Georgia 2023 Legislative Session Update

January 24, 2023

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State Budget

The first session of the 157th General Assembly is underway. Among the most important developments garnering attention the past two weeks, were Gov. Brian Kemp’s proposed budgets and budget amendments for the current fiscal year 2023 (AFY23) and the upcoming fiscal year 2024 (FY24). As in most years, members of the joint Senate and House Appropriations committees gathered to receive an address from the governor to discuss his budget proposals; however, this year the governor gave his address remotely from the World Economic Forum in Davos. His presence in Davos has invited extensive speculation in the media and within the granite corridors of the State Capitol regarding his future plans. Many pundits believe the governor’s attendance at the glitzy economic conference, coming on the heels of his historic reelection in last year’s gubernatorial race, presages a turn toward the national spotlight and a possible run for White House or the U.S. Senate. “For anyone wondering why I’m here,” he said on Tuesday, “I’ll be happy to tell everyone how others can benefit from hearing about [Georgia’s] conservative principles and our approach to both budgeting and job creation.”

Kemp’s proposed budgets include some notable highlights, some of which are familiar overtures to his constituency (such as $1 billion marked – for a second straight year – for an income tax refund to every eligible taxpayer). Other overtures are new but similarly designed to ingratiate himself with everyday Georgians (such as $1.1 billion marked for a one-time property tax relief to every eligible homeowner). Other proposed budget items are geared toward keeping “the budget flat and state government lean” while incentivizing continued growth and job creation, as well as continuing to fully fund Georgia’s Quality Basic Education formula. Some of the other notable items in the governor’s AFY23 and FY24 budgets include the following:

  • $115.7 million in AFY23 to provide a $50,000 school safety grant to every K-12 school in the state;
  • $61.2 million in FY24 to fully fund the HOPE scholarship and grants at 100 % of tuition for eligible students enrolled in Georgia’s public higher education institutions;
  • $166.7 million in AFY23 for a business assistance program to assist local governments in providing incentives for business and large economic development projects;
  • $35.7 million in AFY23 to establish the Rural Workforce Housing Fund, which is designed to incentivize workforce housing and support workforce needs for future economic development projects, filling a gap in our teeming housing market;
  • $92 million in both the AFY23 and FY24 budgets for the state reinsurance program to help reduce insurance premiums and increase affordability of healthcare across the state; and
  • $243 million in FY24 to provide state law enforcement and other state employees with a $2,000 cost-of-living pay increase.

Although the Senate and the House have yet to author their own budgets (we can expect the vetting process to linger well into the waning days of the 40-day session), many of the foregoing governor proposals are almost certain to make their way back to his desk for signature. 

Legislative Committee Assignments

Among one of the most anticipated announcements at the beginning of each term are committee assignments. This past week, the Capitol got its first public look at those assignments for the 2023-2024 biennial. Every two years, members – and lobbyist alike – anxiously await committee announcements to see who among them were assigned to the “better” committees; bated breath is also held to see who is awarded the coveted chairmanships. With new leadership in both chambers and a large turnover among the general membership, there were more than a few interesting changes to committee assignments from last term. Some of these changes may foreshadow legislation to come.

Newly elected Speaker Jon Burns and the House Committee on Assignments had their first big challenge in naming new committee chairs. While most committees will remain under the same leadership, there were some notable changes.

Rep. Matt Hatchett was named the new chair of the budget writing Appropriations Committee. Reps. Stan Gunter and Tyler Paul Smith will chair the Judiciary and Judiciary Non-Civil Committees, respectively. Rep. Deborah Silcox, who is returning for her second stint in the legislature, was named the new chair of Metro Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority.

Perhaps the most significant development in the House was the announcement of the new special House Special Committee on Healthcare. Longtime member Butch Parrish will chair the new committee that will oversee and coordinate the chamber’s legislative and budget work on health policy, including the House Health Committee, newly chaired by Lee Hawkins, a dentist from Gainesville, and the House Public Health Committee chaired by Sharon Cooper. Prior to this appointment, Cooper had been the long-serving chair of the House Health and Human Services committee, which no longer exists.

Meanwhile, in the Senate, Sen. Blake Tillery will remain in charge of shepherding the Senate budget as chair of Senate Appropriations. Sen. Matt Brass, a longtime friend and supporter of the new Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, will now help decide which bills reach the floor as the powerful Senate Rules Committee chair. Sen. Brandon Beach, another close ally of Jones, was appointed Senate Economic Development chair. Sen. Greg Dolezal, another confidant of Jones, was named chair of the Transportation Committee. Dolezal, who is young, tech savvy, and hails from the northern suburbs of metro-Atlanta, is reform-minded.

Sen. Brian Strickland maintained his position as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee where, perhaps for the first time ever, more than half of its majority caucus members are non-lawyers. Coupled with the fact that the majority of the Republican members who are attorneys on the committee are committed tort reformers, this may foretell that a run at tort reform is on the horizon.

Other notable changes in the Senate’s committee ranks include Sen. Russ Goodman, a farmer from South Georgia, being named the new chair of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs and Sen. Larry Walker moving to chair of the Insurance and Labor Committee. 

Administrative Floor Leaders

In addition to releasing his budget proposals and receiving positive reviews at Davos, Kemp also announced his 2023-2024 administrative floor leaders. Among the lawmakers who will help shepherd the governor’s legislative agenda are returning floor leaders Sen. Bo Hatchett and Rep. Lauren McDonald and new floor leaders Sen. Mike Hodges and Reps. Matthew Gambill, Soo Hong, and Will Wade.

Although we are only two weeks into the session sprint, the intrigue is high and the session young.