Georgia Legislature

Last Week in the Georgia Legislature – 2/1/21

This is an informal rundown of the legislative happenings.

NOTABLE LEGISLATION FILED LAST WEEK:

  • COAL ASH – HB 176 — State Rep.  Debbie Buckner –  It would require coal ash to be stored in a disposal site with a protective liner to prevent contaminants from tainting groundwater. This would close a current loophole that allows companies to  store millions of tons of coal ash in ponds without protective liners. The practice has been criticized by environmentalists and others over concerns that a lack of liners allows contaminants to leak into aquifers that supply private wells used for cooking, drinking and bathing in some rural communities.
  • RESTROOM ACCESS – HB 99 — Rep. Ron Stephens – This one he carried last year that didn’t make it anywhere. The bill would REQUIRE businesses that have private employee restrooms to allow customers who have ‘artificial waste devices’ to use those private employee restrooms (so long as they’re clean) if the customer meets all of the following conditions:
    • presents paperwork on official letterhead signed by a doctor that attests that the customer suffers from an eligible medical condition;
    • the public restroom is “not immediately available” to the customer;
    • 3 or more employees are working at the time of the request;
    • providing access would not create a public health risk.
  • MINIMUM WAGE – HB 116 – Rep. Dewey McClain – This is pretty straightforward and would push the state minimum wage to $15.00/hour.
  • MEDICAL CANNABIS – HB 117 — Rep. Mike Wilensky – This would add ulcerative colitis to the list of conditions that can be treated with medical cannabis oil in Georgia.
  • MILITARY PAY –  Rep. Heath Clark – He’s pushing a bill that would exempt military pay from state income taxes. Clark said on his Facebook page this week that the state is losing out to other states because neighboring states already have it exempt.
  • HORSE RACING –  SB 30— State Senator Brandon Beach – This 51-page bill would allow pari-mutuel horse racing in Georgia if voters approved it on a statewide referendum. Beach has been pushing this initiative for a while now.  Last year, his selling point was to give some of the proceeds to rural Georgia. That’s why he’s donned it the…wait for it…’Rural Georgia Jobs and Growth Act’

THE BUDGET 

One important thing to remember when evaluating the budget is that state lawmakers tout that we have a budget around $26 billion annually. The truth is that the number is actually closer to $52 billion, thanks to federal funding pass throughs. This money comes with all kinds of strings and mandates, but it is imperative for operating our state, so it is disingenuous for lawmakers to say ‘we run the state on $26 billion.’ We absolutely do not.

Additionally, Kemp’s office proposes a budget and lawmakers jimmy with it. It’s a joint effort, but no single person is to blame for everything. But a handful are. One of the biggest issues with our state budget process is that only high-ranking lawmakers on the appropriations committees have a say on any of it (not all 236 duly elected lawmakers) and it must be voted on as a whole, instead of by department/agency. So it’s all or nothing.

This is an interesting approach given that the ONLY thing lawmakers are Constitutionally bound to do each year is pass a budget and less than 50% of them have any say in what goes into it before they vote on it.

So as headlines continue to harp on ‘underfunding the state budget’ at a rate lower than what we needed in FY 2021 to handle the pandemic, consider how much pass through money was sent to the states in FY 2021 to deal with COVID (thanks to the CARES Act) and the fact that we used $100 million from the state rainy day fund to deal with immediate needs here. For that reason, FY 2021 is not a good comparison for budgets year over year.

AS far as statistics go, the FY 2022 budget proposals, includes some of the following:
These percentages/numbers are based on the $26 billion budget number.

  • 74% to education (including higher Ed) and health care
  • 7.13% for transportation
  • 6.18% for criminal legal services
  • 4.43% for debt service

According to the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute, the FY 2022 budget, adjusted for inflation, puts spending at $100 less per state resident than it did in FY 2008 before the Great Recession. 

Critics of this year’s budget are up in arms because there are proposed cuts “amid a pandemic,” including funding for some health-related services.

The most controversial, however, might be a $1 million cut for the Georgia Department of Labor…as they processed more claims in 2020 than ever before….all years combined. 
These cuts and proposals are all subject to change – and likely will – as lawmakers work their way through the process.

Despite all of these factors, Kemp wants to give teachers and pre-k employees a $1,000 bonus.

OTHER TIDBITS:

State Rep. Emory Dunahoo is under scrutiny for his probing of whether or not the state’s public universities are teaching about white privilege or oppression. According to the Associated Press, professors are upset about the questions by lawmakers because they say they “intrude into a professor’s academic freedom and are part of an effort by Republicans to impose their vision of history and social relations.” Conservatives, though, say they’re fighting left-wing indoctrination by professors. Dunahoo sent the university system 3 questions to be answered: 

  1. Are any classes within the Georgia public school system or the University System of Georgia teaching students that possessing certain characteristics inherently designates them as either being “privileged” or “oppressed?”
  2. Are any classes within the Georgia public school system or the University System of Georgia teaching students what constitutes “privilege” and “oppression?”
  3.  Are any classes within the Georgia public school system or the University System of Georgia teaching students who identify as white, male, heterosexual or Christian are intrinsically privileged and oppressive, which is defined as “malicious or unjust” and “wrong?”
Jessica Szilagyi

administrator
Jessica Szilagyi is Publisher of TGV News She focuses primarily on state and local politics as well as issues in law enforcement and corrections She has a background in Political Science with a focus in local government and has a Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia. Jessica is a "Like It Or Not" contributor for Fox5 in Atlanta and a commentator on the 'Let Me Tell You Why You're Wrong Podcast.' Sign up for her weekly newsletter: http://eepurl.com/gzYAZT

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