Crossover Day: Lawmakers approve citizen's arrest, election reforms

Georgia state lawmakers worked well into the night Monday to meet the Crossover Day deadline.

That is the day by which bills must be approved in either the House or the Senate to stay alive for the legislative session.

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Citizen's Arrest

Members of the House of Representatives took to their feet as House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, read the vote for a bill repealing Georgia's citizen's arrest law, 173-0.

"We're moving forward as a state," said Speaker Ralston. "We recognize that this antiquated law that came out of the post-Civil War era is no longer appropriate. It's subject to so much abuse. It's just something we don't need anymore as a state. We're better than that and I think that we demonstrated that today."

House Bill 479 was inspired by Ahmaud Arbery, who was gunned down in Brunswick, Georgia in February 2020 by two men who claimed they were trying to perform a citizen's arrest.

Ahmaud Arbery

"Ahmaud Arbery has changed in many ways this state. He really has," said State Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway.

The legislation removes the section of state law that allows private citizens to arrest someone, though it does include provisions for restaurant or shop owners to detain someone suspected of theft until law enforcement can arrive.

Election Reform

The state Senate spent much of their day debating election reform legislation.

Senate Bill 241 would eliminate Georgia's no-excuse absentee ballot policy, instead allowing only those 65 and older, those with a physical disability, those out of town on Election Day or those observing a religious holiday to request an absentee by mail ballot.

"In the 2020 election, there were 1,782,580 mail-in ballot requests. There were 1,320,154 mail-in ballots accepted. Based off the excuses that are listed in this bill, there would be 2,767,418 citizens that would still be eligible for a mail-in absentee ballot. That's more than the number that requested it under the last election, which we had the highest turnout in our state's history," Senate Majority Leader MIke Dugan, R-Carrollton, said on the Senate floor. "So, this is not preventing anyone from voting by mail-in absentee. All this is doing is creating a groundwork to help relieve some of the stresses that we see in the future as we continue to grow."

The bill would also require anyone applying for an absentee ballot to include their Georgia Driver's License or state ID number or a photocopy of another acceptable form of ID.

Democrats argued the legislation was based on false claims of fraud surrounding the 2020 presidential election and would disproportionately affect minority voters.

"No one else has had it through state law and federal law that right deprived to them because of the color of their skin. So, when we come up here and say that this matters, listen to us," said Sen. Emanuel Jones, D-Augusta.

Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, R-Georgia, opted to watch the debate from his office, rather than preside over it.

"I have expressed my opinions on this particular bill. I think there are some things in it that probably make sense and would be bi-partisanly supported, but I have made no mistakes that I do not support eliminating the no-excuse absentee ballot voting. It's just something that I don't think takes us in the right direction," said Lt. Gov. Duncan. "As the Lt. Gov. and the presiding officer, I don't get a chance to vote no or yes, so this is my opportunity just to express my opinion."

SB 241 passed along party lines with a vote of 29-20.

The Senate also approved five other election-related bills.

Distracted Driving

The House gave quick approval to a bill designed to crack down on distracted drivers.

In 2018 legislators passed a hands-free driving law that banned drivers from touching their cell phones or other electronic devices while behind the wheel. The original law allowed for drivers to get a warning on their first offense if they showed a judge that they had purchased a hands-free device.

House Bill 247 does away with that warning.

"This was initially done to allow the public time to get used to the law," said state Rep. John Carson, R-Marietta. "This was modeled after one other state up in the New England area and that state has since repealed its waiver statute."

HB 247 passed 119-52.

Suspending Compensation for Indicted Officials

The Senate passed two bills designed to stop indicted elected officials from collecting paychecks.

Senate Bill 218 suspends compensation for local-level officials like school board members indicted for a felony. Senate Resolution 134 does the same thing for state-level officials, but would require an Amendment to the Georgia Constitution because it deals with Constitutional officers.

The move comes after it was revealed that suspended Georgia Insurance Commissioner Jim Beck has been paid more than $340,000 in salary and benefits since his indictment on federal fraud charges in May 2019.

Drag Racing

The Senate amended a drag racing bill before approving it Monday.

Senate Bill 10, or the "Jaye Mia Sanford Law," is named for Jaye Sanford, a mother who was killed in November 2020 by a driver racing in DeKalb County.

The bill would make it a misdemeanor for anyone to promote or bet on a drag racing exhibition. It also provides for fines for anyone caught drag racing including a $1,000 fine for a first offense, a $2,000 filed for a second offense and a $5,000 fine for any further convictions. Under the legislation, authorities could seize a driver's vehicle after their second drag racing conviction.

The House also passed a bill which makes it a misdemeanor to organize or promote an illegal drag racing exhibition. Under HB 534, someone convicted of reckless stunt driving can have their driver's license suspended for up to one year for their first offense and three years for their second offense. A third offense would result in the complete revocation of their driver's license.

Lawmaker Pay Raises

A bill to raise state lawmakers' and other elected officials' pay failed in the Senate.

SB 252 would have increased legislators' pay from $16,200 to $29,908.

A similar measure in the House never came up for a vote.

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