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The Georgia General Assembly’s 40-day march through this year’s legislative session finished with an exhausting late-night sprint to the finish on its final day Wednesday, also known as Sine Die. 

Amid the flurry of activity, it’s hard to keep track of all the legislation that passed both the House and Senate and moved to the desk of Republican Gov. Brian Kemp to get signed into law–and what died on the vine. 

Here’s a breakdown of some notable winners and losers in the final moments of the 2023 session.

HOT: The status quo

The Legislature passed plenty of bills this session that will significantly affect the people of Georgia. But several that were heavily backed in the Republican-controlled House and Senate stalled out in the session’s final days: a robust expansion of last year’s mental health care legislation and medical marijuana expansion, legalizing online sports gambling, and a school voucher measure that promised $6,500 to students enrolled in private schools. 

NOT: Democrats

For Democrats, the last-minute failure of many priority items was mostly a good thing. The Republicans set much of the 2023 legislative agenda, which was largely in step with the American right-wing conservative movement. But that meant issues many deep blue Atlanta voters care about—abortion rights, gun control, a minimum wage increase–didn’t even reach a vote, much less pass a single chamber.

Georgia Dems have a higher national profile than their counterparts in other states these days, but in their own backyard they were relegated to playing the role of spoiler. 

NOT: Election bills & Mark Zuckerberg

Every bill aimed at changing election procedures died during the session – including those allowing cities to utilize ranked-choice voting. The single statewide election bill that passed was Senate Bill 222, which makes it illegal for county election offices to accept private grant money to help run elections. 

Republican critics nationally had chafed at Mark Zuckerberg’s $400 million in donations to elections offices during the last election cycle for equipment, protective gear and other expenses –  including $2 million to the elections office in heavily Democratic DeKalb County.

During Senate floor debate on Wednesday, GOP lawmakers repeatedly invoked the Facebook founder and his so-called “Zuckerbucks” as a boogeyman. “Is Mark Zuckerberg present anywhere in the building today?” asked Sen. Shawn Still (R-Johns Creek) just before the final vote. (The answer was no.) The 32-21 vote along party linessends the bill to Kemp for a final signature.

HOT: Tough-on-crime bills

Thanks to the passage of Senate Bill 44 on the session’s final day, crimes that prosecutors deem gang-related will trigger a mandatory five extra years on prison sentences for those convicted and 10 years for those convicted of recruiting minors into a gang. That’s on top of five-to-20-year sentences for gang convictions that already exist in Georgia. The bill also increases penalties for involving someone under 18 or with a disability in a gang-related crime. 

Also pending Kemp’s signature, Senate Bill 68  increases the prison sentence for those convicted of dogfighting, by classifying it as a gang-related crime. 

Meanwhile, Senate Bill 92 creates a state-level Prosecuting Attorneys Oversight Commission, which is designed to discipline district attorneys whom Republicans view as “woke prosecutors,” and “soft on crime.” Rep. Tanya Miller (D-Atlanta), who’s a former prosecutor, called the bill “a power grab by the majority party to usurp the will of the voters by putting this body in the business of overseeing duly elected prosecutors throughout this state.”

NOT: Also, tough-on-crime bills

A host of other crime-related bills that would have increased both the severity of charges and the length of sentences didn’t make it past Sine Die:

  • Senate Bill 63 would have added 53 new misdemeanor and felony charges requiring cash or property bail for release from pretrial detention. 
  • House Bill 30 would have broadened the state’s definition of antisemitism to include criticism of Israel under anti-discrimination or hate-crime laws. 
  • House Bill 505 would have reclassified rioting from a misdemeanor to a felony.
  • House Bill 500 would have created a new law making setting fire to a police vehicle a felony.

HOT (sort of): Public education funding

Public education advocates took a deep sigh of relief at the last-minute defeat of Senate Bill 233, which would have granted a $6,500 per year voucher for Georgia public school students to enroll in a private school. Opponents said the bill was a backdoor for defunding and resegregating public schools. 

The Legislature did expand need-based financial aid to Georgia college students (House Bill 249). Kemp’s 2024 budget includes a $2,000 pay raise for K-12 teachers and a $500 cost-of-living increase for state retirees. Yet, that same budget also cuts $87 million for educators at the state’s public colleges and universities.

NOT: Healthcare 

The state failed to pass legislation to fully expand Medicaid, which meant rejecting billions of dollars in federal funding offered under the Affordable Care Act and American Rescue Plan. That means pandemic-related benefits will end April 1 for hundreds of thousands of poor, disabled, and marginalized Georgians.

Last week, Kemp signed Senate Bill 140 into law, which prohibits doctors from providing gender-affirming hormone care or surgery to transgender youth under 18. While the legislation to improve mental health care failed, a small piece of the bill, House Bill 520, made it into Senate Bill 23 to streamline data-sharing between state agencies.

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