Day 7 of Georgia Legislative Session

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Nothing is ever black and white on Capitol Hill — not even red lights and stop signs. House Bill 978, the latest exception-to-the-rule legislation, was introduced today, allowing bicyclists approaching a stop sign to “act in accordance with the requirements for approaching a yield sign.” Combined with the recent attempt across the street in Atlanta City Hall to abolish the beloved practice of turning right on a red light, it seems that the traffic control lobby has their work cut out for them this year. 

In more serious news, Governor Brian Kemp and Japanese Consul General Mio Maeda celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Japanese Consulate in Atlanta on Tuesday. The Legislative Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Caucus also announced that it will host Lunar New Year Day at the State Capitol on Thursday, Feb. 15. Both celebrations acknowledge Georgia’s vibrant and growing AAPI community.

In this Report:

  • Committee Reports
  • New Legislation
  • What’s Next

Committee Reports

Senate Education & Youth Committee

The Senate Education & Youth Committee, chaired by Senator Clint Dixon (R-Gwinnett), met on Tuesday to consider four measures, all of which passed out of the committee during the 2023 legislative session:

  • HB 306, authored by Representative Tim Fleming (R-Covington), amends Title 20 to allow for guaranteed energy savings performance contracting in schools. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.
  • SB 208, authored by Senator Greg Dolezal (R-Cumming), seeks to provide for fees for education through the ‘Georgia Development Impact Fee Act’ by amending Chapter 71 of Title 36. High-growth communities would be able to levy these fees to permit construction of schools. Impact fees are used in current law for parks and recreation facilities, roads, sewers, and libraries for instance. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.
  • SR 189, also authored by Dolezal, is the Constitutional Amendment which would permit SB 208. It seeks to add a new paragraph V, Section VI, Article VIII. The Committee recommended the resolution DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.
  • SB 147, authored by Senator Shawn Still (R- Norcross), seeks to enact the “Boundless Opportunities for Georgia Students Act.” The legislation amends Chapter 2 of Title 20 to permit student transfers between local school systems without contracts between the local school system where the student resides and the local school system where the student seeks to enroll. Further, it seeks to require the State Board of Education to provide procedures for such student transfers and for caps on tuition that can be charged to a student by an enrolling local unit of administration that exclusively provides virtual instruction to such students. The Committee recommended the resolution DO PASS with a party line vote and be sent to the Rules Committee.

Senate Children & Families Committee

The Senate Children & Families Committee, chaired by Senator Kay Kirkpatrick (R-Marietta), met on Tuesday to consider one measure:

  • SB 342, authored by Senator Randy Robertson (R-Cataula), amends Title 49 to authorize the disclosure or use of information from child abuse and neglect registries by the Department of Human Services to locate, recover, or provide services to a child determined to be missing or a victim of sexual exploitation. This legislation will help bring Georgia into compliance with federal Title 4(e) funding requirements. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS as presented and be sent to the Rules Committee without questions or comments.

House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee

Chairman Tyler Paul Smith (R-Bremen) called the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee to order on Monday to discuss one bill:

  • HB 881, authored by Representative Joseph Gullett (R-Dallas), amends O.C.G.A. Code Section 15-18-32 relating to the Prosecuting Attorneys Qualifications Commission. The measure removes standards of conduct purview from the Georgia Supreme Court, limits absences, and changes jurisdiction for an appeal from Fulton County to the superior court of the appealing attorney.

Forsyth County Solicitor General Bill Finch asked that solicitor generals be removed from the scope.

The measure passed along party lines.

Senate Judiciary Committee

The Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Senator Brian Strickland (R-McDonough), was called to order on Monday afternoon to discuss two measures:

  • HB 30, authored by Representative John Carson (R-Marietta), amends Title 50 of the O.C.G.A. to codify the definition of antisemitism. Senator John Kennedy (R-Macon) presented a substitute. The new version includes the IHRA definition of antisemitism. According to Senator Kennedy, there was ambiguity in the application of the definition in the previous bill. The substitute also outlines the government’s responsibility and adds citations from the criminal code.

Sarah Bunt-Blackwell with the Georgia ACLU, Megan Gordon at the Council on American Islam Relations, Professor Ilse Cohen from the Religious Studies Department for Jewish Studies, Marisa Pyle, Sig Giordano, Julia Falcone, Luma Eunich, Asim Javed from the Georgia Muslim Voter Project, Nadia Behizadeh a professor of Adolescent Literacy, Karem Rosshandler, and Dr. Jill Werner from Conscious Anti-Racism expressed concern over the measure.

