Georgia’s 2018 legislative session in review: what passed, what failed and what’s next

Georgia's legislative session concluded on March 29. This year's session was relatively quiet compared to last year but still included bills affecting the state of Georgia. 

Tandra Smith

Another legislative session is in the books for Georgia lawmakers as the last day of the legislative session came and went on March 29 in Atlanta.

This year’s legislative session was relatively quiet compared to the session last year, which saw bills regarding campus carry and religious freedom.

Even though this year’s session was not nearly as volatile, there were still a number of bills affecting the state of Georgia and Georgia Southern University as a whole.

Next year’s budget

According to WABE, a $26.2 billion budget was approved for the 2019 fiscal year. The budget will include initiatives to expand transit in metro Atlanta, increase funding for K-12 education and for GS, a new building on the Statesboro campus.

{{tncms-inline account=”Bob Mikell” html=”<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">This year's budget includes $49,900,000 for construction of the new Center for Engineering and Research on the Statesboro Campus of Georgia Southern University. Thank you <a href="https://twitter.com/GovernorDeal?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@GovernorDeal</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/ChrisRiley__?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@ChrisRiley__</a> and Senator Jack Hill for your unwavering support for higher education in S. GA!</p>— Bob Mikell (@bob_mikell) <a href="https://twitter.com/bob_mikell/status/979791232330280960?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">March 30, 2018</a></blockquote>” id=”https://twitter.com/bob_mikell/status/979791232330280960″ type=”twitter”}}

Close to $50 million from the 2019 budget will go towards the new building, the Center for Engineering and Research which will break ground in January 2019, according to a press release from Re Business Online.

“The new Center for Engineering and Research (CEAR) will centralize the various departments and multiple disciplines of the Allen E. Paulson College of Engineering and Computing,” the press release said.

Upon completion, the building will house computer labs, advanced technology and equipment, administrative offices and more.

The building is expected to be completed by fall 2020.

Free speech bill

Passed in the Georgia House on March 27, SB 339, otherwise known as the free speech bill, would provide protection to guest speakers on college campuses. Currently there is no such policy regarding free speech from the Board of Regents, but this could all change if Gov. Nathan Deal signs the bill into law.

If the bill becomes law, sanctions would be put upon anybody who disrupted a guest speaker on campus.

Hands-free driving

The bill that caused much discussion this session, HB 673, also known as the hands-free driving bill, is headed to the governor’s desk.

If signed into law, drivers would be required to use “hands-free” technology while driving. Drivers would not be allowed to hold their phone, text while driving, watch a video, record video while driving and a host of other things.

Drivers would be allowed to do the following things behind the wheel, according to myAJC:

  • Speaking and texting using hands-free technology
  • Use a GPS or mapping app on their cell phone
  • Wearing and using a smart watch
  • Using radios, CB radios, CB radio hybrids, commercial two-way radios and related devices.

There are certain exceptions to this rule, such as reporting an accident or other emergency incident.

Bills that failed

Though Georgia lawmakers passed many bills on the last day of the legislative session, there were plenty of other bills that are dead until they are brought back to the table next year.

One such bill is Senate Bill 375 (SB 375), known as the “Keep Faith in Adoption and Foster Care Act”. The bill would have allowed adoption agencies to prevent LGBTQ+ couples from adopting on the grounds of their religious beliefs.

The bill initially passed the Georgia Senate in late February, but stalled in the House shortly after.

Another bill that did not make it past the session’s last day was the “Hidden Predator Act”, also known as House Bill 605 (HB 605).

Sponsored by Rep. Jason Spencer, R-Georgia, Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, D – Decatur, Rep. Buzz Brockway, R – Lawrenceville, three other representatives and one senator, HB 605 would’ve increased the number of years victims of child sexual abuse had in order to go after their perpetrator and the enabling organizations.

Georgia will reconvene early next year for the 2019 legislative session, with a number of new representatives, senators and a new governor.