Capitol Recap: $500 million in savings for Georgians, businesses gain final OK

Source: AJC Handout

Source: AJC Handout

Measures cut rates for individual and corporate income taxes

The Georgia Senate gave final approval to two bills that could produce income tax savings for individuals and businesses totaling about $500 million.

House Bill 1015 — which Gov. Brian Kemp touted before the session — would accelerate cuts first passed in 2022 to gradually reduce the state income tax rate on individuals from 5.75% to 4.99%.

The rate dropped to 5.49% in January, and HB 1015 would reduce it to 5.39%.

That’s expected to save taxpayers — and cost the state — about $360 million next year.

The second bill — House Bill 1023 — would tie the corporate income tax rate to the individual rate, dropping it from 5.75% to 5.39%. State estimates put the savings for businesses next year at $127 million to $175 million.

Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, said the corporate income tax rate was the same as the individual income tax rate for decades. That changed in 2022 when lawmakers passed the bill cutting rates on individuals.

Both measures now go to Kemp for his signature.

The rate cuts are coming at a time growth in tax collections has stalled. Revenue in February was off 4.3%, and Kemp’s budget proposals for the coming year predict a continued slowing.

The state, however, can accommodate the cuts because it is flush in cash, posting record surpluses for three straight fiscal years following the COVID-19 economic shutdown. At the beginning of this year’s legislative session, the state was sitting on $16 billion in “rainy day” and undesignated reserves.

Senators more than double Burns’ plan to double homestead exemption

The state Senate Finance Committee looked at House Speaker Jon Burns’ proposal to boost the state’s homestead exemption from $2,000 to $4,000 and decided to go big.

It upped the proposal in House Bill 1019 to $10,000.

“I love to give more people more tax relief because they deserve to keep more of their own money,” said Republican Sen. John Albers of Roswell, who sponsored the amendment.

Committee members started picking at HB 1019 as soon as it landed on their to-do list. Senators said doubling the $2,000 exemption — set in the 1970s when homes on average cost $55,000 — didn’t go far enough. First, it would only affect taxpayers in about one-third of Georgia’s 159 counties because the others already offered bigger homestead exemptions. Second, even in the counties with $2,000 exemptions, the savings would be minimal.

Numerous bills that could affect how elections are administered in Georgia are currently under consideration in the General Assembly. (John Spink /

Credit: John Spink/AJC

icon to expand image

Credit: John Spink/AJC

Bevy of voting bills move ahead

It’s a big election year, including all 236 seats in the General Assembly, so voting measures have consumed much attention during the legislative session.

Proposals that advanced this past week include:

  • Reducing the number of voting machines on election day.
  • Requiring more audits after election.
  • Posting pictures of ballots online.
  • Adding watermarks to ballots.
  • Making voter intimidation a felony.
  • Requiring election workers to be U.S. citizens.
  • Requiring referendums to raise taxes to be held during high-turnout primary or general elections.
  • Guaranteeing that official poll watchers have access to voting locations and can sit or stand “as close as is practicable” to election workers.
  • Criminalizing the use of deepfake computer-generated versions of politicians to deceive voters.

Most of those proposals appear in House Bill 977 and House Bill 1207, which the Senate Ethics Committee approved along party lines, with Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed.

Republicans began pushing for numerous changes to Georgia’s voting and election laws in response to then-President Donald Trump’s unfounded claims of voter fraud following his narrow defeat in Georgia in the 2020 election.

Jason Riley, center, spoke to the state Senate, calling on “Gov. Kemp, please declare an invasion to detain and deport criminal illegals" to prevent tragedies like the one his family suffered in the killing last month of his daughter Laken, a 22-year-old nursing student whose body was found near the University of Georgia. The man charged in her death is a Venezuelan national who authorities say entered the country illegally in 2022. (Arvin Temkar /

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

icon to expand image

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Laken Riley’s father calls for detaining, deporting immigrants in country illegally

The father of Laken Riley called on Gov. Brian Kemp to “detain and deport” immigrants who entered the country without legal permission after a Venezuelan man was arrested in connection with her death.

“Gov. Kemp, please declare an invasion to detain and deport criminal illegals so we can prevent future families from those tragedies,” Jason Riley said in speech to the Georgia Senate.

Laken Riley, a 22-year-old nursing student, was killed last month near the University of Georgia’s intramural fields when she went running.

Jose Antonio Ibarra faces murder charges in her death. Authorities say Ibarra entered the U.S. illegally in 2022 and was allowed to stay to pursue his immigration case.

Earlier in the week, in an interview on NBC News, Jason Riley said he was unsure whether changes to immigration policy could have stopped his daughter’s killing.

He also voiced discomfort that his daughter’s slaying has become politicized.

