ATLANTA — Georgia lawmakers passed dozens of bills Tuesday, as they rush to complete their work before the legislative session is set to end Thursday night.
Neither the House nor Senate is convening inside the Capitol on Wednesday, meaning that legislators have only one more day left to send their proposals to Gov. Nathan Deal’s desk.
Here’s a look at some of the day’s top items:
Lawmakers are close to preventing Georgia drivers from holding their cellphones while behind the wheel.
The Senate voted 55-0 on Tuesday to have Georgia become the 16th state to enact a hands-free driving law.
Drivers are “intoxicated by the glow of their smartphones,” Sen. P.K. Martin said. Distracted driving has led to a recent spike in fatal crashes, which has in turn caused insurance premiums to rise across the state, the Lawrenceville Republican said.
It is already illegal to text while driving, but law enforcement officers say the law is hard to enforce because they cannot tell whether a driver is texting or merely dialing, which is currently legal.
Under the proposal, drivers would still be able to use their phone through a hands-free device.
The measure heads back to the House, which overwhelmingly approved an earlier version of the proposal last month.
A controversial cybercrime bill focused on deterring “online snoopers” is nearing final passage in the legislature, despite the objections of cybersecurity researchers who fear it would have a “chilling effect” on their industry.
The House voted 107-63 on Tuesday favoring a bill that targets hackers who break into a computer system but don’t disrupt or steal data. The measure has been backed by Attorney General Christopher Carr, who has said Georgia is one of only three states without a law against unauthorized computer access.
Rep. Jonathan Wallace, a Watkinsville Democrat and software development manager, argued against the bill, saying researchers who check for vulnerabilities without permission provide an important service. Although Georgia is an outlier in not criminalizing online snooping, Wallace said the laws in many other states are specifically worded to apply only to those who have malicious intentions.
Majority Whip Christian Coomer, R-Cartersville, said the legislation has broad exceptions and does not apply to those who are conducting a “legitimate business activity” or employing “cybersecurity active defense measures.”
Proponents also argue that legitimate researchers should not be worried since prosecutors will use their discretion and target bad actors.
Because the bill was amended in a House committee, it must secure passage again in the Senate, or in a conference committee, before session ends on Thursday.
FREE SPEECH ON CAMPUS
The House has passed a proposal that would establish a free-speech policy at schools in the University System of Georgia and mandate sanctions for anyone who interferes with speakers.
The measure, a version of which passed the Senate last month, comes amid a national debate about controversial speakers — often conservative ones — being disinvited from campuses because of student disruptions.
The proposal is needed to stop “activists” who want to shutter open debate, said Rep. Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs.
But opponents said it would actually limit students’ right to protest speakers they disagree with.
“The First Amendment to the United States Constitution needs no additional protection from the Georgia General Assembly,” said House Minority Leader Bob Trammell, D-Luthersville.
The Senate must examine the House’s changes to the measure before it can secure final passage.
CRIMINAL JUSTICE OVERHAUL
The final piece of Republican Gov. Nathan Deal’s yearslong criminal justice overhaul has unanimously passed the House.
Backers of the measure, which passed the Senate in February, say that provisions allowing courts to consider the financial resources of the accused will stop people from being held simply because they are poor. It would give judges more leeway in forgoing cash bail for low-income offenders and more opportunities to impose community service rather than fines.
The proposal also enhances penalties for certain crimes involving firearms.
Republican Rep. Rich Golick, chairman of the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee, thanked Deal, saying that his criminal justice overhaul has become a model for the nation. Golick said the ongoing overhaul has saved the state billions of dollars and saved hundreds of lives.
Before the bill can reach the governor’s desk, it must go back to the Senate, where senators will evaluate recent changes made by the House.
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE VICTIMS
Victims of domestic violence in Georgia would be able to terminate housing leases early in certain circumstances under a proposal that has passed the Senate.
The proposal was passed unanimously on Tuesday after seeing some revisions since the House passed the bill unanimously in February.
Under the proposal, victims who have received a domestic violence order in either criminal or civil court proceeding will be eligible for early termination of a lease.
Republican Sen. Jesse Stone said the proposal would help reduce domestic violence deaths in the state. According to the Georgia Commission on Family Violence, 149 people were killed in domestic violence-related incidents in the state last year.
If the bill becomes law, it would apply to any lease agreements signed, renewed or modified after July 1.