The 156th Georgia General Assembly convened under the Gold Dome for the 2022 legislative session on Monday, January 10, 2022. With only 40 legislative days to accomplish the people’s business, the House got straight to work and spent four days in session this week. House committees began holding meetings to take up legislation, and the full House adopted several housekeeping measures on our first day back in session, including an adjournment resolution that set our legislative calendar for most of January. Governor Brian Kemp also helped us kick-start the session with his annual State of the State address, which is customary during the first week of session.
Gov. Kemp delivered his fourth State of the State address on Thursday, January 13, before the legislature and members of the Georgia Supreme Court and Court of Appeals. This annual event allows the governor to discuss the current conditions of our state and present his administration’s goals for the year ahead. After reflecting on the challenges and successes over the last year, the governor unveiled several of his legislative priorities for this year, including education, health care and public safety. The video archive for Legislative Day 4, which includes Gov. Kemp’s remarks, can be found here.
In his address, Gov. Kemp laid the groundwork for his plans to support teachers, school staff and students across the state. First, the governor encouraged the legislature to fully fund the state’s school funding formula and restore educational cuts that were made due to the pandemic in the upcoming fiscal year; he also plans to collectively invest an additional $1.4 billion in direct funding for schools in the current and upcoming fiscal years. He recommended a $2,000 pay-raise for K-12 teachers, assistant teachers and pre-K teachers ahead of the 2022-2023 school year, which would build upon the $3,000 teacher pay raise that the General Assembly provided in 2019. Additionally, he shared his plan to provide one-time pay supplements to other critical school personnel. Since this pandemic began, teachers have gone above and beyond their job requirements and have been on the front lines to provide quality education for Georgia’s students. I think we can all agree that this funding is much needed and well-deserved.
The governor also discussed the General Assembly’s recent work to make health care more accessible and affordable than ever before in Georgia. In 2019, the General Assembly passed the Patients First Act to increase access to health care insurance coverage for Georgia’s most vulnerable populations. Since then, the number of health insurance carriers in the individual marketplace has almost tripled, and the state’s reinsurance program has helped reduce premiums from 25 to 30 percent in some rural counties and by an average of 12 percent statewide. However, he implored us to continue to focus on improving health care this session. Gov. Kemp’s budget proposal includes $139 million to implement the reinsurance program and its online health insurance portal to help drive down the cost of health insurance. To address the shortage of health care workers across the state, Gov. Kemp announced his plans to expand nursing programs for the University System of Georgia and Technical College System of Georgia, add 136 primary medicine residency slots for the Georgia Board of Health Care Workers, as well as increase funding to Mercer University to mitigate rural doctor shortages. The governor estimated that these investments would add 1,300 practitioners to the health care work force in our state. Furthermore, the House championed legislation last session to extend Medicaid coverage for new mothers to six months postpartum, and this session, the governor plans to work with the Senate on legislation to extend this coverage to a full year to ensure optimal postpartum care. These investments would benefit all Georgians by addressing the health care worker shortage, the high rate of burnout that health care heroes face, as well as the financial burden of costly health care for patients.
Gov. Kemp went on to outline another major priority to bolster public safety and reduce violent crime, especially in our metro areas. Gov. Kemp plans to launch a new anti-gang unit in the attorney general’s office and enable the attorney general to partner with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) and local law enforcement to prosecute gang members. He also encouraged us to appropriate funds to address the backlog of criminal investigations caused by the pandemic, upgrade GBI crime lab equipment and provide additional staff in the crime lab and medical examiner’s office to handle this increased volume. To enhance recruitment efforts, the governor outlined his plan to provide a $5,000 raise for state law enforcement and other state employees. He requested that the Technical College System of Georgia add law enforcement and criminal justice degrees to the state’s high-demand career initiatives; Kemp also seeks to provide free tuition to 1,000 students seeking these degrees in our state. Additionally, the governor supports legislative efforts to graduate an additional 75 state troopers this coming year. Finally, Kemp announced that First Lady Marty Kemp and the GRACE Commission will work with the House and Senate this session to add human trafficking to the list of serious violent and sexual offenses that require a superior court judge to grant bail. These ambitious criminal justice initiatives would not only tackle the rising crime statistics, but would also provide greater support to the brave men and women who put their own lives on the line to protect Georgians.
Next week, my colleagues and I will begin the state budget process through a series of Joint House and Senate Appropriations Committee hearings, which is often referred to as “budget week.” The governor released his budget proposals for the Amended Fiscal Year 2022 and Fiscal Year 2023 budgets after his address on Thursday. During budget week, we will delve into Gov. Kemp’s budget proposals and hear directly from state agency heads regarding their budgetary needs for the current and upcoming fiscal years. The governor’s budget recommendations, along with the recommendations from state agencies, will ultimately help us to craft legislation for the state’s budget in the coming weeks. I look forward to bringing you news about our state budget throughout the legislative session.
As our House committee meetings get underway, many committee meetings will continue to offer in-person and virtual attendance options this session for legislators and members of the public. You can watch live streams of all official House committee and subcommittee meetings on the House website from the safety of your home. These meetings are published to the House website, and you can always find the meeting schedule and live streams at https://www.legis.ga.gov/schedule/house. The official House Facebook and Twitter accounts also provide useful information and daily updates throughout the session, including press releases, meeting announcements and legislative actions from the House floor. These valuable resources can help you stay engaged and informed while we are in session.
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not congratulate the University of Georgia Bulldogs for their 2021 College Football Playoff National Championship title. We are proud to have these national champions hail from our great state, and they represented Georgia well as they defeated the University of Alabama for the national title. The first day of session coincided with game day, and the House made sure to wish the bulldogs the best of luck before kick-off. We started the legislative day with an exciting highlight reel, and as the Speaker of the House gaveled us out for the day, we joined together in applause and chanted, “Glory, Glory to old Georgia.”
This weekend, I hope you will join me in remembering the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Whether you are working or spending time with your loved ones, I hope we can all remain mindful and focused on lifting up our communities in honor of Dr. King.
Now that the legislative session is underway, I will spend most of my time over the next few months at the State Capitol. I welcome you to reach out to me with your thoughts and opinions on issues or policies as we move throughout the session. You can reach my Capitol office at 404-656-0152, or you may email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for allowing me to serve as your state representative for House District 141.