“I feel like she’s being used somewhat politically,” he said.

Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills has expressed concerns about requirements his office could face under legislation working its way through the General Assembly that's aimed at illegal immigration. “Every minute we are tasked with a bureaucratic reporting process is only going to take away from our ability to protect the public on the street,” Sills said. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Credit: Curtis Compton/AJC

icon to expand image

Credit: Curtis Compton/AJC

Sheriffs express concerns about their role in new immigration proposals

Georgia legislators are working on proposals targeting illegal immigration, but the state’s sheriffs say that could mean more demands on their offices.

Some of the proposals would require sheriffs to attempt to verify a suspect’s immigration status and honor requests for detainment so that federal officials can deport them.

If they fail to do so, they could face a misdemeanor charge and the loss of state and state-administered federal funding.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution contacted more than a dozen sheriffs across Georgia. Most of them said they already comply with federal requests to seek citizenship information about suspects and honor requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold them.

However, sheriffs said some of what lawmakers want is hard to accomplish. Sheriffs can’t enforce immigration law without federal authorization, which few have, and information on the immigration status of suspects may be limited.

Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills said he’s concerned about additional requirements these bills would add.

For example, under HB 1105 — a measure sponsored by Republican state Rep. Jesse Petrea of Savannah — jailers would be required to compile and post on their websites a report that includes the number of inmates booked, inquiries made about suspects to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, responses received for requests and the number of immigration detainers issued by ICE.

“Every minute we are tasked with a bureaucratic reporting process is only going to take away from our ability to protect the public on the street,” Sills said.

Frankenbill advances carrying gender and sex education proposals

Pieces of legislation addressing gender issues and sex education that failed earlier in the session to gain enough support are now very much alive.

Republicans on the state Senate’s Education and Youth Committee gutted House Bill 1104 — legislation originally meant to provide mental health and suicide prevention resources to student-athletes — to insert several measures focusing on issues popular with their base in an election year.

The Frankenbill — a term used to describe a measure carrying several pieces of not necessarily related legislation that did not gain traction beforehand — now calls for banning transgender athletes from playing sports, preventing a transgender person’s use of restrooms aligned with their gender identity and barring the teaching of sex education before the sixth grade.

Senate Education and Youth Chair Clint Dixon, R-Buford, began a committee meeting this past week by saying most of what was added to HB 1104 had already been vetted and passed by the GOP-controlled panel.

But state Sen. Sonya Halpern, a Democrat from Atlanta, said even if that were true, they were the bills that drew a lot of opposition, describing the debates over them as “some of the more contentious kind of conversations that we’ve had over the course of this biennium.”

The committee voted 4-3 to approve the reanimated proposals, with Democrats opposing them.

Bill targeting unions clears last hurdle on way to Kemp’s desk

The state House gave final passage to a bill targeting unions by setting limits on tax credits for major projects.

Senate Bill 362 would prevent businesses from receiving state economic incentives if they voluntarily recognize unions through a check of signed union cards rather than through a secret-ballot election. It also would punish companies that share their workers’ contact information with unions, even though doing so is required under federal law.

Unions prefer voluntary recognition because it allows them to begin negotiating with companies immediately. Secret-ballot elections take longer to conduct, and labor advocates say they give employers more time to deter workers from supporting a union.

The bill would apply to companies proposing projects that create 1,000 or more jobs, including Hyundai Motor Group’s electric vehicle and battery plant near Savannah.

It also could eventually apply to Rivian, which announced earlier this month that it was pausing its plans to build a $5 billion electric vehicle and battery plant and create 7,500 jobs.

The United Auto Workers announced in November that it would attempt to organize nonunion factories run by automakers in the South, including Hyundai and Rivian.

SB 362 now awaits the signature of Gov. Brian Kemp, who made the bill a priority.

Mental health care professionals could get state’s help to pay student loans

Some mental health and substance use counselors could soon receive money from the state to repay their student loans under a bill now awaiting Gov. Brian Kemp’s signature to become law.

Senate Bill 480 would let mental health care professionals apply for the aid from the Georgia Board of Health Care Workforce, so long as they are providing care in underserved geographic areas or treating “underserved youth.”

The legislation is an effort to recruit and retain more professionals to treat mental health and substance use disorders.

“One of the problems that we’re having in our state in getting more care to people who have mental health issues is we ... don’t have the people to take care of them,” said state Rep. Sharon Cooper, a Republican from Marietta who carried the bill in the House.

Capitol Recap: The 2024 Legislative Session

Want to know what legislators did this past week and how it might affect you? Check out our weekly newsletter, Capitol Recap: The 2024 Legislative Session, every Friday.

To subscribe, go to