New State Representative
This weekly Legislative Update report is courtesy of the Regional Business Coalition of Metropolitan Atlanta (RBC), an organization of over a dozen of the largest and most active Chambers of Commerce throughout the metro Atlanta region. RBC member chambers represent over 15,000 member companies who employ millions of metro Atlanta residents. The RBC’s primary goal is to represent the interests of RBC Chamber members on regional public policy issues impacting our transportation, water and air quality and to advocate for solutions that improve metro Atlanta’s quality of life and economic vitality.
This week the General Assembly convened Monday through Thursday for Legislative Days 24 through 27. Monday, March 6 is Crossover Day, which is the final day that a bill can pass out of the chamber in which it originated to stay alive this year. In the Senate, Wednesday was the final day a bill could be passed by a committee to make it to the floor for a vote by Crossover Day. The House held a committee workday on Friday to allow committees to pass out additional legislation ahead of Crossover Day on Monday.
The Senate Rules Committee met late Thursday night after the Senate adjourned to set the calendar for Monday, placing more than 60 bills on the calendar on top of the number of bills that were tabled on Thursday that could be brought back up at any time. The House Rules Committee has set a shorter calendar for Monday, but will likely meet several times throughout the day to create supplemental calendars to add more bills to the floor for consideration.
On the Senate side, this week was notable for measures that did not pass including City of Buckhead City legislation and sports betting, which were voted down, and a bill that would limit gender discussion in schools and religious freedom, or ‘RFRA’ legislation, both which did not make it on to Monday’s Crossover Day calendar.
After Crossover Day on Monday, legislators will convene Tuesday through Thursday for Legislative Days 29 through 31, though the days immediately following Crossover Day do not typically see much legislative action.
Amended Fiscal Year 2023 Budget
Last week the Senate passed its version of the Amended Fiscal Year 2023 budget, House Bill 18, and immediately transmitted the bill back to the House for consideration. The House and Senate typically come up with their own versions of the budget based on their members’ priorities. Procedurally, when each chamber insists on its position, a conference committee made up of three House members and three Senators is appointed to resolve the differences between the two versions.
This week Lieutenant Governor Burt Jones appointed Senate President Pro Tempore John Kennedy (R-Macon), Majority Leader Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega), and Appropriations Chairman Blake Tillery (R-Vidalia) to serve as conferees, and Speaker John Burns appointed Speaker Pro Tempore Jan Jones (R-Milton), Majority Leader Chuck Efstration (R-Dacula), and Appropriations Chairman Matt Hatchett (R-Dublin) to the conference committee. Once an agreement is reached among conferees, both chambers will vote on the conference committee report, which reflects the agreed upon AFY23 budget. The passage of a balanced budget is the only constitutionally required action item for the legislature each year.
Tax Credits Analysis
On Thursday morning, Speaker Jon Burns and Lieutenant Governor Burt Jones joined Governor Kemp to announce that the General Assembly would be undertaking a thorough review of all Georgia tax credits, including Georgia’s film tax credit, later this year. According to the press release, the “review is meant to support Georgia businesses while ensuring a significant return on investment for Georgia’s taxpayers.”
The review process will take place in the interim between the 2023 and 2024 sessions of the Georgia General Assembly so that any legislative changes which may be proposed could be considered during the 2024 session. The House and Senate will work with the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget, the Georgia Department of Economic Development, and the Georgia Department of Revenue as well as industry stakeholders throughout the process. The press release noted that further details on the review process would be announced after the 2023 session adjourns at the end of March.
There are a number of bills moving that would legalize sports betting in Georgia.
After passing the Economic Development Committee last week, on Thursday the Senate considered Senate Bill 57 by Senator Billy Hickman (R-Statesboro), which would allow sports betting as well as fixed-odds betting on horseracing in Georgia. The bill was amended on the floor to require that regulations governing the treatment and aftercare of horses consider and utilize standards published by the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority. The bill failed by a vote of 19 to 37.
There are several other bills, both on the House and Senate side, that could still potentially move on Crossover Day, some of which include a proposed amendment to Georgia’s constitution. There is still some level of disagreement under the Gold Dome as to whether legalizing sports betting requires a constitutional amendment approved by voters. Former chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court Harold Melton recently wrote a legal opinion that stating that “sports betting can be legalized as a state-run lottery for educational purposes solely through legislative action,” meaning that a constitutional amendment would not be required.
