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GA Legislative Watch
By Molly Mcloughlin & Rebecca Wallace ● Jan 13, 2024
Smart Brevity™ count: 3.5 mins…962 words
Here we go! Heading into the second year of the biennial, we’re returning to what seems like yesterday, but also like years ago. Both chambers agreed to a full calendar with Crossover Day (legislative day 28) on Feb. 29 and Sine Die (the 40th and final day of session) on March 28. Get the schedule here.
One fun thing: To kick off the Legislature, we held our Annual Bipartisan Brunch on Monday. Warning: FOMO-inducing photos.
1 big thing: State of (Ga) play
🗳What’s the vibe this year? Elections. In addition to the presidential race, all 236 statehouse leaders are up for election.
- Georgia’s Presidential Primary is March 12, and the State Primary is May 21, so state lawmakers want to get out from under the Gold Dome quickly to resume fundraising and campaigning in new districts.
💸 The big picture: Gov. Kemp appears focused on spending down the state’s $16B reserves to accomplish his priorities, maintain his party’s control of both chambers (and maybe feather his cap for an eventual run for Senate or even President in 4 years).
- He’s become a national political figure and leader in the Republican party with his ability to parry former President Trump, stay above the Trump fray and will be looked to for answers on how to prevent another Biden win in his state.
- Both Speaker Burns and Gov. Kemp seem to be satisfied with the current abortion law, although we’re still waiting for a final ruling on the six-week ban.
- Legislation dealing with transgender youth and parental rights were signed by the Governor last year.
2. On the agenda
📃 In his 6th State of the State address, Gov. Kemp laid out his priorities for the 2024 legislative session.
On the policy front:
- Demanding passage of school voucher expansion after the effort failed last year.
- Dealing a blow to those who are in favor of tort reform despite coming out in support just last month.
- Directing massive infrastructure investments in roads and sewer systems to catch up with economic development projects in rural areas.
From the budget:
- Addressing state employee retention with 4% raises, plus $500M to improve the long-term health of the retirement system.
- Improving health care in prisons with $450M for a new facility in middle GA.
- Expanding mental health services with $205M.
Medicaid expansion was not mentioned in his address, nor election integrity or the anti-semitism bill.
- What they’re saying: Democrats noted the coincidence of a $16B surplus (largely provided by President Biden) to hand out in an election year with Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler (D-Stone Mountain) asserting, “What we have isn’t really a surplus, it’s a disinvestment.’
House Speaker Jon Burns’ priorities include criminalizing political advertisements that use AI to fabricate a candidate’s voice or image; independent oversight of the Secretary of State’s office — giving more power to the Election Board; and eliminating QR codes on ballots.
🔫 Lt. Gov. Burt Jones is working to roll back red tape for businesses; require permission from parents to create social media account; and pay teacher $10K to carry weapons.
3. Leadership (and job) changes
😄 New jobs, similar faces. Former state Rep. Terry England is back as chief of staff to House Speaker Jon Burns.
- Gov. Kemp’s former Deputy Chief of Staff, Lauren Curry, is now his COS, making her the first woman to ever serve in this role in Georgia.
- Former DNR Director Richard Dunn is now running the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget.
- Lt. Gov. Jones tapped former Sen. Rick Jeffares to fill the fifth seat on the election board to replace Matt Mashburn (who voted against investigating SoS Brad Raffensperger.) Go deeper.
- Rep. Barry Fleming (R-Augusta) has been appointed by Gov. Kemp to the Columbia Judicial Circuit vacancy created by the retirement of James Blanchard Jr. Special elections are set for Feb. 13 to fill this and other vacancies (March 12 runoff, if necessary). Here’s who’s qualified.
4. In other political news
🎩 Former state rep Philip Singleton threw in his hat for the 3rd Congressional District seat in West Georgia this week, joining Sen. Mike Dugan (R-Carrollton) and Rep. David Jenkins (R-Grantville).
- Zoom in: After being drawn out of his district in 2021, Singleton became a top aide to U.S. Rep. Rich McCormick and will likely rely on his fundraising network.
❌ GOP hard-liners rebuked House Speaker Mike Johnson and his government spending package to prevent a government shutdown.
- 13 Rs joined the Ds to halt the process, canceling votes for the rest of the day.
- What they’re saying: “It’s going to survive,” Johnson said, hoping to set spending for FY24 at $1.59 trillion.
🏘Housing the unhoused. About a half mile from the State Capitol will be the first site from a City of Atlanta program to convert shipping containers into houses for the homeless – at 184 Forsyth Street.
- Go deeper: The City also recently announced administration and city council funds to pay for a case manager in an in-town neighborhood to, for the first time, invest in navigation services for homeless neighbors.