Budget and taxes
The one thing lawmakers have to do by law before they end the 2022 session is approve a balanced budget.
The state has had record tax collections for about 18 months thanks to a strong economy and huge federal spending to compensate for the economic fallout caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in the first half of 2020.
So Gov. Brian Kemp is expected to propose a robust budget for the upcoming year that includes pay raises for teachers and likely at least some state employees, along with increased spending on mental health, education and law enforcement.
The increased revenue will also almost certainly mean a push in an election year for a tax cut of some sort. One candidate for lieutenant governor, Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, has filed a bill to eliminate the state income tax. The state takes in more than half of its revenue from income taxes, so the proposal won’t go anywhere. But some kind of tax cut is likely because lawmakers love to run for reelection touting how much money they gave back to Georgians, even when it’s only a little bit.
Republican lawmakers are proposing a series of additional changes to voting laws in the wake of last year’s overhaul.
This time, they’re targeting voting machines, drop boxes, noncitizen voting and fraud investigations.
The voting legislation is being promoted by several lawmakers as they face primary challenges from their Republican peers, with each of them trying to show accomplishments.
Sen. Burt Jones, a Republican from Jackson, is seeking to replace Georgia’s recently purchased touchscreens with paper ballots filled out by hand. Miller wants to eliminate absentee ballot drop boxes entirely after last year’s voting bill limited them to in-person voting locations. Jones and Miller are both running for lieutenant governor.
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is pushing a constitutional amendment that would ban voting by noncitizens, a prohibition that’s already enshrined in state law. Raffensperger is running for reelection this year and faces U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, a candidate supported by former President Donald Trump, in the Republican primary.
In addition, House Speaker David Ralston will support a bill to allow the GBI to investigate election fraud cases. Voting allegations are currently investigated by the secretary of state’s office.
Seeking to hold onto his Republican conservative base this reelection year, Kemp has already endorsed legislation that would allow Georgians to carry a firearm without having to get a carry permit, as is required now.
Kemp faces a primary challenge this election year from former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, who has been endorsed by Trump. He doesn’t want Perdue to outflank him on the political right.
Republican lawmakers for years have pushed for some form of law eliminating the need for permits with no success. Kemp’s backing makes it more likely to pass this session over opposition from Democrats, who see an expansion of gun rights as unnecessary in a state that already has gun-friendly laws.
Some lawmakers say the restrictive abortion law Georgia passed in 2019 should continue to make its way through the judicial process.
A federal appeals court judge in September said that he would hold off deciding the fate of Georgia’s anti-abortion law — which would have banned abortions once fetal cardiac activity is detected, usually about six weeks into a pregnancy and before many women know they’re pregnant — until the U.S. Supreme Court issues a ruling on a similar lawsuit out of Mississippi. The Mississippi law bans abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
But some lawmakers want to pursue legislation that mirrors a Texas law that allows private citizens to sue anyone involved in facilitating abortions.
Health care will continue to play a central role in Georgia legislators’ plans during the 2022 session.
Leaders in both the House and Senate want to look at an expansion of mental health resources in Georgia. That includes money, as well as looking at ways to expand the number of personnel available to provide services.
That might include looking into whether Georgia is requiring an unusually long time for mental health workers to stay in internships before becoming psychologists. It could also mean adding behavioral health workers to police teams in order to better deal with mentally ill lawbreakers.
Another health-related issue important to many Republican voters is mandates: whether the Legislature will halt the ability of business owners and governments to require masks or vaccinations.
The chairs of both the House and Senate health and human services committees, Rep. Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta, and Sen. Ben Watson, R-Savannah, said banning mandates are not on their agenda. That doesn’t mean Republican lawmakers won’t raise the issue. Cooper noted that masks are required in the House chamber, and Watson said personal property owners should be allowed to deny entry to anyone they want to.
The national culture war over sexuality, obscenity and race will likely dominate debates about Georgia schools.
Republicans are expected to field at least one bill about critical race theory, an academic construct taught in law schools and graduate-level courses. CRT, shorthand for the theory, is not explicitly taught in schools, Georgia educators say, but critics say its central tenets about the influence of racism on institutions and society are.
The contention that CRT should be banned from k-12 schools just played a major role in helping a Republican candidate win the governor’s race in Virginia, so GOP lawmakers see it as a winning issue with voters.
Legislation in the General Assembly could build on a Georgia Board of Education resolution last year that sought guardrails concerning classroom coverage of race.
Legislation about books and other content is also expected. Parents and others have alleged that educators are exposing their children to obscene content, including stories about transgender or gay children.
House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones, R-Milton, says she will push for a “fair and consequential process” for addressing educators who expose students to inappropriate materials. She said she will also seek statewide filters for online material in schools. She previously opposed similar measures.