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GA Legislative Watch 2024 | Week Ten


GA Legislative Watch

By Molly Mcloughlin & Rebecca Wallace ● March 16, 2024
Smart Brevity™ count: 4.5 mins…1,224 words

⏳ 5 more to go. Legislative days 36-38 will be next week with a committee work day on Tuesday. See the schedule here.

  • Situational awareness: After the Legislature honored the late Speaker David Ralston on his birthday with a new portrait and a building named for him, Speaker Jon Burns banned Sen. Colton Moore from entering the House chamber after his “vile comments” about Speaker Ralston that day on the Senate floor.

1 big thing: School vouchers

🎒 Some call it giving parents choice, others call it taking away public school funding.

  • But with the House’s 91-82 approval of SB 233, sponsors say they’ve reached a happy medium on the school voucher debate after failing to pass last year.

The pressure was on:

  • Speaker Burns left his gavel in the House chamber to address committee members in a packed hearing and urge their support.

Gov. Kemp also implored, “When it comes to getting school choice done in Georgia, there are no more next years.”

Zoom out: Co-sponsor and House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones negotiated a laundry list of changes and additions since last year’s version to win support from both parties.

  • The politics. None of last year’s 16 R holdouts, who mostly represent rural communities, received a primary opponent, giving way for them to stay steadfast in their opposition.
  • But 7 of them switched their vote to yes, in addition to one Democrat.

✏️ What’s in it this round?

  • Students still must come from the bottom 25% performing schools, but now it allows kindergartners to participate. (While kids in other grades must spend a year in a public school to qualify.)
  • First in line will be families earning at or below 400% of the federal poverty level, about $120K for a family of four.
  • Funding will now follow a public school student if they transfer from one district to another without the home district’s approval, unlike the current buy-in required.
  • Voucher spending would be capped at 1% of the Quality Basic Education formula, subject to annual appropriations, and be overseen by the Georgia Student Finance Commission.

💰 What’s in it for Democrats? Codifying teacher pay raises and allowing SPLOST money to be used for building or renovating pre-K facilities.

  • Yes, but. Opponents say, even with these favorable additions, the risk posed by the voucher program far outweighs the benefits.

Big picture: The program would accommodate 21,500 students, beginning in the 2025-26 school year and ending June 30, 2035, if lawmakers decide not to extend it.

  • Georgia’s effort is part of a nationwide push in dozens of statehouses to enact school choice policies.

What’s next: It’ll go back to the Senate to deliberate the House changes.

2. Notable legislation

🏥 Major certificate of need reform passed the Senate 43-11 with several additions to the House version, further loosening the rules to limit the number of medical services available in a community. HB 1339 would:

  • Increase maternal healthcare by exempting freestanding birth centers from CON.
  • Make it easier for closed hospitals to reopen by not requiring them to go through the process again if it’s within 2 years.
  • Eliminates $10M cap on facility modernization spending.
  • Specifically allows Morehouse College to build a new teaching hospital to fill the need of two south metro hospital closures.
  • What they’re saying: Dems pointed out that we need Medicaid expansion to pay for the additional services at all these new hospitals and surgery centers.

On suspension. The Senate passed HB 1192 on a 29-22 vote to pause the tax break for new data centers until 2026 while lawmakers study the incentive.

  • ✍ Now it’s up to the Governor to make it law.

🏈 The Senate’s sports betting bill, SB 386, received its first hearing in the House Higher Education Committee but was not taken up for a vote.

  • Sen. Clint Dixon’s (R-Buford) proposal gives the Georgia Lottery oversight and dedicates 20% of the revenue to the HOPE Scholarship and pre-K programs.
  • On addressing gambling addiction, Rep. Kasey Carpenter (R-Dalton) suggested limiting the amount of wagers over a certain time period, while Rep. Rick Jasperse (R-Jasper) suggested sports betting operators (not the state) should pay for anything related to addiction.

🤯 Surprise fees be gone. A House committee passed Sen. Derek Mallow’s (D-Savannah) SB 534 requiring hotels and short-term rental companies like Airbnb and VRBO to provide an itemized receipt detailing certain taxes and fees – failure to do so is now considered an unlawful business practice.

Bait and switch. HB 1170, instructing state government buildings to provide the overdose reversing drug, Narcan, onsite now also bans puberty-blocking medication for transgender youth.

  • Senate Health Committee Chair Ben Watson (R-Savannah) offered the amendment minutes before its hearing and subsequently passed on a party line vote.
  • Catch up quick: Last year, lawmakers banned hormone therapy for transgender youth and specifically left puberty blockers on the table, but Sen. Watson says new evidence suggests neither treatment should be allowed.

🎤 Music to my ears (of corn). The all important effort to designate cornbread as the state bread, HB 1048, received a more serious amendment in passing a Senate committee, establishing the Georgia Statewide Music Office.

3. Other political news

The Ga. Presidential Primary saw low turnout due to the expected outcome of Biden v. Trump.

  • Yes, but: Former Republican candidate Nikki Haley received about 13% of the vote, roughly 77K total, mostly concentrated in the metro area, despite exiting the race last week.
  • Also, Gov. Kemp finally endorsed former President Trump.

🤔 Former Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan could be on the list of potential presidential candidates for the newest third party, No Labels, according to the Wall St. Journal.

Judge Scott McAfee, the Fulton Superior Court Judge, decided DA Fani Willis is still on the election interference case as long as Nathan Wade is off.

👀 Yes, but. The ruling said, “Other forums or sources of authority such as the General Assembly, the Georgia State Ethics Commission, the State Bar of Georgia, the Fulton County Board of Commissioners, or the voters of Fulton County may offer feedback on any unanswered questions that linger.”

GDEC Commissioner Pat Wilson answered questions of a Senate committee about Rivian holding off on their factory and the deal the state struck to land it. Gov. Kemp reaffirmed his support and their commitment.

📉 State income tax revenues dropped 19% this February compared to last. While collections are up 1.1% so far this year over the same months in FY23, if you take out fuel taxes — which weren’t collected for half of last year — collections are down 3.4%.

4. What’s next

’Twas the week before Sine Die week. 

  • But first, on Monday, state Rep. Long Tran (D-Dunwoody) will co-host Georgia Film Day at Atlanta City Hall for a timely reminder of how important the TV and film business is to the state.
  • 🎬 The state film office hosted the event at the Capitol for years, but their most recent event went private.

5. What’s next

📝 It’ll be a packed week of committee hearings as the 2023-2024 General Assembly wraps up their business in the next three weeks.

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