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Wednesday July 17th, 2019 4:47PM

Abortion measure takes center stage in Georgia legislature

By The Associated Press

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia's legislature hit a critical deadline Thursday: Crossover Day. It's a legislative deadline by which bills must generally pass out of one chamber or the other to remain alive for the session.

Here's a look at some of the action at the Georgia Capitol:

ABORTION RESTRICTIONS

Georgia joined a string of states moving to enact tough abortion restrictions when the state House on Thursday passed a ban on most abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected.

During tense debate, several Democratic lawmakers opposed to the bill turned their back to its author, Republican Rep. Ed Setzler. Earlier in the day, some handed out wire coat hangers in reference to unsafe home abortions.

Democratic Rep. Renitta Shannon, speaking against the bill and about her own past abortion, went over time and her microphone was cut off. She refused to yield the floor until colleagues surrounded her and implored her to walk away.

The Tennessee House passed similar legislation earlier Thursday. Several other states including Mississippi, Florida, Kentucky, Ohio and South Carolina are also considering this type of legislation.

If the measure in Georgia is passed by the state Senate and signed into law, it would almost certainly trigger legal challenges.

But the bill comes as abortion opponents across the country are hopeful the U.S. Supreme Court — with new Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh — will either reverse Roe v. Wade, or uphold specific state laws that could undermine the court's 1973 ruling establishing a nationwide right to abortion.

Women in Georgia can currently seek an abortion up to 20 weeks of a pregnancy. A fetal heartbeat is generally detectable at around six weeks, before many women know they are pregnant.

The bill makes exceptions in the case of rape and incest, but only when the woman files a police report first, as well as when a fetus is deemed not compatible with life.

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp has endorsed the proposal, and earlier Thursday issued a statement to encourage the House to pass the measure. Kemp campaigned last year on a pledge to sign some of the toughest abortion laws in the country.

HATE CRIMES

A hate crimes bill that would add penalties for those convicted of targeting certain groups passed the House.

The bipartisan measure succeeded on a vote of 96 to 64.

If it becomes law, Georgia would join 45 other states with an official hate crimes law.

The penalties apply to those who target others because of race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, mental disability or physical disability.

Critics worry a hate crimes statute would not treat victims equally.

The Georgia Supreme Court struck down a 2000 hate crimes law, saying it was "unconstitutionally vague" and could be applied to every possible prejudice.

RAPE KITS

Law enforcement officials in Georgia would need to keep rape kits for a longer time under a bill that passed the House unanimously Thursday.

Current law requires rape kits to be stored for 10 years. The proposal would require Georgia to preserve the evidence as long as the crime remains unsolved or until a perpetrator's prison sentence has been completed.

The bill's author, Rep. Scott Holcomb, is an Atlanta Democrat and lawyer who said he's prosecuted rape and sexual assault crimes.

In an emotional speech on the floor, Holcomb said, "These crimes change and damage lives to a degree that is really incredible."

Holcomb was one of the main backers of a law passed in 2016 that helped cut down on the state's backlog of rape kits.

It now goes to the Senate.

AIRPORT TAKEOVER

A plan for the state to take over control of Atlanta's airport has passed the Georgia Senate, despite vociferous opposition from Atlanta officials.

The legislation, introduced by Republican state Sen. Burt Jones of Jackson, would create the Georgia Major Airport Authority, a board appointed by state officials to oversee operations at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

While introducing the bill on the Senate floor, Jones called the airport an "economic engine for the entire state." He said state control is needed because of past corruption issues in the procurement process, which he called an "embarrassment to the state" as a whole.

The airport is currently owned and operated by the city.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has come out strongly against the proposal, calling it "theft" from the people of Atlanta.

Critics of the plan say the procurement issues involved past administrations and that Bottoms, who assumed office last year, has taken steps to reform the process.

In a statement emailed Thursday, Bottoms said the legislation "could destroy what has been a productive, cooperative relationship with the State of Georgia."

An amendment added in committee would give the city until July 1, 2020 to come up with a "joint governance plan" agreed to by the city and state legislature to avoid a full takeover.

The bill will now go to the House for consideration.

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP Online Headlines - Washington, AP Online Congress News, AP Business, AP Online - Georgia News, AP Online Headlines - Georgia News
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