Summary: Week 13 of 2022 Session
O n Monday, April 4, the 2022 legislative session came to an end as the House and Senate completed the 40th and final day of session, also known as “Sine Die,” which is a Latin term meaning “without assigning a day for further meeting.” As we convened for Sine Die, we worked tirelessly past midnight to ensure that important legislation for our state had every opportunity to be considered this year. The House gave final passage to many quality pieces of legislation, including a new state budget, which will now go to Governor Brian Kemp for his final consideration. Fiscal Year 2023 Budget
The House fulfilled its only constitutional obligation late in the night on Sine Die when we voted to adopt a conference committee report for House Bill 911, the Fiscal Year 2023 (FY 2023) budget. Upon the governor’s signature, the FY 2023 budget will go into effect on July 1, 2022, and is set at a record-breaking revenue estimate of $30.2 billion, which is an increase of $2.9 billion or 10.8 percent over the budget we passed last session. Due to positive economic projections, HB 911 would permanently restore nearly $669 million that was originally eliminated from the budget following the initial fallout from the pandemic in 2020. The House and Senate were able to finalize a budget that would make historic investments in our state agencies. HB 911 includes $758 million for the state’s workforce to help reduce the high turnover rate of state employees, which impacts critical government services. Specifically, this budget would provide a well-earned $5,000 cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for eligible state employees, allow state employees to withdraw and be compensated for up to 40 hours of accrued leave annually, increase the employer 401(k) match up to nine percent and prefund a COLA for state retirees. These strategic compensation initiatives aim to target the state’s all-time high average turnover rate of 23 percent, which is even higher for some agencies at 40 percent. We also included $62.4 million for additional targeted salary adjustments to prevent workers from leaving for higher paying jobs in other government agencies or the private sector after they’ve been trained. Using $148.9 million in new funds, this FY 2023 budget would also bolster funding for mental health coordinated care and law enforcement systems in every region of the state. Law enforcement agencies would be able to hire additional law enforcement positions and make salary adjustments to further tackle crime and keep citizens safe in our state. Our health and judicial state agencies would also receive ample funding to support and expand services for Georgians who are facing a mental health crisis or addiction, including expanding accountability courts, suicide prevention support, crisis bed availability and a workforce to deliver those services. This funding would work in conjunction with provisions in the House’s Mental Health Parity Act (House Bill 1013), which is discussed in more detail below.
Funding for K-12 education dominates nearly 40 percent of the FY 2023 budget, totaling $11.8 billion to fully fund Georgia’s public schools. The FY 2023 budget also includes $291.7 million to provide a $2,000 pay increase for certified teachers and employees, allowing us to complete our original goal to increase teacher pay by $5,000. The teachers’ retirement system would also greatly benefit from additional funding in this upcoming state budget.
To promote a healthy Georgia, this budget includes $5 million in Low-Income Medicaid funds, allowing the state to submit federal waivers to provide Medicaid benefits to individuals with HIV and to remove the five-year waiting period for lawful permanent residents to qualify for benefits. We also appropriated $1.8 million for more lead inspectors and testing machines based on legislation that was recommended by the House Study Committee on Childhood Lead Exposure. The Sick Cell Foundation would also receive $538,738 for care and testing in rural areas, and $1.7 million would go towards our local health departments with infrastructure grants.
HB 911 would also allow for the elimination of special institution fees at our state colleges and universities, fund workforce programs for high-demand careers, as well as implement a 10 percent provider rate increase for foster parents, relative caregivers, child caring institutions and child placing agencies.
Historic $1 Billion Tax Cut House Bill 1437, or the Georgia Tax Reduction and Reform Act of 2022, also received final passage on Sine Die through the adoption of a conference committee report. HB 1437 would provide a historic income tax cut to save Georgians an estimated $1 billion annually once the cut goes into effect in 2024. This final version of HB 1437 would eliminate personal income tax brackets and replace them with a single, flat 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 would also eliminate 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 would also increase 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. Following strong economic stewardship throughout the pandemic, I am proud that we are able to continue providing efficient, effective government services, while also working to give taxpayers back their hard-earned dollars.
Medicaid Coverage for New Mothers My colleagues and I also passed legislation on Sine Die to provide longer Medicaid coverage for new mothers to encourage better health outcomes for them and their babies. Senate Bill 338 would extend the period of postpartum Medicaid coverage from six months to one year after delivery to decrease and prevent maternal deaths in our state, and the FY 2023 budget includes $28.2 million in funding to implement this vital Medicaid extension. In 2020, the House championed House Bill 1114 to extend postpartum Medicaid coverage to six months, but it is crucial that we extend this coverage for an additional six months, giving mothers more support and access to health care services as they adjust to life with a new baby.
Teaching Civil Rights Era to Students
We also unanimously adopted House Resolution 881 to encourage Georgia’s public schools to teach children about the Civil Rights Era. This resolution urges schools to teach students about this historic movement and related subject matter in order to affirm our state’s commitment to reject bigotry, champion equal protection under the law and act in opposition to injustice wherever it occurs. HR 881 also encourages the inclusion of curriculum on natural law, the natural rights principles of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the tactics and strategy of nonviolent resistance. Our state is the home of many civil rights icons, and it is important for Georgia children to not only understand the impact of the Civil Rights Era at the time but also to recognize the ways this movement continues to shape our lives today. While schools are currently allowed to teach about the Civil Rights Era and Dr. King’s work, this resolution allows the House to officially and publically recognize that these teachings deepen a student’s appreciation for the civil rights leaders who fought for equality and justice here in Georgia, and teaching these subjects help ensure that their work and sacrifice has not been forgotten.
