Kemp vetoes bill expanding need-based aid for college students

Gov. Brian Kemp speaks during a ceremony unveiling the first ever Rivian electric vehicle chargers at Tallulah Gorge State Park on Thursday, April 20, 2023. (Natrice Miller/ natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

Gov. Brian Kemp speaks during a ceremony unveiling the first ever Rivian electric vehicle chargers at Tallulah Gorge State Park on Thursday, April 20, 2023. (Natrice Miller/ natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Gov. Brian Kemp vetoed legislation that would have provided more needs-based financial aid to Georgia college students and would have allowed veterans to participate in a tuition-free, commercial driver’s license training program.

The governor’s veto of House Bill 249 on Friday was among 14 measures he rejected ahead of a deadline next week to sign proposals into law or nix them.

The financial aid measure was designed as an expansion of legislation from last year to help students who can’t afford their tuition. It passed with overwhelming bipartisan support and would have increased the maximum award students can receive to $3,500, up from $2,500.

In addition to providing larger awards to needy students, the bill would have made students eligible for help earlier in their academic studies and established the veterans training program, long a priority for advocates.

Kemp said he supports veterans initiatives and efforts to make education more affordable, but that he rejected the measure because the expansion is “subject to appropriations and the General Assembly failed to fully fund these educational incentives.”

Another consequential Kemp veto also involved proposed changes to the higher education system, a subject of much internal Republican feuding in this year’s legislative session.

In early April, shortly after the legislative session ended, he rejected a bill that would require legislative approval before state universities could raise tuition or fees by more than 3%.

That power typically belongs to the state Board of Regents, many of whose members are allied with Kemp. His veto means that the higher education system, not the legislative branch, will continue to make the final call on tuition increases.

It was part of a broader feud between state senators and the higher education system that intensified this year over backlash involving the $105 million taxpayer-funded tech upgrade for the Medical College of Georgia that could benefit Wellstar Health System.

Lt. Gov. Burt Jones saw the spending as a giveaway and led the Senate to slash $66 million from the higher ed budget. He also sparred with Wellstar over its objections to a proposed private hospital that could have benefited Jones’ family.

Kemp’s veto cited the separation of powers established by the state constitution, and his decision was seen as a sign that the governor would rebuke even Republican allies if he thinks they overstepped.

Other Kemp vetoes:

Senate Bill 199 would have required the state to offer health savings accounts to employees on a pre-tax basis. Kemp’s veto statement said Senate Bill 199 enacted the change “without a full understanding of the fiscal impact .... to the state.”

Senate Bill 303 would make it easier for senior citizens in Fulton County making annual income less than 200% of the federal poverty level to reapply for a homestead exemption. It was vetoed because it didn’t require a new referendum for voters to approve the changes.

Senate Bill 23 sought to streamline the way agencies share information about patients, a remnant of a broader mental health overhaul that failed to pass. It was vetoed because Kemp said the appeals process raised separation of powers concerns, and that he would issue an executive order instead.

House Bill 193 would have hiked the value of local government public works contracts subject to competitive bidding requirements from $100,000 to $250,000. Kemp’s veto noted that the state is required to competitively bid any construction or public works contracts more than $100,000 and that requirements for local contracts should not be “more lenient.”

House Bill 541 tried to expand Georgia’s “move over” law to apply to any stationary vehicle displaying flashing hazard lights. Kemp said he rejected it because it would “create additional safety and enforcement issues.”

House Bill 52 would have made a range of changes to the state’s transportation department, including new limits for what driver data can be obtained through public records requests. It was vetoed due to a late amendment that made it easier for ports projects to circumvent “alternative” contracting rules.

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