Crossover Day 2020, the deadline by which bills must pass their legislative chamber of origination in order to be considered by the other chamber this session, was marked by much more than the usual flurry of last-minute deals, supplemental rules calendars, forceful requests to reconsider bills that fail floor votes and unending streams of unhealthy food for guests, lobbyists and lawmakers alike. Most notably, Crossover Day 2020 included a major change to the legislative session schedule with the passage of an adjournment resolution that has suspended all the usual work of the Georgia General Assembly until further notice.
In fact, on Monday, March 16, lawmakers convened for a rare special session to ratify a joint resolution declaring a public health emergency. Before the final gavel went down on Crossover Day, several important bills passed out of their original chamber so that they can be taken up when the Legislature resumes at a future (unknown) date. Here’s a rundown of bills GBPI has been following closely (as part of our 2020 policy priorities) that crossed over before the deadline.
The supplemental budget, HB 792, was one of the first big items to hit the floors. The supplemental budget amends the FY 2020 budget that was passed last year and went into effect on July 1, 2019. In the shadow of growing concerns of a serious public health emergency, the Legislature took a drastic but important step to add $100 million in the supplemental appropriations bill to handle the state’s response to the coronavirus outbreak. HB 792, the amended budget, provides funding for state programs and agencies through June 30, 2020, and was approved by lawmakers in both chambers on Crossover Day and delivered to the governor for his signature.
The FY 2021 budget, HB 793, was passed by the House during Crossover week as well. Negotiations over the budget that will fund state programs and services from July 1, 2020-June 30, 2021 were heated. After Gov. Kemp called for an initial 6 percent cut to all agency budgets, lawmakers heard worrisome accounts from state agency heads about budget cuts reducing food safety inspections, forcing layoffs, furloughs and disinvestment in major initiatives related to criminal justice reform, behavioral health and child welfare. The budget passed by the House will head to the Senate when session resumes. Here are a few highlights:
- K-12 Education: One of the more noteworthy changes the House made was lowering the public school teacher pay raise to $1,000 from $2,000 and shifting the raise for all state employees making under $40,000 to a merit-based raise. This change cuts $212 million from the governor’s proposed budget. The House included $24.8 million to fully fund one school counselor position for every 450 full-time equivalent students, and leaders increased bonds for school bus replacement to $20 million from $12.5 million.
- Department of Corrections: The House added $7.5 million back to the Corrections budget, largely to pay for increases to address the high turnover rate among correctional officers. All additions made by the House lower the total cuts to $37.8 million from the governor’s proposed $54 million.
- Department of Early Care and Learning: The House fully restored $500,000 in funding for Childcare and Parent Services (CAPS).
- Department of Human Services: The state added back $1.2 million to help safety net caseworkers manage their caseloads for programs like SNAP, Medicaid, TANF and more. Leaders also rejected cuts to Georgia Family Connection Partnership.
- Department of Community Health: The Department of Community Health saw a total of $33.8 million added from Gov. Kemp’s initial budget, including $19.7 million to extend Medicaid coverage up to 6 months postpartum, $7 million for rural hospital stabilization grants and $2.4 million for a 1 percent increase in Medicaid reimbursement rates for some primary care services.
- Department of Public Health: The Department of Public Health received $10.7 million added back from initial budget cuts. Some of the larger additions include $5.4 million to reduce cuts in grants for county health departments.
- Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities: The House added $30.1 million back to the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities budget. Key additions include $8.3 million to fully restore funding to core behavioral health services, $5.6 million to add 100 new waiver slots for services for people with disabilities, $1.5 million for a 25 percent increase in residential treatment beds for addictive disease and $2.5 million to maintain 95 beds for mental health crisis services annually.
- Lottery-Funded Programs: The House budget funds an additional 1,000 pre-K slots (now a total of 85,500), a 2.5 percent increase for pre-K classroom operations and four more behavioral and classroom support specialists.
- Higher Education: The House reduced most proposed budget cuts in higher education. Leaders rejected proposed cuts to Forestry Research and Georgia Archives, as well as material grants for public libraries. Other notable changes include a $4 million cut from Dual Enrollment funding intended to “meet projected need,” a $2 million increase to the REACH Scholarship and a $1 million cut from Adult Education services funding.
