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GA Legislative Watch 2024 | Week Eleven


GA Legislative Watch

By Molly Mcloughlin & Rebecca Wallace ● March 23, 2024
Smart Brevity™ count: 5 mins…1,354 words

After a predictably unpredictable week, we’re on to the final stretch of the 2023-24 biennial session.

Monday is a committee work day, Tuesday is legislative day 39 and Thursday is Sine Die. See the remaining schedule here. 🥳

1 big thing: ✍ To the Governor’s desk

🏥 Expanding access to care, but not Medicaid… yet. After the House passed major Senate changes to HB 1339 — relaxing Certificate of Need regulations — it went back to the Senate for final approval of the last minute House amendments.

  • The momentous plan passed 34-17 with most Ds voting against the bill in protest of not going further on Medicaid expansion.
  • Yes, but: Sen. David Lucas (D-Macon), who’s spent decades trying to move the needle on access to care, voted yay after introducing a surprise medicaid expansion bill that got a 7-7 vote in committee only hours before.
  • For Lucas’ bill – a private insurance waiver program similar to Arkansas’ model, Sens. Matt Brass (R-Newnan) and Carden Summers (R-Cordele) joined the Democrats in support, but Chairman Bill Cowsert (R-Athens) cast the tie-breaking vote to kill it.

💰 Finally, school choice is funded. The Senate gave final approval to the House changes to the school voucher measure, SB 233, giving families with students attending the bottom 25% performing schools $6.5K a year to subsidize private school tuition.

  • It’s a big win for leadership in both chambers and Gov. Kemp.
  • Our thought bubble: We’re likely to see lawmakers continue to come back to this issue to expand on this win.

Income tax cuts. Gov. Kemp is expected to sign two measures that will reduce income taxes for individuals and businesses, costing the state and saving the taxpayers a combined $500M.

  • HB 1015 will reduce the individual income tax rate from 5.49% to 5.39%, an acceleration of a plan passed in 2022 to reduce it from 5.75% to 4.99% in 0.1% increments each year.
  • HB 1023 would tie the corporate income tax rate to the individual rate at 5.39%, which was the case for decades prior to the 2022 cuts.

❌ Several immigration policy measures prevailed after many long heated debates in both chambers:

  • Limiting land ownership by foreigners. The House passed SB 420 on a party line vote to prohibit foreign adversaries from owning, renting, or holding interest in agricultural land or land within 25 miles of a military installation.
  • Banning foreign cash. With the nearly unanimous House passage of SB 368, foreign nationals are barred from donating money to political campaigns and committees, and candidates can’t knowingly accept funds from foreign agents or entities.
  • Suing the cities. On a party line vote, HB 301 will allow any citizen in the state to bring legal action against any municipality following sanctuary city policies.

Unionizing just got harder. With the House approval of SB 362, there will be less chance of unionizing in our “right to work” state.

  • The measure will bar companies that accept state tax incentives from recognizing unions without a formal, secret-ballot election.
  • Why it matters: It comes amid a national push from the United Auto Workers to unionize the South.
  • GA will join TN and SC among other southern states that have adopted or supported similar legislation.

The Safe at Home Act, HB 404, which strengthens tenant rights, is one step shy from making it to the Governor’s desk. It passed the Senate, but will go back to the House just for approval of the the 2024 effective date.

2. Notable legislation

The $36B FY25 budget passed out of Senate Appropriations. It now goes to the floor for a vote, then on to final negotiations by both chambers in conference committee.

  • 💲Senate leaders backed 4% raises for many state employees, along with increased funding for law enforcement, education, and mental health programs.

🏡 Dueling efforts to combat property tax increases. The latest efforts passed out of a Senate committee include:

  • HB 1019 which increases the homestead exemption to $10K, up from the House’s proposed $4K.
  • HB 581 which caps property tax increases at 3% per year, the Senate’s original plan.
  • Both measures will be brought to the voters if they become law.

🎞 The film tax credit shake-up is now more like a nudge with the new version of HB 1180 voted out of the Senate Finance committee.

  • The minimum investment required for a single production to be eligible for the credit dropped from $1M to $750K, but still up from the current $500K and therefore concerning to small and independent filmmakers.
  • Another key change decreases the cap on tax credit transfers to 2.3% of the state budget, down from 2.5%.
  • Who’s exempt from the cap now? Studios with more than 1.5M sq. ft. and completed new studios that invest at least $100M by 2027.

The latest bait and switch is Rep. Omari Crawford’s (D-Decatur) effort to protect student athletes’ mental health with HB 1104. It now includes language from several controversial Senate bills that didn’t crossover:

  • The amendments ban transgender students from using the bathroom they identify with and from participating in girls sports;
  • 📗 require schools to alert parents to what books their child checks out of the library; and
  • prohibit sex education before 6th grade.
  • What’s next: It still needs to be voted out of the Senate and go back to the House.

In a surprise late night decision, a new version of HB 1371 passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee increasing liability for businesses when someone comes on their property with the purpose of committing a felony.

  • Republicans were divided – half siding with Democrats in favor and the other half in opposition.
  • Catch up quick. The House version was voted out of the chamber unanimously, but this version’s fate when it goes to the floor in both chambers is uncertain with the business and legal community at odds.

🤳 AI crack down. The Senate Judiciary Committee passed HB 986, creating a felony of election interference to disseminate deceptive AI-generated “deepfake” videos within 90 days of an election.

  • Referring to President Biden’s fake robocall in NH, sponsor Rep. Brad Thomas (R-Holly Springs) said,

“That’s the type of [thing] we’re concerned with, because when you create confusion about the administration of an election, that affects the integrity of our elections…”

3. Other political news

5th time’s the charm. Congress narrowly avoided another government shutdown with the passage of a $1.2T spending plan to fund the remaining 70% of the government until September.

  • Yes, but. More House Republicans voted against the package than voted for it, with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) threatening to oust Speaker Johnson in protest of a plan she says reflects Democrat priorities.

Two DeKalb County Commission seats are vacant until a special election in November, with Larry Johnson in D3 and Lorraine Cochrane-Johnson in D7 resigning to run for County CEO.

  • Big picture: That means 1 in 10 DeKalb residents won’t have representation for 9 months as the Commission contends anything sooner would be impossible.

🗳 Atlanta City Council engaged in a heated debate over how soon the qualifying period should be for the special election to fill the citywide seat left open by Keisha Sean Waites’ departure to run for another office.

  • Some wanted it in May which is earlier than usual after a resignation, while some senior members wanted to wait longer in fear of potentially excluding some candidates.
  • The resolution that ultimately passed 9-3 set the qualifying period to June 25-27 for the November election.

4. What’s next

sine die /ˌsaɪ.niˈdaɪ/ adverb 1. without arranging a future date for something.

  • If legislation doesn’t pass on Thursday, Day 40, it’s done.

Committee votes are scheduled on Monday for sports betting, cutting ties with the National Library Association, and creating HBCU innovation districts.

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