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Georgia Senate

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To make it to work by nine, Chartisia Griffin had to wake up at 4:30 a.m. On public transit, her commute was two-and-a-half hours.

“I'm big pregnant. I'm walking from my house all the way up to the closest bus stop. In the dark, by myself,” she remembered.

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After two trains and another bus, Griffin finally clocked in for what was usually a six-hour shift.

“I'm tired by now because I'm pregnant, I done rode all this far,” she said.

Courtesy of Atlanta Department of Watershed Management

The Georgia Senate honored Killer Mike on Friday morning. And the Atlanta rapper, businessman and political activist took the opportunity to speak not just about his involvement with Atlanta’s water infrastructure, which was the reason for the honor, but also about education, equity and opportunity in Georgia.

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Georgia Capitol Building
Al Such / WABE

Struggling schools, opioid addiction and the state's medical marijuana program appear likely to dominate the rest of Georgia's legislative session.

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Lawmakers spent January and February considering bills introduced in their own chamber. Today, they begin focusing on the opposing chamber's legislation.

Here are some things to know about the rest of this year's session:

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Television and movies have a $6 billion impact on Georgia's economy each year.

Now, some lawmakers are eyeing more arts to bring in money: the for-profit music industry.

State Reps. Spencer Frye, a Democrat, and Matt Dollar, a Republican, are members of a study committee that explored how to support that industry. 

Now, they're ready to propose legislation.  The two representatives spoke with WABE's Amy Kiley.  Dollar began with an overview of the committee.

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Georgia Capitol Interior
Al Such / WABE

The Georgia Senate passed a bill Tuesday that would change the grand jury process for law enforcement officers facing indictment for deadly use of force.

Georgia’s current law has been criticized for allowing officers to sit in on grand jury proceedings, allowing them to hear evidence and testimony in their case – an opportunity not given to other citizens.

The law also allows the officers to make a statement at the end of the hearing without being questioned or cross-examined.

Ralph David Abernathy III, former state lawmaker and son of civil rights leader Ralph David Abernathy Jr., died Thursday morning of cancer.

The younger Abernathy's fame was more tied to his trouble with the law.

He spent time in prison for submitting false expense vouchers to the Georgia General Assembly and lying about it.

Abernathy was 56 years old.

Senator Judson Hill
Al Such / WABE

The state Senate passed a measure Wednesday that would lower the state's top personal income tax rate from six percent to a flat rate of 5.4 percent, despite opposition from state Democrats that say the state needs the tax revenue to fund services.

State Sen. Judson Hill, R-Marietta, who's sponsoring the bill, said the tax cut would make the state more competitive among other states. 

Ted S. Warren, File / AP Photo

A key state senator said Monday there won't be a hearing on a medical marijuana bill that would expand the list of medical conditions eligible for cannabis oil under state law.  

The measure, HB 722, would have added certain medical conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder to the qualifying list, and overwhelmingly passed the state House 152-8 earlier this legislative session.  

Guns seized by the police are displayed during a news conference in New York, Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2015.
Seth Wenig / Associated Press

Georgia students could soon take weapons in classrooms, libraries and other academic buildings at public colleges and universities in the state, since a “campus carry” bill was approved by the Senate Friday after lengthy debate. 

Sen. Jesse Stone, R-Waynesboro, said students need weapons to protect themselves from attacks on campus. He told the story of a 21-year-old women who was raped.

David Goldman / Associated Press

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has come out with vocal opposition to a religious exemptions bill that has been developing in the Georgia state legislature. He said he would reject any bill measure that allows discrimination in the state.

There are several religious exemption bills, but last week, the state Senate approved a combined a set of measures that aims to allow faith-based organizations to refuse service to same-sex couples, or others, based on religious beliefs about marriage.

Georgia State Capitol gold dome.
Al Such / WABE

As the last day of the state legislative session approaches, the Georgia General Assembly is considering a set of proposed laws related to immigrants and immigration.

