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GA Legislative Watch | Week Twelve


GA Legislative Watch

By Molly Mcloughlin & Rebecca Wallace ● April 1, 2023
Smart Brevity™ count: 6 mins . . . 1,572 words

40 days may be over, but Gov. Kemp has another 40 days to sign a bill into law, or veto it.

And just when you thought it was over. Legislation that didn’t pass will be carried over to the second half of the biennial General Assembly starting Jan. 8, 2024. (It’s also a presidential election year. Yay 😅)

1. ✅ The 2023 Session: what passed

🕛 The crescendo. Just after the clock struck midnight, lawmakers approved the controversial increase in weight limits for trucks hauling agricultural and forestry commodities.

  • HB 189 ups the weight variance from 84K to 88K pounds, but prohibits travel on interstates, outside a 150-mile radius of the point of origin, and in 13 metro Atlanta counties.
  • Yes, but: the higher weight limits will sunset July 2025 – a key part of the last minute deal.

💰 Another late night, high stakes decision. The FY24 budget was approved after a lot of back and forth throughout the day from each chamber’s conference committees. Key aspects of the budget include:

  • 100% tuition coverage for HOPE scholarship recipients
  • $2K salary boost for teachers, making the average $61K a year (highest in the Southeast)
  • $6K raise for troopers and $4K raise for corrections officers
  • 10% spending cut for Georgia Public Broadcasting, less than the original 26%
  • $66M cut from the University System, about half of the funding originally earmarked for the new electronic medical records system for Augusta University’s Medical College of Georgia
  • The bottom line: Senate Appropriations Chairman Blake Tillery (R-Vidalia) said it was written knowing the state could face an economic downturn later this year.
  • But wait there’s more. In a late night speech to the Senate, Gov. Kemp expressed concerns over “significant holes” in the budget and wants to work through them post session.

Reigning in “rogue prosecutors.” SB 92 creates a state commission to investigate, punish or oust local prosecutors that Rs say are negating their duties and need further oversight.

Where will they go? SB 62 requires cities to enforce a ban on public encampments for people without homes. It also prohibits the transfer of those people to other jurisdictions without permission.

Tough on gangs. SB 44 adds a mandatory minimum of 10 years to sentences for those convicted of recruiting minors into gangs and makes it harder for judges to give less than a 5-year sentence to anyone convicted of gang activity.

With the passage of SB 222, local governments could be charged with a felony if they accept money from outside groups to fund their elections – limiting additional funding to the state and federal government.

🗳️ No excuse. SB 129 makes it a law to allow time off for employees to advance vote.

It’s electric. EV owners will now pay for the amount of power used when charging their car, instead of the time spent charging with the passage of SB 146.

  • It also allows for a state tax on public charging station electricity and uses the funds for road construction.
  • The big picture: The state and the nation are preparing for an EV boom with about 3M on the road in 2021 and a projected 48M by 2030.

2. ❌ The 2023 Session: what didn’t

Failed. Cheers that could be heard all the way from the Senate chamber erupted in the House when the controversial school voucher bill failed to receive enough votes.

  • How it happened. A coalition of more than a dozen Rs and nearly all Dems rejected the proposal to offer $6.5K vouchers to students enrolled in the lowest performing schools to be used for alternative options like private schools and homeschooling.
  • Our thought bubble: The decision came despite Gov. Kemp’s staunch support of the measure, meaning it’s bound to come up again, like it has for years.

🥊 Bets are off… for now. The latest measure to legalize sports betting, HB 237, was not called for a vote this year, but remains on the table for next year.

  • It would have put sports betting under the state lottery and would not have required a constitutional amendment.
  • The tax revenue would’ve gone to college scholarship funding and state-funded preschools.

The follow-up to last year’s major mental health care advancements did not come up for a vote in the Senate after overwhelmingly passing the House.

And the Speaker said, “I would be remiss if I did not voice my disappointment that the Senate chose not to act on a priority for this House.”

