Legislative Watch

The foundation seeks to engage lawmakers in protecting Georgians’ right to know.

The Georgia First Amendment Foundation believes our society functions best when the public has free and open access to information about what our government is doing. The General Assembly has codified this guiding principal in Georgia’s Sunshine Laws. During legislative sessions, the foundation encourages lawmakers to bolster these laws and increase transparency.

We closely monitored these legislative proposals as they made their way through the 2022 General Assembly session:

OPPOSE

Senate Bill 171: Expands the definition of “unlawful assembly” and would escalate potential charges and penalties for protestors; erode public employees’ free speech and due process rights; and institute other measures that would harm First Amendment protections for Georgians. It is linked to House Bill 289, which originally was intended to detail requirements for Class C drivers’ licenses. Near the end of the 2021 legislative session, HB 289 was amended to add language from SB 171. That troubling language remained in HB 289. Neither bill passed the General Assembly.

Read more: Georgia lawmakers have a dangerous plan for curbing free speech

Read more: A law that chills free speech would harm all of us

Senate Bill 226: Requires local school boards to create a complaint-resolution process that could lead to banning books from school libraries based on complaints submitted by parents or guardians that material is “harmful to minors.” The bill passed the Legislature and was signed by Gov. Brian Kemp.

Read more: Georgia lawmakers want to take the ‘local’ out of our libraries

Senate Bill 533: Amends the Georgia Open Records Act. The Act currently provides an exception to disclosure of personal information, such as addresses and Social Security numbers, in records that name government employees identified by their job, title or office. This bill would go much further, exempting from disclosure that information, even when the job, title or office isn’t included in the record. The result would be overly broad restrictions in the release of records that might include public employees, such as collections of arrest records, property records — essentially any records that include personally identifying information about any individual. Since records administrators would not know which records might include names of public employees, protecting the personal information of public employees could no longer be selective, and the norm could become a presumption of secrecy rather than openness. That would greatly disrupt how the government provides information to businesses and individuals and effectively gut the state’s open records laws. This extremely problematic bill did not survive Crossover Day, and the language did not reemerge as part of other legislation that did cross over.

Senate Bill 257: Limits public access to certain criminal records held by the Georgia Information Center and allows sealing of certain criminal records maintained by state superior courts. The bill did not pass the General Assembly.

SUPPORT

Senate Bill 609: Makes some aspects of the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission’s proceedings and records more accessible to the public. When the General Assembly created the commission three years ago, it granted broad exceptions to Georgia’s Sunshine Laws. As a result, the license-selection process has largely been hidden from the public. SB 609 requires the commission to release some information pursuant to the Open Records Act. Its companion, House Bill 1400, did not survive Crossover Day.

Senate Bill 588: Increases public participation in school board meetings. Permits video and audio recordings of school board meetings by the public. Requires local boards of education to allow public comment during regular meetings. Grants superior court jurisdiction for enforcement. The bill passed the Legislature.

See below for a regularly updated list of all of the bills we are watching, including those that did not survive Crossover Day.

RED indicates bills the foundation opposes.

GRAY is for bills we consider neutral.

GREEN indicates bills supported by the foundation.

 


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