Another measure to keep an eye on on Monday is House Bill 380, sponsored by Representative Marcus Wiedower (R-Watkinsville), which would legalize sports betting and place it under the purview of the Georgia Lottery. Wiedower’s bill does not include the legalization of any type of horse racing. The measure was passed by substitute in the Higher Education Committee this week and is now on the House’s general calendar for Monday, meaning that it is eligible for selection by the Rules Committee on a supplemental calendar.
City of Buckhead City
On Thursday the Senate was slated to vote on two companion bills that would de-annex the City of Buckhead City from Atlanta if approved by voters, Senate Bill 113 and Senate Bill 114. The day before the vote, the cityhood movement was dealt a blow when the Governor’s Executive Counsel, David Dove, sent a public letter to the Governor’s Floor Leaders in the Senate which raised a number of questions regarding the constitutionality of the bills, including questions of how Atlanta and Buckhead would share general obligation bond debt and what would become of Buckhead’s children who currently attend Atlanta Public Schools.
Although Lieutenant Governor Burt Jones has been supportive of the measure in the past in his capacity as a state senator, his office has indicated that the bill is not one of his legislative priorities this session. After a lengthy debate on the floor Thursday evening, Senate Bill 114 failed with a floor vote of 23 to 33, and Senate Bill 113 was tabled.
Governor Kemp’s Legislative Priorities
Mental Healthcare Reform
After passing out of committee by substitute earlier this week, on Thursday the House considered House Bill 520. The 44-page measure, which was presented on the floor by cosponsors Representatives Todd Jones (R-South Forsyth) and Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur), who carried last year’s mental health reform bill, would expand Georgia’s loan forgiveness program for mental health care providers; create new authorities for sharing and collecting data; seeks to define “serious mental illness;” and includes a funding mechanism to allow the legislature to appropriate funds in the Fiscal Year 2024 budget for crisis services in Fulton, Laurens, and Muscogee counties. The bill builds upon the sweeping mental healthcare legislation passed last session under the leadership of the late Speaker David Ralston. It passed the House 163 to 3 and now heads to the Senate for consideration.
This week the House and Senate considered a number of bills that seek to address crime.
Late Thursday evening, the Senate took up Senate Bill 222, sponsored by Senator Max Burns (R-Sylvania), which would require that all costs and expenses relating to election administration be paid for with “lawfully appropriate public funds,” effectively prohibiting donations to county election offices from nonprofits like Mark Zuckerberg’s Center for Tech and Civic Life, which donated an estimated $43 million to Georgia counties in Georgia for election administration during the COVID pandemic in 2020. The measure passed 33 to 23 and now heads to the House for consideration.
Another elections-related measure which was passed out of the Ethics Committee earlier this week, Senate Bill 221, would have banned absentee ballot drop boxes and allowed voter challenges based on change-of-address records. The bill was not selected by the Rules Committee for a floor vote on Monday.
Electric Vehicle Legislation
This week the House passed House Bill 406, sponsored by Transportation Chairman Rick Jasperse (R-Jasper), which would allow convenience stores to sell electricity for EV charging by the kilowatt hour, create regulations for EV chargers, and sets up a tax structure similar to the gas tax for electricity used to power electric vehicles. The bill comes after an off-session study committee, co-chaired by Chairman Rick Jasperse and Senate Majority Leader Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega) travelled the state to discuss the future of the electrification of transportation in Georgia. The measure passed the House unanimously on Wednesday and has been assigned to the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee for consideration.
This week Senator Josh McLaurin (D-Sandy Springs) introduced Senate Bill 247, which would prohibit a towing and storage firm from placing an instrument designed to restrict movement of a motor vehicle on a motor vehicle in an unauthorized location. The bill, which has bipartisan cosponsors, has been assigned to the Public Safety Committee for consideration. Because it has not already received a committee hearing at this point in the session, the bill will not be eligible for passage by the Senate this year, but it can still be considered next session.
In the crowded race to fill the seat of former House Appropriations Chairman Terry England, which was vacated by Representative-Elect Danny Rampey, no candidate was successful in reaching the 50 percent plus one threshold at the end of January. The House District 119 seat went to a special election runoff between Republicans Holt Persinger and Charlie Chase. This week, Persinger won the runoff with 59 percent of the vote. When he is sworn in, Republicans will have 101 seats in the House. An open Democratic-leaning seat in Clayton County will be filled in a special election in March after Representative Mike Glanton stepped down earlier this session for health reasons.