Georgia lawmakers resurrecting ‘zombie bills’ as end of session nears

Lawmakers routinely rush legislation back to life in the session’s final hours.
Published: Mar. 24, 2023 at 6:36 PM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - The final day the 2023 legislative session, also called ‘Sine Die’, is March 29.

Lawmakers routinely rush legislation back to life in the session’s final hours.

These ‘zombie bills’ failed earlier in the session.

“It’s part of the process, for better or for worse,” said Rep. Leesa Hagan, R-Lyons.

“I think frequently it’s a good thing because it allows something that didn’t get out [of committee] to maybe have a chance to get out, which is what happened in this case,” said Rep. Hagan.

Last week, Rep. Hagan proposed a bill to designate the Southeast Georgia Soap Box Derby as the official soap box derby of the State of Georgia.

The bill was suddenly ‘hijacked’ by Lieutenant Governor Burt Jones, who substituted language around legalizing sports betting.

During the committee meetings, some lawmakers criticized the move.

“When you hijack a soap box derby and put sports betting on the back of it, everybody who is on the fence in the State of Georgia has just picked a side of the fence,” said Sen. Mike Dugan, R-Carrollton.

This tactic of resurrecting ‘zombie bills’ is legal as long as the substitution language falls under the same Georgia code.

“It has to be in the same part of the Georgia code. So you couldn’t say for example, inject a bill dealing with education into something dealing with transportation. That wouldn’t work,” explained University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock.

Hagan told Atlanta News First she understood the move but was frustrated that she didn’t get any notice before the substitution.

“It just happened to be something that I did not want associated with my original language. That was the only problem,” said Rep. Hagan.

Within a week’s time, Hagan went from ‘zombie bill’ victim to ‘zombie bill’ sponsor.

Her soap box derby bill was substituted into an otherwise defunct SB 158, which previously dealt with insurance issues.

Rep. Hagan said she got permission from the bill sponsor, Sen. Randy Robertson, before she substituted her language.

Bullock said this tactic is used most approaching the final hours of a session.

“This becomes especially important in the very last hours of a legislative session,” said Bullock.

In the final hours of the final day of the 2022 session, lawmakers hijacked a bill about divisive concepts in schools by injecting language allowing schools to ban transgender girls from competing with other girls in high school sports.

The measure passed.

Rep. Hagan said her new bill still needs to be passed by the Senate before the governor could sign it into law.