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GA Legislative Watch 2024 | Week Two


GA Legislative Watch

By Molly Mcloughlin & Rebecca Wallace ● Jan 20, 2024
Smart Brevity™ count: 4 mins…1,106 words

Financial planning. It was budget week, with appropriations hearings taking up most of the bandwidth and no “legislative days” spent from the designated 40 days.

Keep your stuff on your person, people! In our poll last week, nearly 60% of respondents said their unattended belongings were confiscated by Gold Dome security.

1 big thing: fiscal check up

🔬 The prognosis? Preparing for when times are lean.

Gov. Brian Kemp presented his budget virtually to the General Assembly from the World Economic Forum in Switzerland and got right to the point:

  • He doesn’t expect unprecedented revenue growth to continue, but believes we will likely go back to pre-pandemic levels.

State economist, Bob Buschman said there’s a 63% chance we’ll see a mild recession in the first half of 2024, but also said:

“Where y’all draw that line – how much you give back to taxpayers versus how much you increase spending – is a political choice.”

By the numbers:

  • Revenue grew 16% in 2021-22, but fell flat in 2023 and is projected to decline in the coming years.
  • Amended FY24 budget is up $5B to $37.5B.
  • The FY25 budget comes in at $36.1B.

Why the slowdown?

  • The proposal to accelerate income tax cuts from 5.49% to 5.39% would result in a $1.1B revenue loss.
  • GDP is expected to decline by 0.1% in Q1 and 0.7% in Q2.
  • Inflation has caused Georgians to save less, but they’re still spending at a steady rate.
  • Unemployment could rise, despite Georgia’s remaining lower than the national average.

Yes, but: Kemp says the surplus-funded pay increases and bonuses for state employees and teachers will help ease the recession.

🤑 What they’re saying: More money, more problems.

“This might be the hardest one we’ve looked at yet,” said Senate Appropriations Chair Blake Tillery (R-Vidalia). Appropriations co-chair Rep. Matt Hatchett (R-Dublin) replied, “I’ll agree because everybody in here keeps asking for funds.”

Of note: The proposed budget is still $10B higher than FY20 when it was $26.6B

2. Notable legislation

Employee retention was a major theme of budget hearings.

  • Glass half empty. From the agencies that oversee corrections officers, public defenders and prosecutors to social workers and teachers, nearly all acknowledged the additional proposed funding, but urged lawmakers there’s much more to be done.
  • The Dept. of Corrections, for instance, is short by almost half of its officers due to a high job-turnover rate despite heavy recruiting.
  • Agencies like this are looking for more money to offer incentives and higher wages to fill vacancies.

🗳 Elections. SB 358 includes giving the State Election Board authority to investigate the Secretary of State, which addresses complaints by conservative activists who blame Brad Raffensperger for human errors in Fulton County’s manual audit of the 2020 election.

  • “Complete and total lapse of judgment” is what the SOS called it.
  • The SOS also expressed problems with removing the QR codes from ballots – another provision of the bill – in time for the 2024 elections with the presidential primary being March 12.
  • Meanwhile, according to an AJC poll, 56% of Georgians oppose switching to paper ballots filled out by hand, and 57% are at least somewhat confident the presidential election will be fair and accurate.

📲 Permission to be social. Georgia kids – as in other states like VA and FL – might soon need to get permission from their parents before they can log on to social media if SB 351 becomes law.

  • Sponsored by Sen. Jason Anavitarte (R-Dallas) and backed by Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, the bill would update cyberbullying rules and restrict social media companies’ ability to collect information from and advertise to users under 16.

Are we feeling lucky? Right out of the gate, the Senate Regulated Industries Committee approved SB 172 – a constitutional amendment route which would create a gaming commission for sports betting and send the funds to needs-based college scholarships and gambling addiction services, among other things.

  • The other side: Sports betting should be considered like a lottery game and not require a constitutional amendment.

Tort reform. Despite Gov. Kemp pulling back on the proposal, Lt. Gov. Burt Jones announced he’s pushing ahead to overhaul state litigation rules.

  • As a top priority for Senate leadership, the legislation will be sponsored by Sen. Blake Tillery (R-Vidalia), a plaintiff’s lawyer, and will likely drop next week.

3. In other political news

Surprising results. Contrary to what GOP lawmakers are proposing, nearly two-thirds of respondents to an AJC poll oppose school vouchers – meaning a majority of Georgians don’t want taxpayer dollars paying for private school.

  • Catch up quick: A measure last session failed to reach the requisite 91 votes to pass to the other chamber, with R’s crossing party lines.
  • What they’re saying: Vouchers take away money from public schools.
  • The other side: Funding should follow children wherever they choose to go.
  • Also, Georgia voters approve expanding Medicaid. Even 47% of respondents who declared themselves Republican favor healthcare relief for the under- and uninsured.

Shortened runoff period upheld. A federal judge upheld the state’s shortened four-week runoff period passed in 2021 as a part of the elections overhaul bill, as well as fewer early voting days and a tighter registration deadline.

  • What this means: New voters can’t register for a runoff.
  • Catch up quick. Before 2021, runoffs were held nine weeks after the general election.

Expanding the federal child tax credit. A deal was struck in Washington to pass a $78B package that would temporarily expand the Child Tax Credit, as well as restore business tax breaks and increase money for affordable housing and disaster assistance.

  • Though the bipartisan and bicameral legislation wasn’t negotiated by leadership and faces a hard road to pass, it does come with a way to pay for it: better oversight of the Employee Retention Credit created during the pandemic.

💡Keeping the lights on. Just minutes before the deadline, President Biden signed a stopgap bill to prevent another government shutdown, mere hours after it was passed by the House.

  • Yes, but: The stopgap bill, or “continuing resolution,” only maintains current spending until the beginning of March, buying more time to pass a full-year budget that was due in October. 🤔

4. What’s next?

Legislative hearings are Monday through Friday, legislative days 6-10. Get your notepads ready! ✏️

See the legislative calendar here.

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