Last Monday, the speaker kicked off the 2022 Legislative Session by calling the Dawgs and playing “Glory, Glory, to Old Georgia” over the speakers in the House Chamber. The Senate was a little more subdued, but many legislators were ready to hop on a plane and fly to Indiana where the Georgia Bulldogs beat the Crimson Tide and became National Champions for the first time in 41 years.
Once the revelers all assembled back in the State Capital on Wednesday, it was time to get to work.
On Thursday, the governor laid out his legislative priorities and introduced his budget in his annual State of the State Address. Sporting a Georgia Bulldogs tie, Governor Kemp claimed that his first term “built a firm foundation” for the state and outlined the steps he’d like the legislature to take in the next couple of months before his reelection.
Here are the governor’s top priorities:
Teacher Pay Raises & Budget
- In 2018, the governor introduced, and the legislature passed a $3,000 pay raise for teachers – a “down payment” on his campaign promise to raise teachers’ salaries by $5,000. This year the governor hopes to fulfill his promise by passing a $2,000 pay raise to reach his goal.
- Additionally, the governor proposed a one-time pay supplement for full-time and part-time staff.
- Lastly, Governor Kemp’s budget adds $425 million to the education funding and restores all austerity cuts from the pandemic – that equals an additional $1.4 billion in direct funding for K-12 schools, the most per K-12 student ever.
CRT & Social Issues
- The governor also said he plans to introduce legislation that will “protect” students from Critical Race Theory, adopt a “parental bill of rights,” ensure “equality in sports,” and remove “obscene material” from school libraries. In short, in addition, to pay raises and new funding, Governor Kemp plans to push for action on social issues before his reelection campaign starts up in earnest.
- Although this language is coded, these bills are sure to draw lots of attention from advocates across the spectrum. We’ll see legislation on mask mandates in school, transgender children in sports, and school curriculum at the very least.
Governor Kemp said, “I believe, by working together, this legislative session will be a historic one for education in our state.”
- After the Biden Administration revoked the state’s Medicaid Waiver, many were watching to see if the governor introduced a new plan or wanted to expand Medicaid. Instead, Governor Kemp introduced multiple measures to address Georgia’s shortage of medical professionals.
- Governor Kemp has included the following measures in the budget:
- $1 million to USG to expand nursing programs to 500 students annually over the next five years
- Funding for the Technical College System of Georgia to expand their partnership with Allied Health to serve 700 students annually
- $2.5 million to create 136 residency slots and $1 million to Mercer to help with rural shortages
- In total, the governor hopes to add 1,300 additional practitioners to the state.
- Lastly, the Governor wants to expand Medicaid for new mothers from 6 months to a year.
- Democrats will focus lots of attention this session on expanding Medicaid to the fullest extent possible, which the governor has refused to do.
- The governor briefly touched on $28 million in new funding for a 10 percent provider rate increase for foster parents, relative caregivers, child-caring institutions, and child-placing agencies.
Lastly, the governor recommended new legislation and funding to fight crime in Georgia. Over the past year, political office holders from across the state have emphasized the need to address rising crime rates.
Anti-Gang Units and Funding for Law Enforcement
- The governor hopes to build on previously established Anti-Gang Units in the GBI by establishing an Anti-Gang Unit in the Attorney General’s Office and allowing the Attorney General’s Office to partner with the GBI and local law enforcement in the investigation and prosecution of criminals.
- $7 million to upgrade GBI crime lab equipment, improvements to GBI HQ, and 32 new staff in the crime lab and medical examiner’s office.
- $3 million to support a class of 75 new troopers
- Adding law enforcement and criminal justice to high-demand career initiatives for the Technical College System – free tuition for Georgians seeking those degrees.
- $5,000 raise for state law enforcement and other state employees
- The governor said he would support a constitutional carry bill this session to recognize Georgians’ Constitutional Rights.
- The First Lady and the Grace Commission will bring legislation that adds human trafficking to the list of offenses that require a superior court judge to grant bail.
- Governor Kemp also published last week his Amended Fiscal Year 2022 and 2023 budgets. Some of the major provisions were highlighted in the State of the State Address.
Additionally, the AFY2022 and FY 2023 budget features the following highlights:
- $1.6 billion in undesignated regular surplus to provide refunds for all taxpayers for the 2021 tax year between $250 and $500.
- $432.5 million for the State Prison Facility Transformation Program provided to the Georgia Building Authority to purchase an additional facility and begin construction on a new state prison
- $231 million for a $5,000 cost of living adjustment for University System of Georgia full-time employees.
- $229.6 million to restore austerity in the teaching formula and enable USG institutions to eliminate the Special Institutional Fee.
- $6.2 million to design a new Quick Start Training Center to support the expansion of the electric vehicle industry in Georgia.
- $5.3 million for customized training and recruitment operations to support the expansion of the electric vehicle industry in Georgia.
- $4.3 million to expand the Grady Regional Coordinating Center for the continued coordination of emergency room use statewide.
- $80 million in bond funds to the Savannah-Georgia Convention Authority Center to expand the state convention center.
- $33.5 million for behavioral health and developmental disabilities systems to aid our mental health crisis networks and provide additional opportunities for individuals living with developmental disabilities
Buckhead Cityhood Issue
While the Buckhead cityhood movement remains active, the path to a referendum has hit a few bumps in the road as of late. To form “Buckhead City,” the legislature would need to pass a bill to incorporate “Buckhead City,” de-annex Buckhead from Atlanta, and address the schooling challenges caused by de-annexation. Versions of the incorporation legislation were introduced in the House and Senate. The bill was sent to Governmental Affairs in the House, while the Senate bill was sent to Urban Affairs. The Senate Urban Affairs Committee is entirely composed of Democratic Senators, all but ensuring a difficult time for the proponents. However, as the session progress, other bills surrounding the issue will likely be introduced and proponents will try to steer them toward more friendly committees. Traditionally, legislation like this requires support from local delegations, in this case, the Atlanta delegation. It is still to be seen if the leadership will continue this requirement.
“Eggs and Issues” Review
During the Georgia Chamber’s Eggs and Issues Breakfast, Lt Governor Geoff Duncan said he would be introducing a bill to provide a tax credit for donating to local law enforcement. Duncan said, “This is an opportunity for citizens to write checks directly to your local law enforcement agencies and get a dollar per dollar state tax credit.” Duncan said law enforcement could use the funds to increase pay, hire more officers, and improve mental health resources.
Newly-elected Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens also proposed ideas to address rising crime rates throughout the city. Dickens hopes to create an Atlanta Department of Labor to streamline partnerships that help increase employment in the city and address the underlying issues that influence crime. Mayor Dickens said, “To Georgia lawmakers in this room this morning, there are about 400 steps between Atlanta City Hall and the Gold Dome. I don’t mind crossing the street to come see you to engage with you in person. And I hope you don’t mind to come over to City Hall and do the same with me.”
Ignition Interlock Bill
House Bill 439 requires installing an ignition interlocking device for individuals convicted of their first DUI offense. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Bill Hitchens (R-Rincon) and was assigned to the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee.
The Speaker appointed Dentons Partner Edward Lindsey to serve on the State Elections Board, where he will join the committee that oversees all state primaries and elections.
Next week the legislature will be in recess as budget hearings occur all week. Although state legislators won’t formally be in session, many will be preoccupied with the Joint Appropriations Committee Meetings.