Issues to watch during the 2024 Georgia Legislative session

The Georgia Capitol. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

The Georgia Capitol. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

BUDGET AND TAXES

Passing a budget is the only thing the General Assembly is constitutionally required to do. It’s a big deal.

The state budget funds schools, a massive public health system, prisons, some policing and professional licensing. It also provides money to run parks, pay more than 200,000 employees and teachers, and regulate car insurance, utilities and banking.

State revenue growth slowed in 2023, but only after three years of massive surpluses following the COVID-19 economic shutdown. Those surpluses mean the state has $16 billion in the bank, and at least some of that may have to be used this year since the budget has grown 22% since the end of fiscal 2021 and will likely grow some more.

Some state money will go to more tax cuts: Gov. Brian Kemp has said he wants to speed up implementation of a reduction in the income tax rate that lawmakers approved in 2022, and he may back new rebates, like he did the past two years. Lawmakers will also discuss adjusting or eliminating some special-interest tax breaks during the 2024 session, including the $1 billion film tax credit, which backers say has created a new, thriving industry in Georgia. — James Salzer

ELECTION LAWS

Be on the lookout for lawmakers to introduce bills to change voting laws this presidential election year.

Georgia legislators are considering a variety of ideas on election investigations, voting security, absentee ballots and runoffs. Leaders in the General Assembly haven’t identified their priorities, but new election laws pass every year.

Election measures might include proposals to verify or eliminate computer codes from paper ballots, end no-excuse absentee voting and empower the State Election Board to investigate Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

Other initiatives could curtail runoffs, allow public inspections of paper ballots or permit voters to fill out ballots by hand at in-person voting precincts.

Every state legislator is up for reelection this year, meaning they’ll be looking to cater to their constituents — including Republican voters, many of whom distrust Georgia’s election technology and laws. — Mark Niesse

EDUCATION/VOUCHERS

Literacy, compulsory kindergarten and money — more of it for public and private schools — are likely to get a hearing during the 2024 legislative session.

In 2023, the Legislature passed two measures to implement new ways of teaching children to read. They required that teachers refer to a vast body of research called the “science of reading.” New methods, new training, new materials and new tests are required. School leaders say they need money to implement the requirements. They also want more for technology, mental health support and other expenses not fully accounted for in the state’s funding formula.

Proponents of private schools also want more money and are pushing for direct state subsidies, known as vouchers. Senate Bill 233, a GOP-led measure, passed the Senate in March and is expected to be back for another go in the House after a small group of Republicans helped Democrats block it there.

Meanwhile, the author of one of the literacy laws, Sen. Billy Hickman, R-Statesboro, will also be seeking a hearing for Senate Bill 241, which would make school mandatory a year earlier, at age 5, effectively requiring kindergarten. — Ty Tagami

CERTIFICATE OF NEED AND MEDICAID EXPANSION

There’s big talk of a potential deal between House and Senate Republicans to fully expand Medicaid in exchange for rolling back certificate of need hospital protections. Whether that will happen is another question.

Last year, a Senate study committee recommended repealing the certificate of need law, a state regulation protecting hospitals from competition. A House study committee merely listed possible recommendations.

Georgia allows Medicaid to cover all low-income children but only certain categories of low-income adults. Gov. Brian Kemp already launched a more limited expansion in July, expanding Medicaid to Georgians who work or perform certain activities, but the sign-up numbers have been small.

Even so, state health agencies are overwhelmed and understaffed as they plow through the launch and other Medicaid enrollment work affecting all 2.8 million enrollees. — Ariel Hart

ABORTION RESTRICTIONS

Republican leaders say they are waiting for a ruling in a lawsuit challenging the state’s current abortion law, but some conservative lawmakers may feel the need to push further restrictions to stave off a primary challenge.

Democrats said they are bracing themselves for what’s ahead.

An attempt last year to require women to see a doctor in person before obtaining the abortion pill mifepristone failed to pick up steam. Anti-abortion advocates said they expect that bill to return.

Anti-abortion activists said they plan to target what they call “loopholes” in Georgia’s abortion law. The activists say it’s discriminatory to allow pregnancies to be terminated based on how the child was conceived, such as in the case of rape.

Georgia’s law allows abortions after the detection of fetal cardiac activity and up until 22 weeks of pregnancy in cases of rape or incest. — Maya T. Prabhu

MORE ISSUES TO WATCH

Georgia GOP lawmakers will continue to target gang, violent crime

Fights over antisemitism, Israel and religion coming to Georgia Capitol

Backers hold out hope for bill to boost Georgia renter rights

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