Just before midnight on April 2, 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 in November was allocated to the state’s teachers, in the form of a $3,000 across the board pay raise. Because Gov. 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. Because 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 use.
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 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 Affordable Care Act’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 “nonprofit” hospitals managed to defeat most Certificate of Need reforms, legislators did pass several new transparency measures. Hospitals will have to make disclosures on executive compensation and financial holdings. In addition, nonprofits 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 Kemp’s desk include any state intervention or oversight into Atlanta’s airport, a bill to streamline and expand rural transit, a switch on ride-share sales taxes to a flat 50 cent 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”.