This week’s Courier Herald column:
Just before midnight on April 2nd, the chambers
of Georgia’s General Assembly gaveled the session Sine Die, or closed for the
year. Barring a called special session,
legislators won’t convene again in Atlanta again until next January.
There were some headline accomplishments this year. The year-over-year revenue increase in the
state budget that wasn’t pledged for disaster relief last November was
allocated to the state’s teachers, in the form of a $3,000 across the board pay
raise. As Governor Brian Kemp promised
$5,000 during his term, the education establishment will be back for “more”
next year. And likely, the year after
that. And after that…
Left in debate without passing either chamber was a measure
to establish education savings accounts for public school students needing
better options. As Governor Kemp also
used School Choice as an issue heavily in his primary runoff, we can also
expect to see this debate continue next year.
After years of study and negotiation with cities and
counties, a few measures to improve broadband across the state were passed. Electric Membership Cooperatives will now be
allowed to deliver broadband internet connectivity to customers. A bill to streamline “small cell” wireless
broadband permitting and installation should help Georgia’s adoption of next
generation 5G wireless broadband.
Another issue that has been in front of the General Assembly
for years is medical marijuana. A late
compromise has sent a bill to the Governor’s desk to allow for limited in-state
cultivation and sales of the drug. The
state continues to resist any effort to legalize or decriminalize recreational
A few years ago, the state funded the GBI to eliminate a
backlog of over 3,000 untested rape kits.
This resulted in 321 DNA matches and multiple arrests according to
Georgia Public Broadcasting. In this
year’s session, the state mandated that samples from these exams be kept for 50
years. This brings them in line with
forensic evidence with other serious crimes, in the hopes that even more serial
predators can eventually be brought to justice through DNA evidence.
Several major items addressed health care in the state,
thought the General Assembly stopped short of the full Certificate of Need (CON)
reform for hospitals. The state will
move forward with an application for waivers under Medicaid expansion. If approved by the federal government, this
would allow Georgia to draw down funds under the ACA’s Medicaid Expansion but
tailor the dollars specifically according to Georgia’s needs.
Also affecting Medicaid, the state renewed the hospital provider
fee that reallocates revenues from hospitals into the state’s Medicaid program,
allowing the state to draw down two extra federal dollars for each dollar
redistributed. The money is then used to
pay claims under Medicaid back to those providers serving Medicaid patients.
While Georgia’s major “non-profit” hospitals managed to
defeat most CON reforms, legislators did pass several new transparency measures. Hospitals will have to make disclosures on
executive compensation and financial holdings.
In addition, Non-profits will be audited by a state-hired consultant who
will review compensation and lobbying activities.
This session’s “red meat” issues included passage of
restrictions on abortion, limiting the procedure in most instances to the first
six weeks of pregnancy. A hate crimes
issue passed the House, but failed to pass the Senate.
Other measures that did not make it to Governor Kemp’s desk
include any state intervention or oversight into Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, a
bill to streamline and expand rural transit, a switch on rideshare sales taxes
to a flat $.50 fee, and an extension of the exemption of taxes on jet fuel at
Georgia’s major airports.
For the measures that didn’t pass, their underlying
legislation is not dead. As the state’s
legislature is considered a two-year meeting, any bill that has passed one
chamber may be considered for final passage by the other chamber at any point
during the next meeting of the bodies. Thus,
Sine Die does not mean the end. This
year, it just means “see you later”.