Justice for Child Victims
The House also unanimously gave final passage to House Bill 1188 to help keep dangerous predators behind bars, as well as keep these offenders away from Georgia children when they are released from jail. HB 1188 would clarify in Georgia law that each act of child molestation and the sexual exploitation of a child should be charged as separate crimes. The state has prosecuted these offenses separately in the past, but a Georgia Supreme Court ruling a few years ago directed these offenses to be grouped into one charge, which left victims without the justice they deserve. This legislation would address this court ruling and make it clear in the law that these offenders should be charged separately for each of their heinous crimes. HB 1188 would also make it a crime for any high-risk sex offender to access or use a commercial social networking website to communicate or gather information about a person who the offender believes is under 16 years old, and it would make it illegal for these offenders to impersonate a minor under the age of 16 years old. This crime would be considered a felony under Georgia law and would result in a prison sentence from one to 10 years and/or a fine up to $10,000. HB 1188 sends a strong message that Georgia will not be a safe haven for these predators, and anyone who seeks to harm children in this way should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
Criminal Records Responsibility Act Before the night was over, the House passed Senate Bill 441, the Criminal Records Responsibility Act, to enhance how our state and local governments maintain and share criminal records, which is fundamental to keeping our communities safe. The main portion of this legislation would task the Criminal Case Data Exchange Board with acting as an advisory board for our court system. The advisory board would work to set statewide standards for the courts as they submit, maintain and preserve criminal records, as well as improve the electronic transmission of vital criminal data between state and local agencies, such as arrests and indictment information. This bill would also help courts adopt an automated system for victims to be notified about certain situations related to their case. The Criminal Records Responsibility Act also includes disposition requirements for attorneys and would require the Georgia Crime Information Center to update its policies based on the advisory board’s standards. Finally, SB 441 includes a provision that would provide original jurisdiction to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) to identify and investigate substantiated election-related claims and collect legal evidence while investigating election crimes. Overall, this legislation seeks to close certain gaps in our criminal justice system, and the bill has been sent to the governor for his consideration.
2022 Study Committees
Each session, the House establishes study committees that work throughout the summer and fall to examine specific issues and/or topics that are important to Georgians. Before we ended the session, the House adopted four resolutions to launch new study committees that will surely keep my colleagues and I busy in the coming months. We adopted House Resolution 1082 to create the House Study Committee on State and Local Law Enforcement Salaries, which will examine the pay scale for these dedicated public servants to further address the shortage of officers in our state. The House also adopted House Resolution 1149 to create the House Study Committee on Regulation, Affordability and Access to Housing. This study committee will aim to address the growing need for affordable housing in our state and will be comprised of state representatives, a real estate industry professional and local government officials who will report their findings back to the House at the end of the year. Senate Resolution 477 was also adopted by the House to create the Joint Georgia Music Heritage Study Committee. This bicameral study committee will examine the economic impact of the music industry in Georgia, as well as ways to promote the state’s music economy and foster integration with other creative industries that call our state home. Finally, we adopted House Resolution 798 to create the House Study Committee for Cannabis Waste Disposal and Recycling, and this study committee will learn more about the waste created from medical cannabis products and how this waste could be used to produce renewable energy. Throughout this year, each of these study committees will hold meetings with area experts and will craft extensive legislative recommendations following their hearings. At the end of the year, these study committees will dissolve after publishing their reports that will help guide some of our work during the 2023 legislative session. Mental Health Parity Act
On Sine Die, my colleagues and I also had the honor of witnessing the historic House Bill 1013, the Mental Health Parity Act, being signed into law by Governor Kemp. Starting this year, HB 1013 will set our state on a path to improve the state’s mental health care system through meaningful, comprehensive reform. The result of a yearslong study by the Georgia Behavioral Health Reform & Innovation Commission, this legislation will require parity for mental health coverage to the same degree as coverage for physical care, meaning health insurance companies will begin to provide greater coverage for treatment for issues like anxiety, depression, addiction and many other mental and behavioral health struggles that many Georgians face. This bill will also strengthen workforce development initiatives for mental health professionals, expand transparency and accountability for consumers and enhance resources and tools for frontline responders and communities. We recognize that mental health touches nearly every family in our state, and we were proud to see this bill become a new law this week knowing that it will drastically improve lives across Georgia.
Now that this year’s legislative session has come to an end, Governor Brian Kemp will review the legislation that received final passage by the House and Senate, and these measures will become state laws upon his signature. If the governor does not sign or veto a measure within 40 days of Sine Die, it automatically becomes law.
With this legislative session behind us, my colleagues and I will soon begin to study and examine various issues affecting Georgians that may need to be addressed in next year’s legislative session. You are always welcome to contact me with any questions or concerns about topics or issues that are important to you and your family. You can reach me at my capitol office at 404-656-0188 or [email protected] Also, because the House has adjourned for the year, I will be spending much more time in our district. Feel free to contact me locally.
As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.
By Rep. Robert Pruitt (District 149)