It’s a wrap on the 2022 Legislative Session! The last day, Sine Die, was Monday April 4th, and lasted until about 12:30 AM. Many bills passed through session this year, some good, some bad and some ugly. I recap many highlights and lowlights below. Please make sure you are registered for our Sine Die Town Hall on this coming Monday, April 11th at 7pm to hear more about this year’s legislative session.
Governor Kemp has 40 days from Sine Die to sign or veto legislation. Any legislation not vetoed before the 40 day deadline automatically will become law whether he signs it or not.
Sine Die Town Hall TOMORROW (MONDAY)!
We will be having our last town hall of the 2022 Legislative Session on this coming Monday April 11th at 7pm. State Senator Sonya Halpern and I will bring you the latest news from the Gold Dome post-session and answer any of your questions. Please register here.
Divisive Concepts and Transgender Girls’ Sports
HB 1084 started as a bad bill and ended as an even worse one. First the bill attempts to muzzle teachers to censor them from discussing the full truth of history. With less than an hour to go in the legislative session, this bill was brought to the House Floor again with an amendment to give the Georgia High School Association authority to determine whether transgender girls can play on girls sports teams. This language was never discussed at a House committee hearing and there was no floor debate. We were forced to raise the dangers and hypocrisy of this bill by “parliamentary inquiries.” I’m also extremely disappointed in the republican House member who presented the amendment without explaining what it actually did. If it is such good policy, why hide it? Makes you wonder, eh?
When this new amendment made its way back to the Senate, only minutes before both chambers gaveled out, Senators were not given copies of the bill (and a motion to pause to wait for copies, failed), the amendment was not explained at all, chaos ensued, and the Republicans pushed the bill through to final passage.
This bill does not respect educators and puts vulnerable children at further risk from isolation. This was campaign bumper sticker legislation at its finest. I found it disgraceful and voted NO. You can watch the House Floor footage on the bill below.
Mental Health Parity Act Signed!
HB 1013, the Mental Health Parity Act, which I’ve discussed a few times already in prior newsletters, is now the law in our state. Governor Kemp signed the bill on Monday. This is a huge step forward for Georgia and gives new hope to those who suffer or have family members who suffer with mental illness. You can read the highlights of this bill here.
Update on Efforts to Curb Excessive Muffler Noise
As you will recall, I presented HR 1126 to the House Public Safety Committee this session, where it passed unanimously. This resolution would create a House Study Committee to explore potential public safety tools to address the ongoing issue of street racing and excessive muffler noise. The study committee would also look at the pros and cons of adopting law to require front facing license tags (in addition to rear facing ones) as exist in 31 other states. Front facing license tags allow for maximum benefit from security cameras. Unfortunately, the resolution did not make it to the House Floor for a vote before the end of session. I do hope that we can work with the House Public Safety Committee to begin looking at the issue of setting a decibel limit for noise and allowing use of noise detection devices to help police catch those that continue to interrupt the peace and make our streets less safe. I promise I won’t give up.
Bills that Passed
Below are summaries of some of the most-followed bills that achieved final passage (House and Senate) during this year’s session. I’ve included summaries of these bills in earlier newsletters, so you may find some of this information repetitive. I’m also including information on how the bills changed through the process (if they did).
The only bill the General Assembly is constitutionally required to pass, the State budget (HB 911) received final passage on Monday. This final passage followed extensive conference committee meetings between House and Senate leaders to reach a compromise that both chambers would agree to.
The budget includes the following:
- Pay raises for teachers, law enforcement, and state employees,
- For only the second time in 21 years, Georgia will fully fund the quality basic education (QBE) formula for public schools. As I’ve said many times before, our QBE formula drastically needs updating (we are using the same formula we used in the 1980s!), but fully funding the formula we have is a step in the right direction and restores funding our schools desperately need.
- Funds HOPE Scholarships and HOPE Grants at 90%, which will help many families better afford college. Higher education changes lives and the more we can do to help students walk through the doors of higher education, the better off we’ll be as a state.
- Increases the mental health budget by nearly $200 million. These funds will help implement the Mental Health Parity Act.
I voted yes.
There were several versions of the year’s “voting bill” floating around and changing in the final weeks of session. The bill that ultimately passed, SB 441, only included the provisions to give the GBI investigative powers over election fraud. This is a bad bill, but it could have been much worse. I voted NO.
