March 13, 2020

In response to concerns about coronavirus, and in an effort to contain potential spreading, Governor Kemp, Lt. Governor Duncan and Speaker Ralston have agreed that it is best to suspend the legislature at this time. While the length of the suspension is indefinite, all will be kept informed as to how the situation is progressing and when the legislative session will resume.  When the session does resume, it will be Day 30 because the House and Senate will convene tomorrow with essential staff only to read and assign bills, and this will count as Day 29.

Yesterday was “Crossover Day” which means that bills must have passed the house where they were introduced and passed to the other chamber in order to continue to be available for passage this session.  The Senate adjourned around the dinner hour, but it was a late night for the House that adjourned after midnight.

One of the first items of business yesterday was Senate and House approval of the conference committee report on the mid-year budget, which was agreed to and immediately sent to the governor.  As requested by Governor Kemp, $100M had been added to the mid-year budget for the Ga. Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) and the state’s Dept. of Public Health to respond to corona virus issues. This funding comes from the state’s reserve, also known as the “rainy day fund.”

On Tuesday, the House passed the $28B FY 2021 budget.  This budget calls for a $1000 pay increase for teachers (instead of the governor-recommended $2000) and also includes a 2% pay increase for university and state employees, with an additional increase of 2%-5% for state employees in high-turnover jobs like mental health workers, food safety inspectors, etc.  It also increased funding for more school counselors, for assisted living facility inspectors, and expansion of Medicaid coverage for low-income mothers to six months after the birth of a child.

The House also passed a flat income tax rate of 5.375% for all individuals (HB 949) and eliminates the current “double deduction” of state income taxes so Georgians would be able to deduct their state income taxes from federal income tax returns but not state income tax returns.  It also triples the income tax credit for adoption from $2000 to $6000.

Yesterday, the House passed HB 244 that would allow the Public Service Commission to set pole attachment rates if cable companies and EMCs cannot agree on attachment rates.

The Senate debated a massive tort reform bill (SB 415) for several hours on Tuesday, then voted to table the bill.  An effort to take the bill off the table yesterday failed.  A number of bills on the Senate calendar did not make it past crossover day, including SB 411 that dealt with broadband expansion and the cost of pole attachments, SB 479 regarding hands-free cellphone use and lower fines for violations, and SB 226 which would have required all passengers whether in front or back seats of passenger vehicles to use seat belts.


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