Mark Goldfeder from the National Jewish Advocacy Center, Eric Robbins from the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, Sally Levine from the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust, Pasto George Morrison from Christians United for Israel, Darius Jones from the National Black Empowerment Council, Rabbi Chaim Neiditch from the Jewish Student Union, Julie Katz with the American Jewish Communities, Rabbi Elizabeth Bayer, Mack Parnell from the Georgia Faith and Freedom Coalition, Beth and Erin Gahn, David Lubin, and Rabbi Larry Sernovitz expressed their support for the measure.

The committee substitute received a DO PASS recommendation.

SB 359, authored by Senator John Albers (R-Roswell), amends O.C.G.A. 16-14-3 relating to hate crimes. The substitute adds to the definition of a pattern of racketeering activity and designated misdemeanor to Georgia’s RICO Act and Hate Crimes Laws. The measure includes changes for anyone committing, attempting to commit, soliciting, or coercing someone to commit a hate crime can be charged with racketeering. Under Georgia’s Hate Crimes Law, it further adds to designated misdemeanor anyone littering, unlawfully posting, disorderly conduct at a funeral or memorial service, terroristic threats, and harassing communication and also adds political affiliation or belief to the list of groups.

A representative from the ACLU and citizens from the city of Atlanta expressed opposition to the measure.

A motion DO PASS was made. An amendment was accepted to replace “chargeable by indictment” with “(b)(2)(a)”. The measure passed as amended by a vote of 5 to 3.

House Appropriations Human Services Subcommittee

Chair Katie Dempsey (R-Rome) called the Human Services Subcommittee to order Monday afternoon to hear presentations from state agencies and departments on the Amended Fiscal Year 2024.

  • Commissioner Kevin Tanner from the Department of Behavioral Health and Development Disabilities presented first. Tanner highlighted the over $9.8 million for one-time $1,000 salary supplements and a $7.6 million transfer to provide services in Regional State Hospitals. Most campuses and buildings are over 50 years old. In coordination with the Georgia Building Authority, the hospital report included $87 million in recommendations. The transfer of funds will go towards traditional upgrades and maintenance. One item missing from the governor’s budget includes a treatment mall in Augusta. Tanner reviewed the loss of 1,238 employees since January 2020. The department has seen vacant positions being filled. A workforce study showed a 57% turnover with millennials and a 24% compensation gap between the department and market rates. There was a 195% increase in the forensic bed waitlist. There are 641 state forensic beds. Half are taken up by people determined to be not guilty by reason of insanity. Combining that with workforce and other issues results in a wait time of 275 days. For restoration services, Tanner highlighted Cobb County’s efforts. Tanner also reported on the transport study, which showed excessively high transport times. Other priorities for the amended budget include the Dodge County Jail-Based Restoration Program, maximizing crisis center utilization, Gateway Children and Adolescent Crisis Stabilization Unit construction cost, East Central Regional Hospital Treatment Mall, and the Sheriff’s Transportation Pilot.

Representative Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur) asked about EMPATH Units. Representative Karen Mathiak (R-Griffin) asked about the age of their software. In the hospital setting, it is not very old. Within the provider base, there are a lot of systems that do not coordinate and communicate. Representative Mike Cameron (R-Rossville) asked if there is staff that reaches out to sheriffs. The department does and attends the various conferences. Representative Emory Dunahoo (R-Gillsville) asked about the average stay for those in forensic beds, and after that stay. The stay is nine years, and after they are considered mentally fit, they are able to live in a supervised environment. He further asked about the number of employees in Cobb. Since they are a provider, this is a contract with the county, so technically, there are no DBHDD employees. Chair Dempsey asked about the bed study. The study showed Georgia needs eight crisis centers over the next ten years. A crisis center allows someone to go for ten days instead of a state hospital for longer stays. This same study showed the need for 119 forensic beds. Dempsey asked about housing vouchers. The voucher program continues to grow and needs more money. Dempsey wanted the commissioner to explain why the state cannot build a new state hospital. The state is required to care for people in their community. The needs of the state are really for forensic beds. Commissioner Tanner was asked about the opioid settlement. An inventory of treatment has been done, and now they are working on the perfect continuum of care. Currently, the department is working on a portal along with the local communities developing their regional advisory councils. Dempsey asked about the 988 Hotline. Georgia has done a tremendous job, which was developed with GCAL prior to 988. The department has worked with restaurant workers, which is the second-highest demographic group to commit suicide, to reduce the stigma.