Parents “Bill of Rights”
SB 449 This bill purports to provide more classroom transparency for parents, but what it really does is sows distrust and burdens our already overworked teachers. Bill proponents admitted that most of the information allegedly made available to parents in the bill is already available. What it creates, is a paperwork nightmare for teachers with no resources to deal with it. I voted no.
SB 319 removes the current license requirement for Georgians to carry a concealed weapon. Currently Georgians must apply for a conceal carry permit and meet the following requirements:
(1) At least 21 years old or 18 years old if in the military
(2) Georgia resident
(3) No felony requirements
(4) No drug convictions
(5) Not have been in a mental hospital or drug/alcohol treatment center within the last 5 years
(6) Not have been committed to a mental hospital against your will
HB 1358 removes all these requirements, which are in place for the safety of all of us.
Proponents of the bill claim that only law abiding citizens apply for permits so what’s the point of the permitting process. They are wrong. Though counties are not required to report details on denials of permits, in 2020 we know that over 5000 permit applications were denied, mostly for criminal convictions. These denials likely saved untold numbers of lives. HB 1358 erases this safeguard.
While technically a person must be a “lawful weapons carrier” (i.e. without criminal convictions or mental health impairments), there is no mechanism for police to question those carrying a weapon in a concealed manner. This bill is bad policy and makes our state less safe. I voted no.
Unmask Georgia Students Act
SB 514 , entitled the “Unmask Georgia Students Act,” prohibits any public school board or governing board from making or enforcing of any rule that requires students to wear face masks/coverings on any property owned and operated by a local school system unless the rule provides that parents can opt their child(ren) out of the requirement. In order to opt out, there is no requirement to provide a reason and no student shall suffer any consequences as a result. This rule shall apply to local school boards, school superintendents, administrators, teachers and other school personnel, and governing bodies of charter schools. This is just a further attack on not only local control, but our public health and education system. I voted no.
“Bad Neighbor Bill”
HB 1150, otherwise known as the “Bad Neighbor Bill,” adjusts the provisions of Georgia code that protect agricultural operations against nuisance actions by neighboring parties. The bill removes definitions of “agricultural area,” “changed conditions,” and “urban sprawl,” and removes the limitation of protection against nuisance actions to changed conditions. Under the new formulation, any agricultural facility, operation, or support facility is immune from a nuisance law suit as long as it has been operating for a year or more, and no negligence or improper operation is found. A narrow carve-out was added to subsequent versions of the bill that would re-start the one-year clock upon the commencement of a swine-feeding operation or a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO). I voted no.
HB 1437, or the Georgia Tax Reduction and Reform Act of 2022, received final passage through the adoption of a conference committee report. HB 1437 provides a historic income tax cut that will save Georgians an estimated $1 billion annually once the cut goes into effect in 2024. This final version of HB 1437 eliminates personal income tax brackets and replaces them with one rate of 5.49 percent, and this tax rate would gradually decrease each year until it reaches 4.99 percent under specific circumstances. HB 1437 also eliminates the current standard deductions for taxpayers and, instead, would increase the personal exemptions to $12,000 for single and head of household taxpayers and to $18,500 for married taxpayers who file a joint return. The personal exemption for married taxpayers filing a joint return would gradually increase to $20,000 for 2024, $22,000 for 2028 and $24,000 for 2030.The bill also increases the amount of earned income allowed to be included in the retirement income exemption to $5,000 and would create a $10,000 cap for the amount of state and local taxes allowed to be deducted. I voted yes.
Recess for Kids
HB 1283 provides that each elementary school shall schedule recess for all students in kindergarten and grades one through five, but it shall not be mandatory when there has been physical education or other structured activity or in the face of inclement weather or other obstacles. The final version of the bill removed the prohibition against withholding recess as a disciplinary repercussion because otherwise the Governor threatened a veto. I wish the bill had stayed as introduced, but it is still a step forward so I voted yes.
Bills That Did NOT Pass
School Vouchers Bill
SB 601 would have allowed families to utilize $6,000 of tax dollars per year toward tuition at a private school. This bill was a straight up voucher bill and I’m glad it never made it out of the Senate.
