The Georgia House of Representatives returned to the Gold Dome for the third week of the 2023 legislative session on Monday, January 23. This week brought more exciting and important work as the House met for four legislative days. We voted on our first set of local bills of the session, and several House committees held their first meetings. Members of the House and Senate also came together for a joint session to hear Governor Brian Kemp deliver his fifth annual State of the State address.
On Wednesday, the House Chamber was packed full as the legislature convened for Gov. Kemp’s State of the State address. This annual gathering provides a unique opportunity for our governor to present his assessment on the current condition of our state government, as well as present his legislative priorities for the year ahead, which include investing in our classrooms, workforce, public safety and health care. I will share a few highlights below.
Before discussing his priorities for the session, the governor reflected on the foundation we have built together and the progress our state has experienced over the last year. In less than a year, the state announced four of the largest economic development projects in our state’s history, and these projects combined will create more than 20,000 jobs and spur more than $17 billion in investment just in rural Georgia. The governor also touted that 17,500 new jobs and $13 billion in investment have been announced in just the last few months, and 85 percent of these jobs will support various regions of our state, not just metro Atlanta. To support both new employees and existing communities where these new jobs will be located, the governor announced his plans to establish the Rural Workforce Housing Fund, which would help local development and housing authorities usher in new affordable housing developments in these areas. I look forward to partnering with the governor and my legislative colleagues this session to explore other ways to support our growing workforce and provide affordable living opportunities for workers across our state.
This next year, one of the governor’s top priorities includes passing legislation that supports our K-12 public school systems. First, Gov. Kemp seeks to dedicate an additional $1.9 billion in the current and upcoming budgets solely for education needs, including fully funding the Quality Basic Education formula. He also plans to reinforce the teacher workforce pipeline by providing a $2,000 pay raise in the FY 2024 budget for teachers and certified school personnel, among other measures. The governor previously worked with the state legislature to raise teacher pay by $5,000 during his first term in office, and the proposed $2,000 pay increase would make the average teacher’s salary in Georgia more than $7,000 higher than the Southeast regional average. The governor will also partner with the House and Senate this session to provide grant funding to encourage paraprofessionals to pursue a full teaching certification, which would result in nearly 5,000 certified teachers joining the ranks.
In addition, the governor plans to invest in our state’s workforce pipeline by fully funding Georgia’s HOPE scholarship and grant awards at 100 percent of tuition at Georgia’s public higher education institutions. With strong support from both sides of the aisle, this would be the first time in more than a decade since the program provided scholarships at 100 percent of tuition. The governor also noted that he will continue to focus on apprenticeships, dual enrollment pathways and degrees that align with the state’s job creators over the next year.
Our state has also made monumental investments over the last four years to create safer communities for Georgians to live, work and raise a family. During the governor’s first term, the General Assembly helped create the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s Anti-Gang Task Force and the attorney general’s Gang Prosecution Unit to take violent offenders out of our communities. Just six months after launching the new prosecution unit, more than 50 gang members have been indicted. To ensure continued success, the governor will push for legislation this session that would increase penalties for individuals who try to recruit children into a gang. Georgia’s First Lady, Marty Kemp, will also continue working with the Grace Commission, House and Senate leaders, the attorney general and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to end human trafficking in Georgia, while also making the state a safe haven for victims. This session, Gov. Kemp and First Lady Kemp announced their support for increasing penalties for organizations that fail to provide resources on how to spot human trafficking and what actions to take to stop it. I will provide updates on these important criminal justice measures as they come before the House.
The governor went on to outline his plan to address the growing needs of our health care workforce. During his address, the governor shared that 67 counties in Georgia have less than 10 physicians operating within county lines, and the state’s nursing shortage continues to impact our health care system. As such, the governor proposed allocating more than $4.5 million in the state budget for loan repayment programs to recruit and retain health care workers here in Georgia. He also urged the General Assembly to fund 102 additional residency slots at hospitals across the state by investing $1.7 million in the state budget, and these new slots would exceed the initial goal for the state’s residency program. The General Assembly recognizes the vital work our health care heroes do every day, and I appreciate Governor Kemp for working with us to address the state’s health care worker shortages.
This session, the governor will also continue his work to offer insurance coverage to more Georgians, as well as expand vital state programs that support our more vulnerable populations. The state’s reinsurance program, which launched during the governor’s first term, has reduced premiums by an average of 12.4 percent statewide for the 2023 reinsurance plan compared to premiums without the program, representing an average premium reduction of nearly $1,000 for participants. Furthermore, reinsurance program participants in rural counties have seen their premiums drop from 25 to more than 40 percent. The governor also took time to update my colleagues and me about the Patient’s First Act, which enabled our state to submit federal waivers to explore innovative solutions for health care coverage. Before the Patient’s First Act, zero counties in our state had more than two health insurance carriers. Now, 86 percent of counties have three or more carriers, and enrollment in the individual marketplace has increased to more than 700,000 citizens, more than doubling the enrollment amount since 2019. The governor also announced that the state is on target to launch the Georgia Pathways to Coverage Program this July, and this program could help approximately 345,000 Georgians qualify for health care coverage for the first time without impacting those who qualify for regular Medicaid. To launch the program this summer, the governor proposed including $52 million in the upcoming fiscal year budget, which would go into effect this summer. Finally, we learned that the governor will support legislation this session to allow eligible pregnant women to receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits before giving birth. Currently, expectant mothers are unable to receive TANF benefits until after the child is born, but providing these vital cash assistance benefits sooner would allow these moms to focus on their growing babies instead of worrying about financial burdens.
In addition to hearing the State of the State address this week, my colleagues and I welcomed two very special groups in the House Chamber. On Monday, the Consul General of the Republic of Korea Yoonjoo Park joined us to honor of Korean American Day at the State Capitol. The consul general provided special remarks to highlight the strong bond of friendship between his nation and the state of Georgia, and we will continue to foster this relationship as we invest in future-oriented industries. According to Consul General Park, more than 100 Korean companies, including Kia, SK Battery America and now Hyundai, are operating in our great state. These companies have produced more than 15,000 jobs in the last five years and have spurred a cumulative investment of approximately $21 billion in Georgia. I am proud to live in a state that promotes mutually beneficial relationships with other nations, like the Republic of Korea, and it was an honor to celebrate the economic advancements made in our state because of this strong alliance. Additionally, the House recognized Georgia National Guard Day at the Capitol on Thursday. Several Georgia National Guard leaders joined us in the House Chamber during their visit to the Gold Dome, and Brigadier General John Gentry commended the House for its continued support over the years. The guard’s motto is “always ready, always there,” and Georgia’s 15,000 guardsmen continually fulfill their mission to always be ready to serve our citizens, especially over these last several years. From serving at our local food banks to protecting our cities during civil unrest, our state defense force steps in when our communities need it the most, and I commend the guard for their service to our state.
Finally, several House committees began meeting this week to adopt committee rules and even discuss some of the first bills of the session. Every bill that comes before us faces an extensive evaluation process by its assigned committee, and many of the bills this session will undergo changes throughout the committee process to help perfect the legislation. As we continue through the session, I hope that you will reach out with your questions or concerns about legislation that may come before the House, including bills that are in the committee process. You are also welcome to schedule a phone call or plan a visit to the State Capitol to discuss matters that are important to you and your community. You can reach me at 404-656-0152 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.