ATLANTA — Thursday will mark the last day of Georgia’s 40-day legislative session, and several bills, including proposals that would replace the state’s 16-year-old electronic voting system and give victims of childhood sexual assault more time to sue their abusers, await action by either the House or Senate.
The final days of the session are generally chaotic as lawmakers push to vote on as many bills as possible and use legislative maneuvers to hitch stalled proposals to other bills.
Here’s a look at some of the latest action from the General Assembly and what is expected in its final days:
A proposal that has passed the Senate but awaits a vote in the House would move Georgia from its 16-year-old electronic touchscreen voting system with no paper backup, to either a touchscreen system that prints a paper ballot or paper ballots marked by pencil.
Republican Rep. Ed Setzler of Acworth, one of the bill’s primary backers, said it was needed to ensure that election results could be audited if there were claims or evidence of irregularities and to bolster voter confidence.
The proposal would leave much of the exact specifications about the machines selected to the current and next secretary of state through a procurement process.
But critics, including advocacy groups and several Democratic lawmakers, say the measure doesn’t go far enough. Verified Voting, a group that advocates for transparent elections, said that the legislation falls short because it does not fully commit to manual counting of “voter-marked paper ballots” for audits and recounts.
Last month, the Georgia House unanimously voted to allow adults who were sexually abused as children up to age 38 to file lawsuits against their alleged abusers. The current age limit for filing suit is 23. The Senate Judiciary Committee, however, weakened the bill by extending the statute of limitations to age 30. An exception would be made if the victim could prove that an organization intentionally covered up the abuse.
The Senate committee’s proposal also would require victims in many instances to meet higher burdens of proof.
GOP Rep. Jason Spencer, the bill’s sponsor, does not like the changes. If the Senate passes the current measure, Spencer has told news outlets that he will ask his House colleagues to reject the Senate version and send the bill to a conference committee in the hopes of reaching a compromise.
A controversial “religious liberties” bill that passed the Senate last month has yet to be taken up by the House.
Sponsored by Sen. William Ligon, a Brunswick Republican, the measure would give legal protection to faith-based adoption agencies that decline to place children with same-sex couples.
Ligon said the proposal is needed to ensure that faith-based organizations are not kept out of civic life, but critics say that it would allow state-sponsored discrimination in adoptions.
House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, told WABE Radio in December that “religious liberties” bills were not one of his priorities this session and that he was not sure if the House would have time to take up such measures.
The latest version of a controversial cybercrime bill does not criminalize people who violate website user agreements, but some cybersecurity experts still worry the proposal could have a “chilling effect” on researchers who check for vulnerabilities without permission.
A House committee on Thursday adopted an amended version of Sen. Bruce Thompson’s bill, which he says is geared toward targeting “online snoopers,” hackers who break into a computer system but don’t disrupt or steal data.
Unlike the version that passed the Senate, terms of service violations are excluded in the current proposal.
Those who obtain unauthorized access to a computer network for a “legitimate business activity” are also excluded, but opponents want the legislation to also specifically exclude legitimate academic or industry researchers. Those digital rights advocates want the measure to be focused on those who act maliciously.
Proponents say legitimate academic researchers should not be worried since prosecutors will use their discretion and target bad actors.
The latest version of the measure still needs approval from both the House and Senate.