Ga. Capitol news: Senate approves budget maintaining higher spending

Published: Mar. 25, 2022 at 12:39 PM EDT
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ATLANTA - The Georgia Senate has unanimously passed a state budget for next year that continues increased spending on education, health care and other priorities amid a surge in tax revenue and federal funding.

The budget approved Friday would spend $53 billion overall in the fiscal year starting in July, including $30.2 billion in state tax money and $17.7 billion in federal money.

The House passed its own budget proposal earlier in March.

Many of the biggest items in the Senate budget show no change from the House proposal, but there are differences that will now have to be settled in negotiations before the measure can get final approval.

Mix-up puts protest legislation on pause

ATLANTA - A line of people signed up to speak about SB 171 the “Safe Communities Act of 2021″ Thursday at the state Capitol.

Several more waited outside the jam packed room to share concerns about the bill that would crack down on protestors who break laws.

“A lot of community members came to testify against this bill because it’s an attack on our constitutional rights: our right to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly,” said Geovani Serrano with the Georgia Latino Alliance and Human Rights Club. “It’s an attack on the state constitution and the federal constitution.”

After a long delay, lawmakers realized the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Randy Robertson, was not coming.

“I can’t remember a sponsor failing to appear when a hearing was set. The room is full of people who’d taken time to be present,” Rep. Chuck Efstration told the room. The meeting was canceled and groups of disappointed advocates left.

Sen. Randy Robertson got his meetings mixed up in the busy legislative schedule.

He was actually speaking in another meeting at the same time.

“I was excited when I realized I was up for public safety. I just didn’t realize it was in the House and the Senate,” Robertson told Senate committee members.

The bill is still on the table to possibly become law and the opponents plan to return to the Capitol to speak out against it.

The bill would enact more strict penalties for people who unlawfully protest. If they block streets, highways, or interstates during protests they can face one to five years in jail and/or $1,000 to $5,000.

Kaitlyn Barnes says, “It’s already a misdemeanor to be blocking a highway or street. This would enhance that to a felony if its done in an assembly,” said Kaitlyn Barnes, counsel with the Southern Center for Human Rights.

If a driver hits a protestor who is blocking a street, that driver can be excused by the courts if they indicate they were trying to actively flea the protest in fear of being attacked, according to the bill. Opponents say this portion could give license to people who want to hurt protestors.

If anyone who destructs property while unlawfully protesting they will face felony charges, one to five years in prison and/or $1,000 to $10,000 in fines.

Also, the bill holds city officials civilly liable if they interfere with law enforcement from policing an unlawful protest or riot.

House committee passes bill to loosen young driver restrictions

ATLANTA - A bill to loosen rules on teen drivers in Georgia has passed its first test.

A committee in the state House of Representatives passed Senate Bill 5-0. The bill would allow new drivers to drive with one person who is not a family member as long as that person is 21.

Currently drivers under 18 are only allowed to drive with immediate family in the car for 6 months after getting their license.

The bill will now goes to the Rules Committee, which will decide whether the full House gets to vote on it.

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