Georgia lawmakers wrap up legislative session, refuse to legalize gambling

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ATLANTA — Georgia lawmakers wrapped up this year's legislative session on Wednesday, steadfastly refusing to legalize sports betting or pari-mutuel wagering on horse racing.

Pro-gambling advocates had pushed hard to get both measures through the legislature.

"We're now out for the year, and the good news is  that no gambling was passed this year," said Mike Griffin, public affairs representative for the 1.4 million-member Georgia Baptist Mission Board. "We've been able to stop it now for about 10 straight years.." 

Griffin thanked Georgia Baptists in a video  for their prayers and for the phone calls they made to lawmakers voicing their opposition to a succession of gambling bills introduced this year.

In a move that may have sealed the fate of the gambling bills, pro-gambling lawmakers hijacked feel-good legislation that would have designated an official state soap box derby, turning it into a measure to legalize gambling.

State Rep. Leesa Hagan, sponsor of the bill to honor the Southeast Georgia Soap Box Derby in Lyons, had protested the move, saying she wasn’t consulted and didn’t consent to it.

“I don’t want my soap box derby to be associated with sports betting,” the Lyons Republican told the Senate Economic Development and Tourism Committee earlier this month.

The hijacked bill failed to garner the support it needed in either the Senate nor the House.

Also on the legislative session's final day, rural Georgia Republicans defied lobbying from Gov. Brian Kemp and conservative groups on Wednesday to vote down a proposed state voucher plan funding private school tuition and home schooling.

The Associated Press reported that a total of 16 House Republicans voted against the bill, sending it down to an 89-85 defeat, with Democratic opponents literally leaping for joy as the bill’s defeat became clear. Only one Democrat voted for the measure.

The AP said the vote illustrates how protective many rural conservatives remain of the public school systems that are the heartbeat of their communities. Those feelings endure despite a nationwide GOP wave for what supporters call education savings accounts following the pandemic and amid culture war fights over what children should learn in public schools.

The voucher would have been available only for students who attended schools rated in the lowest 25% of academic performance for two years in a row.

Georgia currently gives vouchers for special education students in private schools and $120 million a year in income tax credits for donors to private school scholarship funds.

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