The 2024 Georgia Legislative Session: Who Were The Winners and Losers

The 2024 Georgia Legislative Session: Who Were The Winners and Losers

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Tax cuts, private-school vouchers, and health-care reform topped the list of accomplishments for the 2024 General Assembly session, which wrapped up just before 1 a.m. Friday following a frenetic marathon of nearly 15 hours.

Vouchers and reforms to Georgia’s Certificate of Need (CON) law came after years of unsuccessful efforts by majority Republicans to move the needle on school choice and improve access to health care by making it easier to build hospitals and provide new medical services.

Lawmakers passed a tax-cut package championed by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and GOP legislative leaders, including a measure accelerating a state income-tax rollback that took effect this year, which will reduce the income tax rate from 5.49% to 5.39%. Two other bills would raise Georgia’s child-tax credit from $3,000 to $4,000 and double the state’s homestead tax exemption from $2,000 to $4,000.

Legislative Democrats have long blocked Republican attempts to enact private-school vouchers, including a House floor vote last year that stopped a bid to offer vouchers worth up to $6,500 to Georgia students attending low-performing public schools. But GOP leaders found the votes they needed to get the bill through this year, passing it along party lines.

A bill making significant changes to the decades-old CON law also finally made it over the finish line. The measure is aimed particularly at improving health-care access in rural Georgia, including an exemption from the expensive, time-consuming process of obtaining a CON for parties seeking to build hospitals in rural counties.

The legislation also would raise the state’s rural hospital tax credit from an annual cap of $75 million to $100 million.

But the General Assembly again stopped short of fully expanding Georgia’s Medicaid program as legislative Democrats have long sought. However, Medicaid expansion made more progress than ever before when it was blocked by a tie vote in a Senate committee.

Republicans argued lawmakers need to give Gov. Brian Kemp’s limited Medicaid expansion program – Georgia Pathways – more time to get up and running. Launched last summer, the program has only signed up about 2,900 enrollees despite having spent $26 million.

“We think the governor has a great plan with Pathways,” said House Speaker Jon Burns, R-Newington.

But Burns went on to say a new state commission the CON bill would create will consider Medicaid expansion.

“We want to take a look at every possibility,” he said.

Republicans entered the 2024 session hoping to accomplish another longstanding goal – tort reform. But Kemp announced at the start of the session that the issue needs further study before considering major changes.

“Like every major undertaking our state has tackled in the past, we will work on a Georgia-specific solution; one designed to make meaningful reforms in this area over the next several years,” Kemp said in January at the annual Eggs and Issues breakfast sponsored by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.

With those marching orders, lawmakers settled for passing legislation limiting the ability of plaintiffs in lawsuits against commercial truckers to file what are known as “direct action” lawsuits against a trucking company’s insurance carrier. Another bill that passed authorizes gathering additional data on tort cases to inform future legislation.

While the General Assembly succeeded on vouchers and CON reform, another issue that’s been around for several years – legalizing sports betting in Georgia – fizzled again. A constitutional amendment the state Senate passed asking Georgia voters to weigh in on sports betting made it through a House committee on the morning of the session’s last day but didn’t reach the House floor.

Other casualties included a bid to rein in some of the state’s tax credits and an 11th-hour effort to move legislation aimed at protecting the Okefenokee Swamp from mining.

The House overwhelmingly passed a bill to put new limits on Georgia’s popular but expensive film tax credit on the last day of the session, but the Senate hadn’t taken up the legislation by the time the General Assembly adjourned for the year.

The bill also called for creating a state commission to do a deep dive on the impacts the rapid growth of energy-hungry data centers is having on the state’s power grid. The commission was offered as a fallback position after an earlier bill that would have suspended the state’s tax credit for data centers for two years failed to move.

The House passed legislation on March 26 – the next-to-last day of the session –  placing a three-year moratorium on the type of mining being planned near the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. But it, too, died when it failed to get a vote in the Senate.

Environmental advocates looking to stop Alabama-based Twin Pines Minerals from mining titanium oxide near the swamp weren’t happy with the bill and preferred an alternative measure that has been bottled up in a House committee for the last three years.

“Mining along the swamp’s boundary will damage the Okefenokee and shouldn’t be allowed under any circumstance,” said Josh Marks, an environmental lawyer and president of Georgians for the Okefenokee.

The two legislative chambers also didn’t see eye to eye when it came to a “culture wars” agenda pushed by Senate Republicans. Bills aimed at transgender youths and the American Library Association cleared the Senate but got nowhere in the House.

The Senate passed legislation to prohibit the prescribing or administering of puberty blockers to minors experiencing gender dysphoria, require students to use bathrooms that match the gender identify on their birth certificate, and prohibit transgender male students from participating in girls’ sports.

Another Senate-backed bill called for prohibiting city, county, and regional libraries from using tax dollars on any materials offered by the American Library Association, an organization that has fallen into disfavor among conservative culture warriors for promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the selection of library materials. The House Higher Education Committee held hearings on the bill but didn’t bring it up for a vote.

Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, called the defeat of bills targeting the LGBTQ community a major victory.

“It’s undeniable that the tides are shifting, both here in Georgia and across the nation,” Graham wrote in an email to Capitol Beat. “Anti-LGBTQ actors are losing their political power, and more and more Georgians who know and love LGBTQ people are standing up against their baseless fear-mongering.”

The end of the legislative session means the start of bill-signing season. Kemp now has 40 calendar days in which to sign or veto bills lawmakers have passed during the last three months.

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