Currently the FDA allows women to receive a pill for pill-induced abortion (or medical abortion) through the mail after a telehealth consultation. SB 456 would have eliminated this access for Georgia women. The bill passed the Senate, but I’m glad to report it never made it to a vote in the House.
SB 171 is an anti-protestor and anti-free speech bill. It would have required people participating in an “assembly of 2 or more people” to have a permit, criminalized lawful protest, imposed liability on cities and counties who protect lawful speech, and provided immunity to people who injure protesters. This was a terrible bill and I’m glad it never made it to the House Floor.
Other Bills that Passed
SB 332 aims to provide transparency in online sales and prevent the problem of ongoing theft and resale of retail merchandise. This bill, also known as the “Inform Consumers Act,” states that online marketplaces shall require high-volume, third-party sellers to provide their bank account number (or the name of the payee for payments), contact information, business tax information and tax identification number, and a current email address and phone number to the online marketplace. Online marketplaces shall notify high volume, third-party sellers about this requirement, require high volume, third-party sellers to electronically certify that their information is correct and if any changes have been made, and shall suspend sales activity after sending notice to the seller if they do not provide this information. I voted yes.
SB 565 seeks to continue our work in Georgia to treat victims of sex trafficking as victims and not criminals. This bill provides for victims of labor or sex trafficking to immediately apply for their misdemeanor or felony conviction to be vacated if their crimes were a direct result of trafficking. The bill further requires that the court vacating the conviction also must order the reimbursement of any fines or fees paid by the defendant. The Georgia Crime Victims Emergency Fund will be responsible for reimbursing defendants. Any entity to which the defendant paid shall return fines and fees according to rules made by the Georgia Crime Victims Compensation Board. I voted yes.
SB 576 sets standards for courts to award grandparent visitation rights to children whose parents are deceased, incapacitated, or incarcerated. A court must find by clear and convincing evidence that the child’s health or welfare would be harmed without visitation rights with their grandparents, and that visitation rights are in the child’s best interests. The absence of an opportunity to form a relationship is not a legally sufficient cause to grant grandparents visitation rights if there is no substantial preexisting relationship with the grandparent. The bill lists specific factors that a court may consider when making a determination. I voted yes.
SB 331, misnamed the “Protecting Georgia Businesses and Workers Act,” preempts any local jurisdiction from adopting or enforcing any regulation or rule that would entitle workers to guaranteed hours or schedule predictability. I voted no.
HB 1409 which increases the maximum payments for workers compensation benefits by $50. The bill also increases the death compensation payable to a surviving spouse by $20,000. Though this bill should have raised the maximum by much more, I am glad our injured workers will receive any increase and I voted yes.
HB 1435 provides for “gap” funding grants for students who find themselves in need of additional funding to finish college. Higher Education changes lives and this bill makes it possible for more lives to be impacted! I voted yes.
Saying Goodbye to Calvin Smyre
A legend in Georgia Politics, Representative Calvin Smyre, “Dean” of the House, gave a farewell speech during his last legislative session on Monday. Representative Smyre is the longest-serving Georgia legislator in history having served for 48 years. What an honor it has been to serve with him. I had the pleasure of being his “seat mate” during the 2017 legislative session and I’m glad to have been able to call on him for advice almost constantly during my nine legislative sessions. He is on to bigger and better things, as President Biden has nominated him to be the next U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic, but this is a huge loss for Georgia. Thank you Dean Smyre!
Updated COVID-19 guidance from the CDC:
Find a vaccine
Health Department Vaccine Scheduling Resource Line
Monday – Friday 8 AM – 8 PM ET
Saturday – Sunday 8 AM – 5 PM ET
Health Department Vaccine Schedule Web Portal: https://gta-vras.powerappsportals.us/en-US/
Vaccine Finder: https://www.vaccines.gov/
Find a COVID-19 test:
DPH Testing Locations: https://dph.georgia.gov/covidtesting
Order COVID-19 at-home test:
You can request free at-home COVID-19 tests here. You can order four at-home tests per household that will be delivered by the USPS.
Find COVID-19 case and vaccine numbers
DPH Case Dashboard: https://dph.georgia.gov/covid-19-daily-status-report
DPH Vaccine Dashboard:
As always, it is an honor to represent you under the Gold Dome. Please share your thoughts on legislation and let me know if you need help with any state agency.