The 2023 Legislative Session has come to an end! It was an eventful session, with wins and losses. The biggest win being that HOPE is finally going to be funded at 100 percent for the first time since 2011!
Senator Sonya Halpern and I will be going into more detail about the last week of session at our Sine Die virtual town hall. See below for more details.
Last Virtual Town Hall
We will be having our last town hall of the 2023 Legislative Session on Tuesday April 18th 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. You can register here.
On the 40th day, into the late hours of Sine Die, the House passed the final version of the 2024 budget (HB19). There were several positive steps in the 32.4 billion dollar spending plan as well as several unfortunate cuts. Some of the highlights include:
- Finally fulfilling a promise, and restoring the HOPE scholarship at 100 percent. You can watch my remarks on that below.
- 11 million was added to the budget to authorize Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS) to hire up to 450 eligibility caseworkers and promote 75 supervisors to help the state prepare for the medicaid unwinding. This is a positive step, however insufficient for the resources needed from the overworked and underpaid social workers who will now have to potentially process millions of redeterminations in 14 months.
- $27 million was added to help recruit school counselors and fully fund the Quality Basic Education formula.
- The budget also provided $229 million to help school districts pay for a 67 percent increase in the employer contribution of per-person monthly premiums for classified employees.
- The budget cuts $66 million from higher education. This is an unfortunate cut, but some institutions can bear it more than others, and I hope the Regents will use its power to allocate the cuts accordingly. I address this point in my remarks below as well.
You can read in more detail about the budget here.
Local Control Attacked Again
SB 62, has a stated aim to address issues related to chronically unhoused persons. The bill prohibits both hospitals and government authorities from transporting and dropping off homeless individuals outside the jurisdiction, unless the person was previously a resident receiving care from the government of that jurisdiction, or the location for drop-off is a facility or other location that has agreed to accept the unhoused individual. The bill also requires county and municipal governments to enforce prohibitions against public camping, sleeping, or obstruction of sidewalks.
I voted no because I don’t believe the State should micromanage local governments as they attempt to deal with the multifaceted issue of homelessness. Especially considering homelessness is often the result of failed state policies—like underfunding mental health services, refusing to raise the minimum wage, and not addressing the need for more affordable housing.
Watch my remarks below.
The State Insists on Micromanaging Duly Elected Prosecutors
SB92, as a companion House version of this bill was discussed before, creates the Prosecuting Attorneys Qualifications Commission (“Commission”), which would have the power to discipline, remove, and cause involuntary retirement of appointed or elected district attorneys or solicitors general. The bill also separately creates an affirmative duty for district attorneys to review every case and make a prosecutorial decision based on the facts and circumstances of each case. This is a gross overreach of the power of the General Assembly. There is already a system in place that keeps these attorneys accountable. I voted no.
Watch my remarks below
Voucher Bill Defeated
SB233 the so called “Georgia Promise Scholarship Act,” resurfaced on Day 40, and after a lot of recesses and people on each side attempting to whip votes for their position, the bill ultimately failed.
As discussed last week, this bill creates a voucher program that allows parents of students whose resident school rates in the bottom 25% of student achievement to utilize a fund of $6500 per student per school year.
While I do not believe the status quo is working for our kids, this was not a good attempt to do something about our problems so I voted no. This bill would take money from public schools without providing significant funding to allow parents to actually move to other schools.
Watch my remarks below.
Other Votes this Week
Below is a list of highlighted legislation that passed in the House this last week (and also passed in the Senate). There were dozens of other bills that passed out of the House in the last two days of session but they did not all make it across the Senate so I am not including them below.
SB107 or Izzy’s Law, would require the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) to develop a model safety plan for private swim instructors to utilize by January 1, 2024. This safety plan would include minimum standards for student-to-instructor ratios, secondary supervision recommendations, parent or legal guardian attendance, as well as the use of cardiopulmonary resuscitation certification. Private swim instructors would be required to use DPH’s model aquatic safety plan or have their own water safety plan in place by April 1, 2024. Violations of this bill would be considered a misdemeanor charge with a minimum fine of $200 for the first and second violation, as well as a $1,000 maximum fine for third and subsequent violations.
This legislation is named after Izzy Scott, a four year old boy who drowned on his second day of swimming lessons at a private pool in Georgia. Following the tragic death of this young boy, Izzy’s family found that our state laws lacked safety standards for these private swim instructors, which initially prevented prosecutors from bringing charges against the instructor. I voted yes.
HR603 would establish the House Study Committee on Certificate of Need Modernization. The committee would determine whether Georgia should continue its Certificate of Need (“CON”) program due to the federal requirement being repealed in 1986. The resolution calls for broad-based discussions with public policy organizations, payers, and healthcare providers to modernize Georgia’s laws. The Study Committee would consist of seven members of the House and four non-legislative members, as detailed in the resolution. I voted yes.
