Gov. Kemp says he will call special session over hurricane relief bill

Gov. Brian Kemp on Wednesday said he will, in coming weeks, call lawmakers into a special session to fix legislation meant to give a tax break to South Georgians devastated by Hurricane Michael in 2018.

Kemp signed House Bill 105, which granted a state tax exemption on federal aid received by storm victims. The bill also included a 50 cents-per-ride fee on ride-share, taxi and limo services.

However, Kemp said there were problems in the drafting of the bill.

“Although I will sign House Bill 105 today, I do so with serious concerns that if the bill is ever challenged, the measure may not withstand judicial scrutiny, resulting in the unraveling of the tax structures it created,” Kemp wrote in his signing statement. “Our farmers, especially, cannot afford further economic hardship.”

So Kemp said he will ask the Legislature to come back in a special session to fix the bill.

The kicker of his message may get the most attention from lawmakers: “Such special session may also be timely to address other budgetary and oversight issues.”

Lawmakers just passed a state budget that cut $2.2 billion in spending — including $950 million from k-12 schools — because the COVID-19 recession has shrunk state revenue. If state revenue is flagging when the session occurs, more adjustments could be made. Conversely, the same could be true if Congress comes through with federal aid to states, as the U.S. House and Kemp have supported.

But under state law, governors decide what issues lawmakers can consider in a special session, so other things could be addressed.

The General Assembly was called into a special session in 2018 after the elections to provide a Hurricane Michael relief package for South Georgia. Lawmakers also used the session to tack on a tax break on fuel for airlines, with most of the benefit accruing to Delta Air Lines.

The timing of this special session will be closely watched because the November election is only a few months away and all 236 legislative seats are on the ballot.