  • The measure sought to recruit more mental health care workers and address the issue of patients who bounce between hospitals, jails, and homelessness by streamlining information sharing processes.

Not fit for human habitation. HB 404, which would have required minimum renter protections for tenants, did not receive a vote in the Senate after passing the House a few weeks earlier.

  • It would have been the first step to provide greater protections for tenants in an especially landlord-friendly state.

The revived push to define antisemitism in state hate crime law, HB 144, was never called for a vote.

  • Debate over whether the measure would unfairly impact other marginalized groups was one of the main reasons it didn’t pass.

The medical cannabis overhaul proposed by Rep. Alan Powell (R-Hartwell) was defeated by one vote in the Senate.

  •  The measure would have put the management of the cannabis industry under the Dept. of Agriculture, eliminating the Medical Cannabis Commission, along with adding more production licenses.
  • We expect this nearly decade-long saga to continue into next year.

Keep CON, again. Lt. Gov. Jones threw in the towel on the effort to overhaul certificate of need requirements, which would have made it easier to build new hospitals in small communities – like one in his hometown.

Ceasing fire on the culture wars. Besides limiting medical care for transgender youth, a majority of the culture war bills like abortion, guns, and religious liberty didn’t receive traction this session.

  • Yes, but: let’s see if this remains the case as the biennial continues into an election year.

3. Other political news . . .

📉 Medicaid expiring. Starting today, everyone currently enrolled in Medicaid – 2.7M Georgians according to Department of Community Health Commissioner Caylee Noggle – must reapply for their benefits after not having to since 2020.

  • These folks are disabled, elderly or living in poverty, and most of them are children.
  • For three years, everyone enrolled in Medicaid automatically stayed on, and many more were added during the pandemic, upwards of 41% in Georgia, according to the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.
  • These pandemic protections are expiring, all enrollees will have to reapply for their benefits, and it’s predicted that 128K will not find new insurance.
  • Go deeper.

State of our youth. Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens called on leaders of our beloved community during his second State of the City address to continue the city’s legacy by focusing on Atlanta’s youth.

  • Dickens reminded us that we have to nurture and cultivate the city’s leaders of tomorrow.
  • The mayor also touted the city’s strong financial status, declining rates of violent crime, and keeping Buckhead in Atlanta.

Resolving to return revenue. Atlanta City Council is considering a resolution to redirect money that will be collected when other agencies lease the planned public safety training center.

  • The proposal being floated is to take 25% of the net revenue and redistribute it to the city’s workforce housing, youth development, and other initiatives.

Extending the streetcar. Currently only circulating downtown, the Atlanta Streetcar may soon cruise to Ponce City Market thanks to a MARTA board committee approval.

  • At the dismay of neighbors, the streetcar is the “locally preferred alternative” for the route, a 2-mile extension along Edgewood Ave. to the Beltline at Irwin St. and on to the popular, massive market hall.
  • What’s next: It’s headed to the full board for approval in April.

Comeback Jackson? Former state representative Derrick Jackson, a Democrat from Tyrone, is running in the special election for House District 68, which became vacant after the untimely passing of State Rep. Letitia “Tish” Naghise (D- Fayetteville) earlier this month.

  • Catch up quick: Jackson represented the district before, but left in 2022 to make a run for lieutenant governor.

DeSantis under the Dome. More than 20 Republican senators met with the Florida Gov. who was in town for a stop on his “book tour.”

  • Is this the first sign of choosing 2024 sides?

4. But how do you really feel?

As we close out the recap of the 2023 General Assembly, thought we’d share the highs and lows from some of our team members:
Jennifer: “High – Being nominated best supporting pigeon for keeping Howard in line. Low –  Schlepping around the Capitol in a boot for a month.”
John: “High – Being told I look like George Clooney. Low – Not getting the all access badge like most other lobbyists.”
DJ: “High – Ringing in my birthday at the Capitol on Sine Die. Low – Ringing in my birthday at the Capitol on Sine Die.”
Molly is just glad she didn’t fall down the stairs all session!
👋 Farewell for now,
The ORS Session Players

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