Yesterday marked Crossover Day 2021, the day by which a bill generally must pass out of its legislative chamber of origin to be considered by the other chamber this session. Several important bills passed out of their chamber and are now eligible to be approved before Sine Die, the end of Georgia’s Legislative Session.
Georgia’s General Assembly convenes for only 40 days each year (unless there is a special session), and the choices lawmakers make between now and March 31, Sine Die, will affect every Georgian. These decisions will dictate how well-resourced our public schools are, what supports are offered to families with low incomes, who can afford a higher education, which health services are available in communities throughout the state and more. To fulfill their obligations to their constituents, lawmakers must support policies that put people first, and reject proposals that cut into our state’s ability to do its job.
Key Legislation Crossing Over
The budget is a statement of our state’s values, and right now leaders are underfunding the critical services and programs Georgians need. Prior to Crossover Day, the Amended Fiscal Year (AFY) 2021 budget passed out of both the House and Senate, and was signed and enacted by the governor. The enacted version of the budget that ends June 30, 2021 added back $567 million to the state’s K-12 school funding formula and restored some funding for health services and programs, but the final proposal still includes steep cuts of $1.7 billion when compared to the pre-pandemic FY 2020 budget.
The FY 2022 budget, which will go into effect on July 1, 2021, has passed out of the House and will now be considered in the Senate. The House Appropriations Committee did add some funding back to the budget, including:
- $2.7 million in funding for adult substance use and $6.5 million for adult mental health services;
- $3.5 million to create 625 slots for Georgia’s Child Care and Parent Services (CAPS) child care assistance program; and
- $1.5 million to fund maintenance of the Department of Public Health’s vaccine management system.
However, steep cuts remain. Education funding still sits $675 million below FY 2020 levels, for example. Departments and agencies that serve Georgians with developmental disabilities, families in need of economic support and students pursuing higher education still face steep cuts. These cuts will affect every Georgia family, but especially people of color and rural Georgians. More details on the budget can be found here.
The federal government is currently considering legislation that would send much-needed funding to our state. These dollars could shift the conversation around the state’s budget, but state leaders have broad flexibility when deciding how to deploy these funds. The governor and other state lawmakers must choose to use this funding to restore budget cuts and address the problems and inequities created or exacerbated by the pandemic.
Aside from looking to federal relief, lawmakers should look for commonsense options to raise revenues, such as lifting the tobacco tax to the national average, and the governor should use funding from Georgia’s robust rainy day fund, or Revenue Shortfall Reserve. This three-pronged approach will help lawmakers deliver real relief to Georgia families, so that they can recover and thrive.
SB 148 is a promising bill that could lay the groundwork for new revenues for our state. It would establish review panels to evaluate the state’s tax credits to ensure they deliver on their promise. It is now in the House. SB 6 also looks at evaluating up to five of the state’s tax credits each year. The state estimates it will forgo $10 billion in revenue next year due to tax credits, and right now there is no real way to evaluate the credits’ effects to make sure they are bringing jobs or dollars to our state.
Unfortunately, a bill bringing CAPCO to Georgia also crossed over. HB 587 includes several special-interest tax breaks that could cost the state over $150 million next year. CAPCO legislation essentially allows insurance companies to “buy” tax credits from CAPCOs, which are similar to venture capital firms, except that CAPCOs pass risk on to the state instead of their investors. The CAPCO provision alone costs up to $100 million. CAPCO advocates claim it’s a job creator, but the data doesn’t bear this out. The fundamentally flawed CAPCO model should be firmly rejected as a tool for strengthening Georgia’s venture capital market.
The state is already enacting $1.2 billion in budget cuts at a time when funding for health, education and other services is more critical than ever. CAPCO would further carve into our budget with little return to our state.
Georgia lawmakers are yet again considering using public dollars for private schools by expanding voucher programs. Senate Bill 47 would expand the eligibility of an existing voucher for students with special needs, but any child that takes advantage would lose out on federal funding and certain civil rights protections. This bill is now in the House. Two other voucher proposals, HB 60 and HB 142, did not cross over, although they may be taken up in 2022. Learn more about these voucher proposals, the myths that surround them and how to stop them here.
