On Monday, January 8th, Georgia’s State Legislature began its 40-day 2024 Legislative Session. All 236 elected legislators gathered under the Gold Dome to set Governor Kemp’s 2023-2024 proposed budget and to pass new laws.
Georgia operates on a two-year legislative cycle, meaning that many of the bills that didn’t reach committees or get voted on by both chambers in 2023 can resurface this year. Likewise, all 180 representatives and 56 senators elected in 2022 will face re-election in November and attempt to push through legislation that will help them energize and secure support from their base voters. With new maps coming out of the December 2023 special session, some will run in newly drawn districts.
This year, all bills must pass at least one chamber by the 28th day, known as Crossover Day (February 29th), to be considered by the other chamber this session. Then, they have until the last day, Sine Die (expected March 28th), when the legislature convenes to be passed by both chambers.
Key Issues to Watch
Medicaid Expansion: Georgia Republicans have long resisted Medicaid expansion, passing a 2014 law preventing the governor from doing so without legislative approval. Now, they are considering an Arkansas-style model that uses Medicaid funds to purchase private insurance in lieu of adding individuals to the state-run program. The governor has also proposed a $1.7M budget to integrate the limited expansion program, Georgia Pathways, into the state’s Medicaid eligibility system, intending to boost enrollment and enhance caseworker effectiveness. However, Democrats and healthcare providers often criticize Pathways for its low enrollment rates.
School Vouchers: The school vouchers law (SB 233), which previously faced defeat, is poised for a potential revival. This initiative seeks to grant parents in the state's lowest-performing public school districts with vouchers worth $6,500 per child for private schooling, homeschooling, or alternative educational programs. Critics contend that diverting funds would defund public school systems already under financial strain whilst disproportionately affecting rural students with limited alternatives. Additionally, the absence of a household income limit has ignited concerns about equity, with accusations that it primarily benefits affluent families, whereas it falls short of assisting economically disadvantaged families in accessing quality private education.
Election Laws: In light of the upcoming contentious election, expect a series of bills to alter voting laws. Potential changes include eliminating runoffs, cessation of no-excuse absentee voting, stricter ballot handling procedures, and allowing voters to fill out paper ballots by hand instead of using touchscreens. Among the noteworthy bills from last session, HB 426 proposes a shift in public access to ballots through a simple request, bypassing the need to file a lawsuit for physical copies of election documentation. Conversely, SB 221 seeks to build upon the 2021 voter suppression law (SB 202) by encouraging voter intimidation, a move that could run afoul of federal law. To add further fuel to the fire, just four days into the session, Republicans introduced SB 358, which would remove and authorize investigations into the Secretary of State’s office. This comes in the aftermath of Brad Raffensperger’s refusal to concede to the 2020 election deniers’ claims.