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GA Legislative Watch | Week Five


GA Legislative Watch

By Molly Mcloughlin and Rebecca Wallace ● Feb. 11, 2023
Smart Brevity™ count: 4 mins…1,078 words

Legislative days 13 – 16 down, 24 more to go. Crossover day is only a month away. Download the calendar here.

Crowds return to the capitol

‘Scuse me. If you were at the Capitol this week, you may have accidentally bumped someone. Welcome back to pre-pandemic visitation levels!

1 big thing: Freight (heavy) weights

HB 189 would increase the maximum truck weights from 80K lbs to 90K lbs.

More is more, say opponents of HB 189 which would increase the maximum weight freight trucks can carry from 80K lbs to 90K lbs.

  • More than 100 local government officials and GDOT reps — folks responsible for maintaining the roads — were in an uproar when the measure passed after a standing room only, nearly six-hour hearing before the House Transportation Committee.
  • Opponents also noted safety burdens for local governments and their taxpayers.

The other side: “We see it purely from an economic standpoint as putting us on an even playing field with other states,” said Jake Matthews of the Georgia Farm Bureau.

  • Business owners say other states have an advantage with higher maximum weights, and that the increase would aid manufacturers and agribusiness companies to transport goods in fewer trips.

Catch up quick: Gov. Kemp’s pandemic era executive order increased the limit to 95K lbs., but it just expired.

What’s next: On to the House floor.

2. Notable legislation

Renewed effort to create Buckhead City

“You can’t unscramble this egg,” said Mayor Dickens of the renewed effort to create Buckhead City. SB 114 was introduced by Sen. Randy Robertson (R-Cataula) alongside other non-Atlanta residents and assigned to the State & Local Government Committee.

  • The Senator called a 7 am meeting with the mayor and told him he wants residents to vote on it.
  • What’s new in the bill: A whopping mayor’s annual salary of $225,000 — higher than the governor’s.
  • Our thought bubble: Fewer high-ranking leaders signed on this time around, not to mention the relational bridges burned since last year.

Betting on sports betting? Speaker Jon Burns spoke to a UGA audience and said he’s open to the debate on legalizing sports betting, but that he draws the line on casinos and horse racing.

  • His concerns center on the potential for “out of control’ gambling eroding families and threats to local entertainment venues that would have to compete with casinos.
  • Our thought bubble: Georgia is one of only 17 states where you can’t bet on the Super Bowl this weekend. Wagers in the other 33 (plus DC) are up to $16B and counting.

The last fix? Medical cannabis bill HB 196 passed out of committee and would increase the number of licenses the state awards to production companies from 6 to 14.

  • The additional eight will go to those companies that filed lawsuits when their bids for licenses were denied.
  • This follows the GA Access to Medical Cannabis Commission rescinding the certification rules it recently approved because they didn’t notify folks 30 days prior to the vote, which is required by law.
  • Why it matters: Supporters hope this is the final hurdle to overcome for medical cannabis access.

Low-income college students could apply for “completion grants” earlier in their academic career with HB 249, introduced by Rep. Chuck Martin (R-Alpharetta).

  • It would lower credit requirements to 70% from 80% – getting more students to the finish line.
  • Go deeper.

Shine a light on it. HB 73 would require solar panel companies that install residential panels to make certain basic disclosures to customers and be certified by the Public Service Commission. It was voted unanimously out of committee.

Permanent relief at the gas pump. HR 66 was heard in committee and aims to ratify Gov. Kemp’s executive order to suspend the collection of fuel taxes permanently.

  • Why? Georgia actually did pretty well without the extra revenue.

Again on a party line vote, the Senate passed SB 1 which permanently bans state or local government and schools from requiring a COVID-19 vaccination. Last year’s ban will expire in June.

3. In other political news . . .

Reshuffling the primary calendar

Hook, line, and sinker. President Biden made some noise during his State of the Union address when he said that some R’s are proposing to do away with Social Security and Medicare.

  • In response to heckling, Biden said they must be in agreement then, right? NO changes to SS and Medicare! *hesitant applause*

Biden also:

  • Touted historic infrastructure wins due to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and announced “Made in America” requirements for projects funded by the law.
  • Said he’s going after corporate stock buybacks, oil and gas company profits, Big Pharma, “wealthy tax cheats,” and billionaires who haven’t paid their fair share. “No billionaire should pay a lower tax rate than a school teacher or a firefighter.”
  • Received bipartisan standing applause to comments on public safety and crime — appearing as a stark distinction from Republicans’ caricature of Biden as beholden to the extreme left.

The very next day, VP Kamala Harris spoke at Georgia Tech about climate change.

  • She reinforced Biden’s challenge he repeated during the SOTU to “finish the job” by embracing his plan to increase clean energy.
  • $1T will be invested in curbing greenhouse emissions. Harris encouraged students that the spending represents a “new plateau” in U.S. efforts to combat climate change.

Movin’ on up? National Dems agreed to move Georgia’s presidential primary in 2024 to Feb. 13, following New Hampshire and Nevada on Feb. 6 and the first primary in South Carolina on Feb. 3.

  • Yes, but: Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said he won’t move the Democratic primary without moving the Republican primary.
  • And the national GOP warned that states would get penalized if they change the current GOP nominating order.

Finding common ground with the Democrats, Lt. Gov. Burt Jones and Senate President Pro Tem John Kennedy want an investigation of their predecessors’ state-paid trip to Europe two months before they left office.

  • They’re also pushing for more fiscal transparency on such trips.

The highest in its 170-year history, Atlanta’s cash balance is $240M, according to the now-public Fiscal Year 2022 Annual Comprehensive Financial Report.

4. What’s next

Sports betting will get play in the House

Sports betting will get play in the House, which is expected to drop their own legislation on Monday.

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