  • Department of Human Services Commissioner Candice Broce highlighted the $18 million in adjustments. Broce highlighted $3 million for the case management system, a little under $215,000 for two community action team pilot programs, $1.7 million to integrate Pathways and Georgia Access into Georgia Gateway, a $2.6 million in savings from office consolidation, $1.5 million for benefit programs specifically because of redeterminations, $590,000 was transferred to the aforementioned benefit programs, $65,000 to reduce duplicative contracts, $2 million for Equifax, $360,000 for credentialling child placing agencies, $82,000 to establish applications and inspections for qualified residential treatment programs, and $2.7 million for the Gwinnett Commercial Sexual Exploitation Recovery Center, Grace’s Place.

Representative Steven Sainz (R-St. Marys) asked about the reduction in elder abuse and prevention. This reduction is because of the ombudsmen’s work. Representative Cameron asked about his county’s office being opening less than five days a week. This is a staffing issue. Representative Oliver inquired about the gap in caseworkers. There are a few hundred unfunded vacancies. Dempsey asked about case management system updates.

  • Commissioner Patricia Ross with the Department of Veterans Services spoke to the FY 2024 budget. They hace been 41,453 claims submitted. More than $4 billion in benefits were paid out and referred almost 8,000 veterans to other services. They work with DBHDD on suicide prevention. Georgia has the largest number of female veterans in the nation. The amended budget includes funding for the $1000 supplement. It also has a transfer of funds from cemeteries to mental health. There is an unfunded position of more than $41,000 – she asked for that to be restored. She accented the contractor change at Georgia War Veterans Nursing Home of $200,000. Commissioner Ross spoke to these items not being funded in the governor’s budget:
    • She had asked for funds for Georgia War Veterans Home — need an increase of 10 percent to retain census.
    • Post-911 veterans with respiratory issues asked for new furnishings to upgrade staff space.
    • They also asked for funding for the Georgia Veterans Service Foundation — one-time dollars — to meet mental and behavioral health and veteran homelessness. This was over $121,000.
    • The nursing homes need elevator upgrades and fire doors.
    • Another ask was for more than $25 million to co-locate at Coastal Pines.

Representative Sainz asked what the makeup of the foundation and their assets were. There were seven members appointed last year. They only have $12,500 but haven’t fundraised for it. Representative Cameron asked if homelessness is being tackled in his area with the use of tiny homes. They are using containers and trying to co-locate services with those veterans, but they are not conducive to families. Representative Mathiak thanked the commissioner for helping with her 102-year-old veteran. Chair Dempsey asked about the cemeteries. The number of burials per year is about 600. More veterans have applied under PACK Act claims.

  • Chris Wells, Executive Director of Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency, spoke about his agency’s budget. Their staff works with several state agencies to be more efficient and effective. They have five programs — working on barriers to employment. They have approximately $180 million. The agency’s Budget is pretty flat but includes $1,000 in employee supplemental pay. He accented the number of students served. GVRA is working to be a better partner with education. Looking at students with 504 and IEPs. Counselor positions range from $47,000-$60,000, depending on level. They have done client services policy revisions (eg, removed financial needs assessment) and have worked on the Bud McCall Post Secondary Vocational Rehabilitation Grant (annual grant of $17,725). Other items mentioned: Georgia Reading Radio Services, Centers for Independent Living and Statewide Independent Living (more than $2 million – this is for folks before they are ready for employment), Friends of Disabled Adults and Children, Blaze Sports, Tommy Noblis Center, Bobby Dodd Institute, and Disability Innovation Fund (includes soft skills training). They have partnered with other entities such as Ag Expo, UGA, the Braves, and the Rural Learning Network. Changes have been made at Warm Springs. More certification programs have been added, and hired more educators. Now, CNA instruction, computer skills, etc., are offered. Serving 86 individuals in the dorm.

Representative Anulewicz asked about IPSE grants. The agency supports the grants and could have more funding. Representative Sainz requested a description of residential campuses. Campuses have changed. The agency has partnered with rural schools to offer additional tutoring.

  • Chair Dempsey opened the floor to public comment. Elizabeth Appley spoke on homelessness and the housing voucher program. Stan Jones echoed Ms. Appley’s comments. Representative Mathiak asked about housing permanency. The houses are permanent, but residents are temporarily there until they receive their housing vouchers.

House Appropriations Economic Development Subcommittee

Representative Steven Meeks (R-Screven) chaired Tuesday’s subcommittee meeting.