Drastic Proposal to Change Income Tax Advances
In a last-minute flurry, the House introduced and passed a major change ahead of the Crossover Day deadline to how much Georgians may pay in income taxes. In addition to making some innocuous updates to conform Georgia’s tax code with the federal tax code, HB 949 also includes a major provision that would flatten Georgia’s current graduated income tax rates. Right now, Georgians pay a higher income tax rate as their incomes rise, but if the flat tax bill is enacted, all Georgians would pay the same tax rate of 5.375 percent—whether you’re a millionaire or work a minimum-wage job. The changes would raise taxes on many middle-class families to help pay for sizable tax cuts for the wealthiest Georgians. In addition, this hastily-passed bill would exacerbate Georgia’s budget crunch for the long-term, reducing revenues by nearly $400 million annually when fully enacted. Read GBPI’s full analysis on HB 949 here and take action here.
Extension of Medicaid for New Moms Crosses Over
The FY 2021 budget also includes a critical line item to fund a bill that passed with overwhelming support to extend Medicaid coverage for new moms 6-months postpartum. HB 1114 passed the House after months of work by a legislative study committee and a diverse group of advocates and health care providers seeking strategies to address Georgia’s dismal maternal mortality rates. That bill, and its funding in the budget, heads next to the Senate.
Major Changes Made to Dual Enrollment
Lawmakers passed a bill out of both chambers before the Crossover Day deadline that made major changes to the popular Dual Enrollment program. They also cut funding from the program in the FY 2021 budget. HB 444, which awaits the Governor’s signature, would cap the number of hours students could use for dual enrollment, as well as restrict eligibility for 9th and 10th graders. GBPI’s analysis of HB 444 can be found here.
Bill to Expand Private School Vouchers Advances Out of Senate
SB 386 proposes expanding eligibility of the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship to students who have educational accommodations or services under Section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973. These 504 plans primarily deal with protections from discrimination for students with disabilities. Though the bill was amended slightly before it passed the full Senate, it would greatly expand the amount of public dollars going to private schools and could cause students with disabilities to lose out on critical federal protections. Read GBPI’s bill analysis here as the House prepares to take up the bill when the legislative session reconvenes.
Child Care Subsidies Expanded to Cover More Student Parents
In an exciting move by the Department of Early Care and Learning during a legislative hearing on the topic, the agency announced they will extend eligibility to students pursuing 4-year degrees to access help to pay for child care through the CAPS program starting April 1. GBPI would like to thank Sen. Elena Parent and advocates including Quality Care for Children, GEEARS and Voices for Georgia’s Children for their support to make this important policy change happen. GBPI will now work to increase the amount of funds appropriated for the CAPS program as the FY 2021 budget moves through the Senate.
Expungement Bill Advances Out of Senate
SB 288 squeaked by before the Crossover Day deadline with a unanimous vote from the Senate. The bill would allow individuals to restrict and seal up to two misdemeanor convictions from their record and allow individuals who have had a felony conviction pardoned to apply to have that conviction record restricted and sealed, as long as it is not a serious violent felony or sexual offense. This bill is a solid step towards improving economic outcomes for the previously incarcerated. You can learn more about record restriction here.
Marketplace Facilitators Done Deal
GBPI has long called for an update to the state’s tax code to respond to the 21st century economy. Lawmakers took action this session and passed a bill (HB 276) that has already been signed by the Governor that will enable the state to collect sales tax from big online retailers and marketplace facilitators like AirBnB and eBay. This important revenue-raising update will modernize our state tax code and bring in tens of millions of dollars to fund state priorities like health care and education. The House and Senate also passed a bill creating a flat $0.50 fee for rideshares.
Tax Credit Evaluation Bill Advances Unanimously Out of the Senate
GBPI has long called for a formal evaluation of the billions of dollars the state forgoes each year in the form of special-interest tax breaks. SB 302 passed the Senate unanimously ahead of the Crossover Day deadline and would establish a formal evaluation process to be completed to provide data on how much return on investment taxpayers receive through such business-focused tax benefits.
There were several GBPI priorities that didn’t advance out of committee by the deadline, however. A hearing to extend in-state tuition to Georgia students with DACA status ended without a vote. A bipartisan bill to create a state-level earned income tax credit, or Georgia Work Credit, failed to advance though we see opportunity to try and get it included in some of the other tax bills that did advance.
As our team looks ahead, we will continue to provide analysis and policy recommendations to assist the state in its response to what has now been deemed a state and national emergency, as well as work with partners, lawmakers and the media to keep attention on the pieces of legislation and issues we expect to top the list when lawmakers return.