Dec 6, 2018
Georgia Legislative Session Preview
Lawmakers in Georgia will convene at the State Capitol on Jan. 14, 2019, for the first session of the 155th General Assembly. In addition to adopting a budget for the 2020 fiscal year, which is the only constitutionally required duty of the Georgia General Assembly, much of the activity during the 40-day legislative session likely will take place behind the scenes. Georgia will enter the session with a new governor for the first time in eight years and a new lieutenant governor, who also serves as Senate president, for the first time in 12 years. With the retirement of many veteran legislators, a narrowing Republican majority after Democrats picked up more than a dozen new seats in the General Assembly, plus a turnover in majority leadership positions in both chambers, lawmakers likely will need a certain amount of settling-in before they turn their attention to the task of legislating.
Governor-elect Kemp will outline his legislative priorities during the initial week of session when he addresses members of the General Assembly for the first time as governor and releases his first budget proposals for amended Fiscal Year 2019 and full Fiscal Year 2020. With a Republican majority in both the House and Senate, these priorities likely will benefit from a warm reception and occupy a prominent spot on the 2019 legislative agenda. One objective Kemp repeated on the campaign trail is adopting religious freedom legislation that mirrors federal law so the state can move past what has become a distracting and divisive issue in recent years with more controversial proposals.
In addition to convening for a one-week special session in November, legislators have spent the months between sessions examining the status quo and future possibilities for dozens of issues in study committees, commissions and councils. The House adopted legislation for 14 study committees in 2018, to consider issues such as revitalizing the state farmers’ market, the risks associated with krantom, school safety measures and the operation of professional licensing boards. Likewise, the Senate adopted legislation for 19 study committees in 2018, to address issues involving service animals, combat sports, public school calendars, emergency pursuits by law enforcement and state takeover of operations at the Atlanta airport. Additionally, lawmakers adopted legislation creating three special joint committees studying the state’s boundaries with North Carolina and Tennessee, access to low-THC medical oil, and the establishment of a state accreditation process for public schools.
While not all of the study committees are active, they remain a perennial source of legislative recommendations, and the 2019 session could produce legislative proposals regulating short-term rentals, reforming real property taxes, establishing a system for in-state cultivation of medical cannabis for low-THC oil, or reforming the state’s Certificate of Need program. In some cases, however, the recommendation may be for continued study on the issue during the 2019 interim. Expect legislation to emerge from the House’s second year of work on rural development and transit. Following successful legislative initiatives during the 2018 session, the House Rural Development Council has continued to examine access to healthcare, education and economic development in rural Georgia, while the House Commission on Transit Governance and Funding turned its focus to transit and mobility outside of the metro-Atlanta region.