Georgia Capitol Interior
Al Such / WABE

There are fewer than ten days remaining in the 40-day Georgia legislative session, and lawmakers have as many days to compromise over a bill that would allow religious organizations to deny services to same-sex, straight and unmarried couples based on the religious beliefs of the organization.

HB 757, originally known as the “Pastor Protection Act,” passed overwhelmingly in the House with vocal support from Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge. It was meant to reassure clergy they would not be forced to perform same-sex marriages.

Georgia Capitol Interior
Al Such / WABE

A proposal to add a constitutional amendment to declare English as the state's official language cleared the Georgia Senate 39-14 Monday.

The measure, if approved, would require state documents, including driver's license exams, to use only English. 

The resolution's sponsor, state Senator Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, says the proposal is common-sense legislation to unite Georgians. But critics say it would prevent access to state services for people with limited English skills.

State Senator Fran Millar (R-Dunwoody) chairs the working group looking into whether foster care in Georgia would benefit from an increased level of privatization.
David Goldman / Associated Press

The Georgia state Senate approved a measure Friday that could reorganize DeKalb County’s form of government -- and abolish the county’s CEO position. The proposal now moves to the House for consideration.

Bill sponsor state Sen. Fran Millar, R-Dunwoody, said there’s sentiment for change in the county, which has been mired in corruption scandals in recent years. DeKalb County is the only county in Georgia with the CEO form of government.

House members work during the House's session on the final day of the 2015 legislative session, Thursday, April 2, 2015, in Atlanta.
Branden Camp / Associated Press

February 29 marks the 30th day of the Georgia state legislative session. That means bills must pass out of at least one chamber in order to survive this year. 

It's called "Crossover Day." It's the key checkpoint in the 40-day legislative session where bills must "cross" to the other chamber.

Lawmakers will likely work into the evening to get scores of bills and resolutions passed to meet the midnight deadline.

In the Senate, lawmakers are set to vote on a controversial bill that would require some immigrants to carry special ID cards and driver's licenses.

Shannan Muskopf (cropped) https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/ / flickr.com/photos/40964293@N07/

Georgia Democrats and Republicans have agreed on at least one piece of legislation this session.

Senate Bill 364 would reduce the impact of student test scores on teachers’ evaluations. It passed the state Senate unanimously Friday.

"All employees need an annual evaluation, but we also want to make a statement that moves to make teacher evaluations more of a tool to be used for continuous improvement, than a punitive measure,” said Sen. Lindsey Tippins, R-Marietta, the bill’s sponsor.

The Georgia Senate’s Higher Education Committee unanimously agreed Wednesday to study whether the state should offer in-state college tuition rates to some students with temporary resident status.

Current state policy requires students to have a "lawful presence" in the U.S. in order to qualify for in-state rates.

The students have qualified for President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which provides temporary relief from deportation. They sued the Georgia Board of Regents, saying that status gives them a legal presence.

In this June 2, 2015 file photo, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal speaks to reporters following a ceremony announcing a $300 million expansion of Google's data center operations in Lithia Springs, Ga.
David Goldman / Associated Press

Georgia's governor indicated Monday that changes are coming to a bill exempting opponents of same-sex marriage from government penalty for declining to serve gay couples.

The state's business community is ramping up its opposition to the proposal, and at an event touting the state's booming film and television industry, Gov. Nathan Deal said his office is working with legislative leaders and declined to say whether he supports the Senate-approved version.

Georgia Capitol Interior
Al Such / WABE

On Friday, the Georgia Senate passed legislation that would allow faith-based organizations to deny services to same-sex, straight and unmarried couples after hours of debate prolonged by Democrats anxious to speak against a bill they say discriminates against LGBT people.

The legislation combines two bills: What’s been labeled the “Pastor Protection Act” and the First Amendment Defense Act.

