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Capitol Beat Weekly Digest

Here were some of the goings-on around the Georgia Capitol last week: Georgia absentee, early voting changes signed into law Sweeping legislation to overhaul voting by mail, advance voting and state oversight of Georgia elections passed out of the General Assembly March 25 and was promptly signed by Gov. Brian Kemp after months of intense debate at the state Capitol.

The bill contains dozens of proposals pitched by Republicans that would require stricter voter ID rules for mail-in ballots, ban people from handing out food and drink to voters waiting in line outside polling places and halt absentee ballot applications from being accepted within 11 days of an election.

It cleared the state House of Representatives by a 100-75 vote along party lines before gaining final passage a few hours later in the state Senate, also by a party-line vote. Kemp signed the bill into law about an hour after its passage in the Senate. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Max Burns, R-Sylvania, absorbed proposals from several other election- focused measures on its way to passing out of the state legislature. Beyond absentee and early voting changes, Burns’ bill also allows state officials to take over county election boards for poor performance, which Democratic leaders and voting-rights advocates argue could give Republicans a back door to influence local election operations in many counties. The bill also dropped a prior effort by Republican state lawmakers to shrink early voting on Sundays in Georgia. It instead would require two Saturdays of early voting and give counties the option to hold poll hours on two Sundays.

Among the bill’s most contentious changes to survive final passage is a requirement that registered Georgia voters provide the number on their driver’s license or state ID card to request and cast absentee ballots. If they do not have those ID forms, voters instead would have to send in a copy of their passport, employee ID card, utility bill or bank statement.

“Our goal is to ensure election integrity and to restore or confirm confidence in the election process,” Burns said.

Georgia Democratic leaders have long condemned the changes pushed by Republicans, characterizing them as targeted at minority and low-income voters to curb election turnout in communities where Democrats tend to draw strong support.

“Make no mistake: This is democracy in reverse,” said Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler, D-Stone Mountain. “We are witnessing right now a massive and unabashed assault on voting rights unlike anything we’ve seen since the Jim Crow era.” Pay ban for indicted Georgia elected officials goes to voters Georgians are poised to decide whether statewide elected officials who have been suspended amid felony charges for abusing their office should continue to draw a paycheck while awaiting trial. The state House of Representatives gave final approval March 23 to a constitutional amendment that puts to voters whether to bar pay for officials facing felony charges, including Georgia’s governor, secretary of state and insurance commissioner.

The measure comes after it was recently revealed former state Insurance Commissioner Jim Beck has continued receiving his salary for nearly two years since being suspended following his indictment on felony fraud charges. The question will be on the statewide ballot in 2022 if Gov. Brian Kemp signs the amendment.

Republicans Hice, Belle Isle announce primary challenges of Raffensperger U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, R-Greensboro, and former Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle announced their candidacies for Georgia Secretary of State March 22 by attacking incumbent Brad Raffensperger’s handling of last year’s elections.

Hice, who immediately picked up the endorsement of former President Donald Trump, accused Raffensperger of standing by while widespread election fraud compromised the integrity of Georgia’s elections process. “If elected, I will instill confidence in our election process by upholding the Georgia Constitution, enforcing meaningful reform and aggressively pursuing those who commit voter fraud,” Hice said. Belle Isle was runnerup to Raffensperger in the 2018 Republican primary.

“In the recent elections, we witnessed voter suppression on a massive scale, triggered by voter uncertainty and made worse by the Secretary’s poor decisions, carelessness, and failure to lead,” Belle Isle said. “It’s time to hold the Secretary of State accountable.” Raffensperger and other state elections officials have repeatedly refuted claims of widespread voter fraud in Georgia during the 2020 election cycle, and multiple federal courts either declined to take up lawsuits filed by disgruntled Republicans or dismissed them. Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and GOP Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan came to Raffensperger’s defense during the weeks of criticism other Georgia Republicans leveled at the Secretary of State. Isakson bridge-naming measure gains final passage in General Assembly A resolution naming a bridge over a portion of the Port of Savannah in honor of former U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., has cleared the General Assembly.

The Georgia Senate passed the resolution unanimously on March 25, one month after the House approved it, also without opposition. It now heads to Gov. Brian Kemp for his signature. The bridge on Georgia 307 crosses over the Mason Mega Rail Yard, a $215 million project that, when completed, will give the port enough additional capacity to ship goods to cities in the nation’s Mid-South and Midwest regions.

W hile Isakson was instrumental throughout his congressional career in landing federal funding for the Mason Mega Rail Yard and other port projects, his influence spread much farther.

“Johnny Isakson worked greatly in helping people in Georgia,” said Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, who carried the resolution in the Senate. “No matter who you are, no matter what side of the aisle you came from … Johnny Isakson was a man about the people, taking care of people.” Isakson was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1999 after serving for years in the General Assembly. He moved up to the Senate in 2004, serving two terms and part of a third before retiring at the end of 2019 for health reasons.

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