Legislation to advance college affordability for some Georgians crossed over, as well. SB 107 waives tuition and fees for current and former foster youth. This bill is now in the House.
One provision that crossed over will help support health for Georgia’s children from families with low incomes. HB 163 directs the Department of Community Health to submit a Medicaid waiver that would allow children whose families apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to automatically enroll in or renew their participation in Medicaid. If passed, this legislation will simplify the process for children in need of health care coverage and ensure more who qualify can get the care they need. It also saves money for state agencies. The bill is now in the Senate.
One opportunity to improve economic outcomes for families in Georgia lies in HB 146, which would extend three weeks of paid parental leave to state employees after birth, adoptions and foster placements. Although it is limited to State of Georgia employees, it will affect about 423,000 parents. The move will also help address disparities faced by women and people of color, as 66 percent of state workers are women and 55 percent are people of color.
Criminal Legal Systems
In spite of past reforms, Georgia leads the nation in the number of people on probation and in length of probation sentences. SB 105 would streamline the process for early termination of felony probation for certain Georgians. This bill passed the Senate chamber unanimously and is now in the House.
The above bills must still pass through one more chamber before becoming law. Lawmakers should evaluate the bills that cross their desks before Sine Die to ensure they are enacting policies that meet the needs of the people.
Even those proposals that did not cross over may come back this year or next. This is the first of a two-year session, which means bills that do not cross over can be considered in 2022. Lawmakers can also append the language from bills that haven’t crossed over to other, relevant legislation.
GBPI will advocate for movement this year or next on other priorities, including:
- A Georgia Work Credit (GWC) to return up to $500 to families with low or moderate incomes. This commonsense tool would benefit up to 1.1 million Georgia children. A bipartisan bill to enact a GWC was introduced this session and will still be active in the 2022 Legislative Session. There’s also a chance it could be attached to other tax legislation.
- Legislation to lift the tobacco tax to the national average. This could bring $600 million in revenues to our state while promoting public health. Although HB 394 did not cross over, it could be attached to vaping or other legislation.
- Myriad bills to improve the affordability of higher education in Georgia. HB 87 would give students in associate degree programs at Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) schools better state financial aid access. HB 88 and HB 256 would restore HOPE Grants to full tuition. HB 259 would provide additional financial aid to HOPE scholars based on financial need.
- HB 120, which would allow the boards of the University System of Georgia and Technical College System of Georgia to set tuition somewhere between in-state tuition and an amount up to 10 percent higher for DACA recipients who currently pay out-of-state tuition. This legislation could benefit up to 20,380 young people in Georgia who participate in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and who currently pay three times the in-state tuition rate.
- HB 91, which would increase the maximum benefit amount for cash assistance, or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Benefit levels have not been raised since 1991, and the maximum is currently set at $280. These low levels are rooted in racism: Black children are likelier than Latinx and white children to live in the states with the lowest benefit levels.
- Bills to expand Medicaid. SB 172 and HB 630 would both expand Medicaid. Full Medicaid expansion has always been the most cost-effective option to cover more Georgians, and upcoming federal changes are likely to make this policy an even smarter choice for Georgians.
- HB 10, which would provide additional funding to schools serving students living in poverty. Georgia is one of only eight states that do not account for the disproportionate challenges faced by these students with additional funding, which could be used to provide health care access, food or other helpful services to students.
- HB 55, which provides for a salary history ban. Women and people of color have historically been paid less for doing the same jobs as their white, male counterparts— salary histories reflect that disparity and invite the opportunity to let unequal pay continue throughout people’s careers. Banning salary history questions from the hiring process would reduce the probability that women and people of color would have to negotiate from a lower starting point than their counterparts, and would make it possible for these workers to enter negotiations on a more level playing field.
- HB 13, which would reduce the fees needed to file for record restriction or request the inspection and correction of criminal records. This bill would reduce the economic burden on Georgians who were formerly incarcerated.