Bill Heath

Senator Bill Heath

The Senate was in session for Legislative Days 36, 37 and 38 this week. Predictably, the amount of legislation on the calendar for consideration has increased significantly from the first few weeks of the session.

To see what has been under consideration in the Senate this week, go to the Secretary of the Senate's page of the Senate website, which lists the Rules Calendars for days 36, 37 and 38, under Senate Calendars. Some 35 bills were available for action on Wednesday, up from both the normal pace of 5 to 6 per day in the weeks past, as well as 10 to 12 per day earlier this week.

As I have often commented on the chaos of the final days, the chances of bad legislation making it through the process increase when the General Assembly is working on a deadline. However, this late-session urgency does restrict the amount of bills that can be passed to the amount of time we have left in session. More simply, because of the hard deadline, it is the reality that many bills on a variety of topics have to compete for the remaining consideration time.

As the second year of the biennium, all bills that have cleared committee and at least one chamber are still active in the legislative process. Over the past two years, the 56 state Senators have introduced 441 bills. The 180 member state House has introduced 1,160 House Bills. Some of those bills received final passage last session. Some failed last year and were never truly in play this session. Regardless, there is a large portion of legislation available for consideration at this point in any given session. With time being the biggest limitation to many bills that may have merit, plenty of good bills authored by honorable legislators will have to compete for the remaining hours of floor time in each chamber. On the other hand, the limited time hopefully crowds out bad legislation.

Because a bill must pass with identical language in both chambers before it is sent to the governor, there is a meticulous process for one chamber to formally agree or disagree with changes made by the other. Through what are called "special orders," the Senate, for example, can agree to a House amendment made to a piece of legislation previously passed by the Senate. If both chambers chose to disagree, then the bill could go to a specially appointed conference committee to work out the differences.

A notable special order occurred on Wednesday when the House and Senate agreed to a version of House Bill 757 as amended by the House. This bill is the final version of a long debate on religious freedom protections in Georgia.

The conversation about Georgia's religious freedom laws came to the forefront last session when Sen. Josh McKoon offered Senate Bill 129, which was modeled on the federal Religious Freedom and Restoration Act passed by Congress in 1993. His bill received the approval of the Senate but stalled in the House committee process. This session a number of different religious liberty bills were introduced including Senate Bill 284, the First Amendment Defense Act, authored by Sen. Greg Kirk. Throughout the process, House Bill 757, which began as the Pastor Protection Act, now includes significant portions of SB 284 and SB 129. After the special order approval of both chambers on Wednesday, religious freedom legislation is now on the governor's desk.

In the business of next week, anyone wishing to follow the action on the floor of both the House and Senate chambers can do so in the Capitol gallery or via live video streaming. The House live feed is here. The Senate live feed is here. The feeds are only active when the chambers are in session. For additional information, both chambers utilize Twitter. Those handles are @GAHouseFloor and @GASenatePress, respectively.

If you have questions or concerns about legislation that is being presented or is available for consideration please contact me.

Sen. Bill Heath serves as Chairman of the Government Oversight Committee and as a member of the Agriculture and Consumer Affairs, Appropriations and Finance committees. The 31st Senate District consists of Haralson, Polk counties and portions of Paulding county. He may be reached at 404-656-3943, by email at BillHeath@BillHeath.net or on Facebook as Bill Heath.