georgia-capitol
Apr 27, 2022

Georgia 2022 Legislative Session Review

Georgia wrapped up its 2022 legislative session on April 4, 2022.  Although 2022 is shaping up to be a hotly contested election year, the General Assembly was able to produce a meaningful and consequential session.

Mental Health Reform

Sponsored by the Speaker of the House, HB 1013 will require health insurers to follow federal mental health parity requirements in coverage for mental health and substance use disorders. Additionally, the bill seeks to find solutions and strategies for among other things, treatment capacity and pre-arrest diversion for those suffering from mental illness who often find themselves in the criminal justice system. The legislation, which was a signature issue for legislators this year, is bolstered by millions of dollars in new state funding for treatment and crisis services. After passing with overwhelming bipartisan support, Gov. Brian Kemp quickly signed the “Mental Health Parity Act” into law.

Fiscal Year 2023 Budget

Legislators completed their only constitutionally mandated responsibility with the passage of a nearly $58 billion FY 2023 budget on the final night of session. In addition to funding new mental health initiatives, lawmakers sought to invest more than $738 million in state employees. Budget items aimed at reducing the state’s record 23% employee turnover rate include giving employees their first cost-of living adjustments since 2008; allowing employees to cash out up to 40 hours of accrued annual leave; and increasing the employer match for state retirement contributions. 

The budget for the upcoming fiscal year also includes the most state funds ever appropriated for K-12 education. The $11.8 billion in state funds appropriated to fully fund the state’s education funding formula includes the restoration of $382 million in austerity reductions. Additional big ticket education appropriations include $291.7 million to fulfill the $5,000 pay raise promised to teachers who began in FY 2020; raises for school nutrition workers, bus drivers, and nurses; $7.5 million for charter facility grants; and $3.1 million in matching funds for childcare assistance to low-income families.

Finally, lawmakers provided millions of dollars in funding to extend postpartum Medicaid coverage from six to 12 months; address the critical medical workforce shortage with raises and financial support for graduate medical education; increase salary and position counts for law enforcement and the judicial system to address the rising crime rates; and establish 10 new accountability courts and additional case managers, including six new mental health courts.

Transportation

Following the major economic development announcement that Rivian Motors would build its new electric truck plant in a community east of Atlanta, electric vehicles were at the forefront of legislative initiatives. Lawmakers reviewed bills on electric vehicle tax, direct to consumer sales, and regulation of EV charging stations. Ultimately, elected officials opted to create a joint study committee during the off season to assess infrastructure, funding, economic preparedness, and innovation in Georgia’s electric vehicle market (SR 463). Another topic the General Assembly addressed was the collection and allocation of the transit trust fund, including dedicating the $15.9 million generated by a new fee on for-hire ground transportation companies that was adopted in 2021 to transit projects across the state. These funds will be matched by the federal government to increase funding for transit projects in Georgia. Finally, a measure passed to codify the use of special-purpose local-option sales tax, commonly referred to as SPLOST dollars, by counties for “design-build” transportation projects (SB 586). This allows counties to bid out the design of transportation projects along with the procurement of the construction. The measure mirrors the state-level procurement process and allows counties to utilize another procurement tool for transportation projects.  

Education   

Like many states, Georgia saw its fair share of education legislation bleeding over from the national conversation on topics such as critical race theory, transgender athletes, and the content in books and other materials available to students. Many of these issues were part of the governor’s successful legislative agenda ahead of what is expected to be a heated May primary.  

Key legislative measures heading to the governor’s desk include a parent’s bill of rights (HB 1178), restrictions on curriculum materials deemed harmful to minors (SB 226), restrictions on teaching “divisive concepts” (HB 1084), a prohibition on school mask mandates (SB 514), and efforts to “protect” girls sports (HB 1084). Other education issues included legislation on public conduct at local school board meetings (SB 588), an expansion of the student scholarship tax credit for private school tuition (HB 517), and new requirements for financial literacy education (SB 220) and daily recess (HB 1283).   

Elected officials passed legislation that restrict teachers from discussing certain “divisive concepts” in the classroom related to race or ethnicity or characterizing the United States as a “fundamentally racist” country. With guidance from the Georgia Department of Education, the bill requires districts to adopt a complaint process for parents, students, and school system employees to report alleged violations, with a review process that starts with the school leader up through appeals to the State Board of Education.  A last-minute addition to this legislation will establish an executive oversight committee within the state’s governing athletic association that will determine whether it is “necessary and appropriate to prohibit students whose gender is male from participating in athletic events designated for students whose gender is female.” 

Lawmakers also adopted the “Unmask Georgia Students Act” to prohibit local school systems from making or enforcing any rule requiring students to wear face masks or coverings in the school, on school grounds, or other property owned or operated by the school district unless the rule allows a parent to opt their child out of the requirement without providing a reason or any documentation of the child’s health or education status. The bill sunsets in 2027 and the governor has already signed this measure, causing at least one school district to end its mask mandate.

Other Notable Legislation

Additional legislation that crossed the finish line during the 40 legislative-day session includes measures suspending the state gas tax amid rising gas prices; banning requirements for COVID-19 “vaccine passports”; allowing gun owners to carry a concealed weapon without a permit; adopting a flat-rate income tax resulting in an income tax reduction for many Georgians; and authorizing expanded investigation of election fraud and public access to inspect paper ballots.

Falling Just Short

Many of the bills that did not pass this year were just as notable as those that did, including the perennial topic of gaming. Working to capitalize on public support and momentum gained last year, when sports betting legislation successfully passed the state Senate, the push continued to repeal the state’s constitutional ban on all forms of gambling. Legislative negotiations continued until the final day, but ultimately, fell short and once again nothing passed. As lawmakers continue to reduce the state’s income tax rates, gaming remains an important issue for the General Assembly to consider as it looks to find new sources of revenue.   

Another issue that gained a lot of attention was started by a coalition of residents seeking to break away from the city of Atlanta by de-annexing a more affluent area to create the new City of Buckhead. Proponents cited Atlanta’s rising crime as one of the reasons why residents needed a new city. However, state leaders stalled the legislation to give the new Atlanta mayor time to address crime and other issues facing the area. The Buckhead cityhood effort will likely remain active as a hot topic throughout the upcoming election season.

Finally, after initially passing legislation in 2015 to allow patients to consume low-THC cannabis oil, Georgia still lacks a supply of products to provide access in the state. In 2019, the state adopted legislation to establish the process for awarding licenses to producers, manufacturers, and dispensers. The competitive process, which was overseen by the new Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission, has been met with protests since the six licenses were awarded last year. A compromise effort by legislators to break that logjam ultimately fell short when it was tabled by a one-vote margin.