  • Commissioner Tyler Harper from the Department of Agriculture provided a quick overview of the agency and their work. He updated the Subcommittee on the yellow hornet and revenue from farmers’ markets before turning to the Amended Budget. Their Amended Budget includes $3.3 million for an EV charging station inspection program and $505,000 for $1,000 salary supplements. The amended 2024 bond package has $50 million for the Atlanta Farmers’ Market and over $1.7 million to replace 42 vehicles statewide. According to DOAS replacement criteria, 58 vehicles meet or exceed these standards. Of those, 31 vehicles have over 200,000 miles.

Representative Steve Tarvin (R-Chickamauga) asked about inspectors that do not have vehicles. Roughly 10 inspectors meet the criteria.

  • The Georgia Forestry Commission, Director Tim Lowrimore, presented the commission’s budget. Director Lowrimore explained the $592,000 included for the $1,000 salary supplement and $8.6 million for radio equipment aligning their agencies with the others for emergency management.
  • The Georgia Soil and Water Conservation Commission Executive Director Mitch Attaway explained rehabilitation projects. Working with EPA and EPD, $300,000 has been used in cost-sharing to prevent livestock out of state water. The commission has also worked to eradicate feral hogs. Their Amended Budget included over $95,000 in salary supplements, $13,000 for telecommunications infrastructure, and $30,000 to replace a vehicle.
  • Commissioner Chris Nunn from the Department of Community Affairs was next. Nunn mentioned opening the waitlist for the housing voucher program, which resulted in 175,000 applications. Under special housing initiatives, the department is requesting $2.9 million to match federal funds for rural homelessness, including $1.2 million in redirect funds plus $1.24 million in new funds. Under community development, $400,000 was redirected to housing. Of the 74 REBA grants, they have yielded more than $30.5 billion in private investment and 63,000 jobs. The budget includes $100 million in one-time funds for this. $250 million for low-interest waste water infrastructure loans for local communities. $100 million for site development for the Edge Program under the OneGeorgia Authority.

Representative Meeks asked if that was the max that could be drawn down. Nunn explained it was. Meeks asked about the cost of those 74 grants. It is around $450-460 million in grants. This includes the five big projects in previous budgets. Representative Mack Jackson (D-Sandersville) asked for more information on the Edge Program. It is an award program that provides incentives for infrastructure, site and land development. Meeks asked how sites are marketed. In coordination with the Department of Economic Development, the order in which a business chooses undeveloped or developed sites varies. It requires local involvement and preparation.

  • Commissioner Pat Wilson from the Department of Economic Development reiterated that Georgia is the number one state for business. He also discussed site improvements and site selection. The Amended Budget includes $225,000 for Kia Tellurides, $30,000 to inventory the State’s art collection, $1 million for hydrogen fuel cells infrastructure, and $200,000 for international trade of Georgia products. This was removed from last year’s budget. Pass-through funds include $1.5 million to move the Olympic Caldron to Centennial Olympic Park and $29 million to support the FIFA World Cup and the College National Championship.

Representative Gerald Greene (R-Cuthbert) wanted to discuss the art collection further and create a new facility to house them. Greene asked if there were private funds to offset the cost. Marshall Guest from Metro Atlanta Chamber would provide more information. Representative Josh Bonner (R-Fayetteville) asked if the state owned the caldron. Meeks asked about mileage on current vehicles and exporting Georgia goods. Current vehicles are about 75,000 miles. Contracts written in the line item are offices in other countries to develop markets.

  • From the Public Service Commission, Chairman Jason Shaw highlighted the need for three database program updates. For the Call Before You Dig database, $186,000 was requested. Shaw mentioned $250,000 for the Paid Pipeline Database, which is about 30 years old. Their budget includes $100,000 for updates to office phones.

Representative Greene asked if industries’ headquarters in Georgia are of concern for energy consumption. Shaw explained there is more capacity with Vogtle, but since the last one in 2022, the load forecast is expected to grow, particularly with artificial intelligence. Meeks asked about data centers and the rate of growth. There is a timeline for these projects to come online and compare them with the load expectation. It is expected to have capacity in 2028. Georgia is the number seventh state for solar.

New Legislation

The following new legislation of interest has been introduced in the House:

The following new legislation of interest has been introduced in the Senate:

What’s Next

The General Assembly will reconvene for Legislative Day 8 on Wednesday, Jan. 24 at 10 a.m.

The Senate is expected to take up the following measures on Legislative Day 8:

  • SB 338 – Board of Education of Cobb County; education districts; change the description
  • SR 323 – Senate Study Committee on Improving Family Caregiver Services; create
  • SR 344 – Purebred Dog Day; recognize May 1, 2023

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