SB146 regulates electric vehicle charging services provided by private parties. Under the bill, providing electric vehicle charging services by any party that is not otherwise subject to the jurisdiction of the Public Service Commission (“PSC”) will not be considered as providing electric utility service. Instead, they would fall under the jurisdiction of the Department of Agriculture (“Department”). The bill requires commercial non-residential electric vehicle charging stations to measure and display the amount of electricity delivered to each electric vehicle on a per kilowatt-hour basis, and authorizes the Department to appoint and employ investigators to inspect providers and enforce this requirement.
Any service provider in violation of this provision would be subject to a court-ordered injunction, and any failure to correct inaccurate measurements would be subject to condemnation, forfeiture, confiscation, and dismantling by the Department. Any signs advertising the price of electricity for sale may contain a separate listing of the tax charged.
The bill also regulates the provision of gifts, car washes, or other services as incentives. The bill also expands the definition of “distributor” as a party subject to collecting motor fuel tax to include electric vehicle charging stations and providers of hydrogen used as motor fuel, and taxes electricity and hydrogen used as motor fuel at a rate “measured by the nearest power potential equivalent to that of one gallon to regular grade gasoline.” The bill also removes the sunset date for utilizing the Consumer Price Index for adjusting the excise tax rate for motor fuel tax. I voted yes.
SB195 requires an expedited license by endorsement for spouses of active or transitioning armed forces members to be issued within 30 days from receipt of the application, information, and documents, rather than the current 90 days. The application will only require the information and documentation to verify that applicants meet the set requirements. I voted yes.
SR175 would create a Joint Study Committee for Highly Skilled Talent at Younger Ages. The study committee would examine ways to promote workforce training in sectors seeking skilled labor, including healthcare, manufacturing, construction, automotive, aviation, technology, software, and public safety. The committee would examine establishing an accelerated career dual enrollment program, with two years of high school academic courses plus completion of an associate’s degree, technical college diploma, or technical certificates. The program would allow students starting their sophomore year to work for a local employer as part of their course of study and training. The committee would include members of both chambers, representatives of employers with workforce challenges, the state school superintendent, the chancellor of the University System of Georgia, commissioner of the technical college system of Georgia, president of the Georgia Student Finance Commission, and the commissioner of economic development.
The second portion of the resolution establishes a second joint study committee on Service Delivery Strategy (SDS) that is negotiated between counties and municipalities to allocate local government services. The committee would consist of members of both chambers, including chairs of the respective local government committees, along with representatives of both counties and cities that are levying local option sales taxes (LOSTs). In the case of both committees, if specific findings or recommendations are adopted, the study committee must file a report along with any proposed legislation. Both committees will be abolished on December 1, 2023. I voted yes.
SB222 prohibits county or municipal governments, government employees (including election superintendents, registrars, poll workers), or election officials from soliciting, taking, or otherwise accepting from any person a contribution, donation, service, or anything else of value for the purpose of conducting or supporting primaries or elections. Violation of this code provision will result in a felony, and if convicted, it will result in at least one year in prison and a minimum fine of $10,000.00.
The bill also establishes the State Election Board (“SEB”) as independent of the Secretary of State (except for administrative purposes); however, the Secretary of State would be an ex-officio, non-voting member of the Board (as is currently the case with the SEB as a non-independent entity).
This bill was proposed in response to a $2 million award that Dekalb County received from the Center for Election Excellence, a project of the Center for Tech and Civic Life. Advocates at the hearing noted that the state actively encourages private donations to support other government functions, such as law enforcement and schools, to the point of creating tax credits for donations to qualified foundations that distribute those funds. I voted no.
SB133 addresses procedural and evidentiary requirements juvenile courts must meet when placing children in the custody of the Department of Family and Children’s Services (DFCS) on a non- emergency basis or in the absence of exceptional circumstances. Juvenile courts must determine on the record what services DFCS has provided to the parents, ask what services could be provided that would allow the child to stay with the family, confirm that all parties have made reasonable efforts to secure placement of the child in custody other than DFCS, inquire into whether a child protective services report was made to the Statewide Child Protective Service Communication Center (CJCC) and notify the DFCS office where Children in Need of Service (CHINS) case will be heard. DFCS will have the opportunity to be present at the hearing of any CHINS case to provide the court with information on the availability of services for the child. In both CHINS and delinquency cases in which the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) determines that the child is dependent, the DJJ must make a child protective services report to the CJCC, and will notify the county DFCS director. The parties must provide DFCS with the child’s educational and medical records within 72 hours of a child being placed in DFCS custody, and the Court shall order such documents to be produced if necessary. This bill needs more work to ensure that it actually does what it aims to do while ensuring protection for our kids. I voted no.
Be on the lookout in the next week for a full session report of highlights of legislation that made it through both legislative chambers and awaits the Governor’s signature. I’ll also recap significant legislation that failed this session.