during a pandemic or disaster. The House voted 151-6 on Tuesday for Senate Resolution 19. It goes back to the Senate for more debate. The measure would require voters statewide to decide on the changes in a referendum. The amendment would let the General Assembly choose another place or electronic means of meeting as long as lawmakers and the general public can see and hear any meetings. House Majority Leader Jon Burns tells House members the current COVID-19 pandemic has proved the need for more flexibility.

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