Jonathan O’Brien | State Capitol Reporter

(Atlanta, Ga) — Lawmakers worked until the clock ran out on the 40th day of the 2021 General Assembly, which was dominated by election bills and the pandemic.

Among the bills heading to Governor Kemp’s desk: a bipartisan overhaul of Georgia’s Civil War-era citizen’s arrest statute. The current law came under scrutiny after it was used as a defense for the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery.

Final House vote on HB 479 (Citizen’s arrest overhaul) March 31, 2021.

Final House vote on HB 479 (Citizen’s arrest overhaul) March 31, 2021.

“Ahmaud’s going to have a legacy, and this movement in Georgia, what we’ve done by repealing this is going to be a part of that legacy,” said Representative Bert Reeves (R-Marietta), who sponsored the bill. “We needed to do something, and we needed to show that we are not going to allow people to chase people down and pretend that they have the right to just detain people for whatever they may have [seen].”

The measure passed the House unanimously 169 to 0, and if signed, will make Georgia the first state to remove the law from its books. In a statement following the vote, Governor Kemp said the bill “strikes a critical balance by allowing Georgians to protect themselves and their families, while also repealing Civil War-era language in our laws that is ripe for abuse.”

The new law makes some exceptions for employees at businesses, people conducting business on another person’s property, security guards, private investigators, and weigh station inspectors to detain someone they see committing a crime.

LISTEN: Rep. Reeves on how the bill got so much bipartisan support

The House and Senate agreed to the proposed $27.2 billion budget for 2022. The plan essentially follows what Gov. Kemp proposed back in January.

Another measure that the legislature approved, SB 107, grants students who grew up in the foster care system or were adopted a break on the cost of college.

If Congress approves, Georgia will stay permanently on daylight saving time under Senate Bill 100. Initially, lawmakers had proposed keeping the state on standard time year-round. This would not have required a congressional waiver.

A piece of legislation known as the “anti-defund the police” bill got final approval. Rep. Houston Gaines (R-Athens) sponsored HB 286, which limits local governments’ authority to reduce police funding. “It’s absolutely critical that we get this legislation done, and we continue to protect families in this state,” Gaines said.

If signed, the bill would prevent local governments from cutting their law enforcement budget by more than 5 percent in a single year or cumulatively over five years. Under the law, any decrease in funding would have to match an anticipated reduction of local revenue. “We’re not going to allow counties and cities to just slash their police departments and put families at risk,” Gaines said.

During the debate, Democrats questioned how the measure was in line with the longstanding Republican principle of “local control.” The House passed it along a 100 to 73 vote.

Among the legislation that failed, the so-called “right to visit” bill would’ve allowed hospital patients and nursing home residents to have a visitor for at least one hour a day, even during a public health emergency. Rep. Ed Setlzer (R-Acworth) sponsored HB 290, “It’s about patients’ rights. It gives the patient the right to have their next of kin at their bedside to help them make critical decisions in the delivery of care.”

Senate Bill 115 failed after passing the House 98-72. The legislation would have established a course for all Georgia drivers to take on the “best practices to implement when interacting with law enforcement officers.”

Sports betting also died at midnight with Democrats withholding support and not enough Republicans behind it to bring it up for a vote.

A last-ditch effort by Republicans to repeal the jet fuel tax credit enjoyed by Delta and other airlines made it out of the House but did not come up for a vote across the hall in the Senate. The move was in response to Delta CEO Ed Bastian’s sharp criticism of SB 202, the sweeping elections bill that has garnered national attention. Many groups have criticized the Atlanta-based airline for not speaking out strongly against the legislation.

“The statement today kind of came out of the blue sky,” House Speaker David Ralston told reporters, noting that Delta was involved in the discussion about the bill. “I’m gonna call my friend Ed Bastian and ask him if he’s going to suspend flights into states that have more restrictive voting rights than we do.”