Brendan Lim / flickr.com/photos/brendanlim/

Last year, Atlanta rolled out one of its biggest environmental initiatives: tracking energy and water use in big commercial buildings in an effort to encourage landlords to conserve. Now that program is coming under fire in the state legislature.

Under the ordinance, owners of large buildings report their utility use to the city of Atlanta and the city tracks it all and also makes it available to the public.

The Georgia Senate has approved a bill to prevent financial institutions from refusing services to legal gun or ammunition sellers.

The measure sponsored by state Sen. Jesse Stone, a Republican from Waynesboro, passed 39 votes to 16 votes and split by party.

Democrats tried to amend the bill on the floor to also prevent financial institutions from refusing service based on race, religion, nationality, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity but the effort failed.

David Goldman / AP Photo

Georgia lawmakers are considering a criminal justice reform package that includes changes to school disciplinary procedures.

Child advocates say current policies push too many kids out of school into the juvenile justice system for nonviolent offenses and disproportionately affect students of color.

Karen Apricot / flickr.com/karenapricot

Two competing bills in the Georgia Senate attempt to tackle what education officials call the state's teacher dropout crisis. Each bill proposes reducing the percentage of a teacher's evaluation that's based on "student growth," which includes test scores.

Elly Yu / WABE

A state Senate committee heard testimony Thursday about raising the state's minimum wage. Dozens of supporters came to show support for a potential wage raise as the General Assembly considers two different bills.

One measure, sponsored by Sen. Donzella James, D-Atlanta, would raise the hourly wage from $5.15 an hour to $10.10. The other bill, sponsored by Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, would raise the wage to $15 an hour.

Alison Guillory / WABE

A funny thing happened on the way to the transportation committee. Last week, state Sen. Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta, introduced a bill that proposes expanding MARTA in Fulton and DeKalb counties.

Usually, bills that deal with transportation are assigned to the transportation committee. But Beach's bill was referred to a committee called State and Local Government Operations (SLGO).

Sen. John Albers, R-Roswell, is chairman. He staunchly opposes expanding MARTA.

David Goldman / AP Photo

Last year, state lawmakers approved Gov. Nathan Deal’s plan to let the state take over some schools the state deemed "chronically failing." Voters will need to approve the measure before it becomes law. They’ll have the chance to do that in November, when the question appears on the ballot.

Some Democratic lawmakers have introduced legislation that would change the way the question is worded. It currently reads: “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow the state to intervene in chronically failing public schools in order to improve student performance?"

David Goldman / Associated Press

Georgia Senate Democrats have introduced a bill to raise the state's minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $15 an hour.

It's not the first time state Democrats have introduced such a bill. Similar proposals have been dropped in many past sessions.

State Sens. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, is the bill's main sponsor, and co-sponsors include Sen. Minority Leader Steve Henson, D-Tucker, and Sen. Nan Orrock, D-Atlanta.

Atlanta-area voters will choose a new state senator for District 43 on Tuesday, Dec. 1.  The runoff race follows a special election in November in which no candidate got the required 50 percent of the vote.   

Lawmaker Ross Tolleson says he will retire from the state senate after being diagnosed with early stages of Alzheimer's disease.

In a statement released Tuesday, Tolleson says his retirement is effective Nov. 1. Since 2003 the Republican from Perry has represented District 20, which includes Bleckley, Laurens and Pulaski counties and most of Houston County.

Tolleson says the diagnosis was a disappointment but he will meet the challenge "head on." He plans to focus on his family.

Jeff Crowell is the owner of funeral homes in Peachtree Corners and Buford. His funeral home in Buford already has a crematory installed, and he's trying to install a crematory at his funeral home in Peachtree Corners. 

But Republican Sen. Brandon Beach of Alpharetta says he plans to file a bill to double the distance allowed between a crematory and residential area from 1,000 to 2,000 feet.

"That means you've got to be a half a mile from any home," Crowell says. "Where in the world can you find a place in metro-Atlanta where you're that far away from a home?" 

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