The 157th Georgia General Assembly convened for the 2024 legislative session on Monday, January 8, 2024, which marked the start of the second year of our biennial General Assembly. With only 40 legislative days to accomplish the people’s business, my colleagues and I did not waste any time at the State Capitol this week. In addition to convening in the House Chamber each day this week, our House committees also began holding meetings to consider legislation that carried over from the 2023 legislative session, as well as new legislation that has been introduced. Also this week, many of my colleagues and I attended the Georgia Chamber’s annual Eggs & Issues legislative event, and Governor Brian Kemp presented his annual State of the State address before a joint session of the House and Senate.
On Thursday, members of the House and Senate gathered in the House Chamber to convene for a joint session to welcome Gov. Kemp as he presented his assessment on the current condition of our state government in his annual State of the State Address. This gathering provides a unique opportunity for our governor to reflect on the foundation of the state, as well as present his legislative priorities for the year ahead, which include implementing tax cuts, fostering a strong workforce through enhancing educational opportunities, as well as maintaining safe, effective learning environments for all Georgia students and teachers, among other things. You can watch a video archive of the governor’s address here, and I will share a few highlights below.
Prior to discussing his priorities for the session, the governor reflected on the progress our state has experienced since his last address. Over the last year, Georgia’s government has provided nearly $5 billion of direct relief to taxpayers in the form of tax refunds, gas tax suspensions and homestead tax exemptions. The governor applauded the state’s work to maintain a Triple-A bond rating, while simultaneously creating more than 171,000 new jobs and approximately $74.5 billion of investment over the last five years. To build off of this job growth and economic prosperity, the governor announced his plans to speed up the implementation of the largest tax cut in state history. This proposed tax cut would decrease our state income tax to 5.39 percent starting this year and represent a savings of $3 billion for Georgia taxpayers over the next decade.
In his address, Gov. Kemp discussed his desire to prioritize school safety across the state. The governor remarked that since 2019, Georgia’s government has allotted $185 million to all Georgia schools to help ensure the highest level of safety. To build on that investment, the governor is proposing a permanent appropriation in the state budget for school security, and Gov. Kemp indicated that his budget proposal includes $104 million, specifically for school safety improvements. With these funds, schools will be able to determine how to use that money in order to best meet the security needs of their individual schools.
Not only is school safety a primary issue for the governor, but public safety also remains a top priority. The governor stressed the importance of supporting our law enforcement as they sacrifice their lives every day to protect our own. Last year, the governor signed a budget that included a $6,000 pay raise for all state law enforcement officers, and this year, the governor intends to work with the General Assembly to once again provide a pay raise for state law enforcement officers. To that end, the governor announced that his budget proposal includes a request for a $3,000 pay raise for State Patrol officers, as well as Georgia’s correctional officers and other state law enforcement agencies.
Similarly, the governor urged my colleagues and I to follow through on last year’s efforts to pass legislation for the peace officer loan repayment program. Peace officers play a vital role in supporting the safety and security of Georgia’s residents. The governor also plans to continue efforts to combat human trafficking in Georgia. Under the leadership of First Lady Marty Kemp and the GRACE Commission, eight pieces of legislation that target traffickers, while also supporting victims, have been signed into law. These efforts have enabled Georgia’s GBI HEAT unit to investigate 369 cases of human trafficking since its creation. I will update you throughout the session of any legislative action regarding these two important initiatives.
The governor went on to outline his priorities surrounding health care, recapping the strides made to lower health care costs, expand access and incentivize more health care providers to give care. Since the passage of the Patients First Act in 2019, 87 percent of Georgia counties now have three or more health care insurance carriers, whereas prior to 2019, no Georgia county had more than two. The governor continued by expressing his gratitude for the Georgia Access and the reinsurance program for their efforts to grow enrollment in the private sector from 460,000 to more than 1.2 million Georgians today. Gov. Kemp also touted the achievements of the Mental Health Parity Act, a fitting capstone to the late Speaker David Ralston’s years of service to the Georgia House of Representatives. As a result of this legislation, Commissioner Kevin Tanner and the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD) carried out Speaker Ralston’s legacy with the 9-8-8 crisis hotline campaign, which gave more Georgians access to the services and help they need. To build on this achievement, the governor is proposing a total increase of $205 million for DBHDD and other entities that address mental health in our state. With these appropriations, Georgia will be spending $1.6 billion on mental health care – more than ever before.
Finally, Gov. Kemp discussed his plans to bolster retention and recruitment efforts across the state by proposing pay increases for all state employees and teachers. In his remarks, Gov. Kemp highlighted the importance of maintaining an efficient state government, while staying ahead of Georgia’s continued economic growth – none of which would be possible without the dedication and workmanship of Georgia’s state employees and teachers. To that end, Georgia’s state workers and teachers would see a four percent pay increase under the governor’s proposal. In addition to supporting Georgia’s current employees, the governor intends to allocate $500 million to shore up the state retiree fund, ensuring our state keeps its promise to our retirees and maintains solid financial footing. The governor closed his remarks with applauding the state of our state for being strong, growing and full of opportunity.
In addition to hearing Gov. Kemp’s State of the State Address on Thursday, the House voted to adopt an Adjournment Resolution, House Resolution 779, to set our calendar for this legislative session. Each session is comprised of 40 non-consecutive days, and this year’s calendar sets our final day of session, or “Sine Die,” on Thursday, March 28. We have an aggressive schedule this year and much work to be done prior to the final swing of the gavel. You can find a copy of our complete legislative calendar here.
Finally, to conclude our week, my colleagues and I gathered alongside Gov. Kemp, Speaker Burns and Lt. Gov. Jones for a Celebration of Service event to honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. King’s vision for progress and unity transcended history for all Georgians and all Americans. His dedication to spreading peace and equality in our nation serves as an everlasting example of how we as legislators should conduct ourselves as we work to grow and support the needs of Georgia’s residents.
Now that the 2024 legislative session has begun, I will spend most of my time over the next few months at the State Capitol. After we celebrate the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, my colleagues and I will return to the Capitol on Tuesday, January 16 to begin our work on one of the most important pieces of legislation of this session: the state budget. Before leaving the Capitol for the weekend, my colleagues and I received the governor’s budget books, which include his budget recommendations for the amended and full fiscal year budgets. We will review these recommendations over the weekend, and the House and Senate Appropriations committees will hear directly from the governor to discuss his recommendations on Tuesday morning. The Appropriations committees will continue to meet throughout next week to discuss budget requests from our state agency heads, and I look forward to sharing updates with you about the budget process.
As our House committee meetings get underway throughout the session, you can attend these meetings in person or watch live streams of all official House committee and subcommittee meetings on the House website. 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 on our work while we are in session.
I welcome you to reach out to me with your thoughts and opinions on issues or policies as we move throughout the 2024 session. You can reach my Capitol office at (404) 656-0152, or you may email me directly at email@example.com.
Thank you for allowing me to serve as your state representative for House District 144.