Georgia police, medical examiners could get help paying student loans

House Bill 130 would help Georgia police officers repay their student loans. (Alyssa Pointer / AJC file photo)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer /

Credit: Alyssa Pointer /

House Bill 130 would help Georgia police officers repay their student loans. (Alyssa Pointer / AJC file photo)

Georgia lawmakers got their first close look last week at Gov. Brian Kemp’s proposal to repay student loans for up to 800 new local and state police officers.

House Bill 130 would deliver on one of the public safety proposals Kemp unveiled last fall during his reelection campaign. The plan is aimed at helping law enforcement agencies recruit and retain police amid a shortage of officers. Another proposal, House Bill 163, would help pay off student loans for Georgia Bureau of Investigation medical examiners.

Kemp’s repayment plan is more targeted and structured differently than President Joe Biden’s push for broad federal student loan cancellation, which has been stalled by legal challenges, including one from a cohort of conservative states.

The state would spend up to $3.25 million to provide up to $20,000 in student loan repayments per police officer, at a pace of $4,000 a year for five years while they work full time in Georgia.

The aid would go to officers hired in the state for the first time on or after Jan. 1, 2023.

”Law enforcement officers are critical to protecting the citizens of our state, but they’re often faced with a decision between heeding the call of public service or seeking other opportunities to pay student loans,” said Rep. Matthew Gambill, R-Cartersville, as he spoke about the legislation he filed during a recent House Higher Education Committee meeting.

The police officer debt repayment program would be administered by the Georgia Student Finance Commission, and loan repayments would be doled out to eligible applicants on a first-come, first-served basis.

Georgia police officers do not need to have a college degree to enter law enforcement, said Lynne Riley, the commission’s president. She said full-time police officers taking courses to earn a degree would be eligible for the program. Gambill said the repayment program would apply to any academic major.

Rep. Clay Pirkle, R-Ashburn, said he “absolutely” wants to get more police officers on the job. Still, he expressed some reservations about how the program would work.

“It concerns me somewhat that there appears to be no guardrails on what you can have school debt for,” he said. “And while I think we need well-rounded police officers, you know, I don’t know that art history or a theater major would make a better police officer than criminal justice or something.”

Butch Ayers, executive director of the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police, said the state’s law enforcement agencies face an “acute workforce crisis.” He supports the legislation.

He added: “It’s incumbent that we try to do things, think outside of the box on different ways that we can recruit and retain police officers.”

The medical examiner loan repayment proposal also is aimed at hiring and keeping the GBI pathology experts.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Lauren McDonald, R-Cumming, told the committee that only nine of the state’s 19 positions are currently filled. That means it takes longer to complete autopsies, a delay that’s hard on the families of the deceased and a challenge during investigations.

If approved, the state would repay the student loans in installments over a five-year period, for a maximum amount of $100,000. Examiners must be licensed medical doctors.