Legislative Watch Day 39: State Budget, Education Vouchers and More

As the 2018 General Assembly nears the closing gavel, Georgia lawmakers are trying to find a path to use public dollars to boost private schools, provide need-based aid for college students and impose rules that target immigrants in counterproductive ways. They’re also putting the finishing touches on Georgia’s spending plan for the upcoming 2019 budget year and considering a handful of mostly modest tax breaks.

Today is day 39 of the 40-day session, and lots of twists and turns are still likely. This week some legislation will go through so many changes the result will bear little resemblance to the intent of the original. The GBPI team is keeping constant watch on key issues and developing storylines as the clock winds down. Below are summaries of some of the main bills on GBPI’s radar.

K-12 education

Georgia lawmakers seem determined to subsidize private schools with public dollars. House Bill 664 proposes to raise the annual cap on deductible contributions to 529 savings plans, which parents can now use to pay for private school tuition at both colleges and K-12 schools due to recent changes in federal law. House Bill 217 proposes to raise the annual limit on tax credits for contributions to student scholarship organizations to between $65 million and $100 million from the current cap of $58 million. Georgia’s decade-old tax credit scholarship program has yet to be evaluated, so no one truly knows whether it works or not. At a minimum, lawmakers can include an expiration date, or sunset, on any expansion or schedule a thorough review of the program sometime soon.

Higher education

A proposal to authorize a new grant for college students that gives weight to financial need, as well as academic and work requirements appeared to hit a dead end last week, failing to gain support from a key House committee. But it may still have a narrow chance of advancing in this closing week. Senate Bill 405 proposes a maximum $1,500 grant per semester for full-time, University System of Georgia college students whose family incomes do not exceed $48,000. It is revived in House Bill 713 and SB 405 might live on in other legislation as well.

Immigrants and the economy

Georgia lawmakers are considering a bill that poses serious risk to the state’s immigrant community and threatens to harm local governments and the state’s economy if signed into law. Senate Bill 452 requires communities to work more closely with the federal deportation apparatus, disrupting families and making local taxpayers foot the bill. The senate bill now also contains a provision designed to make it harder for nonviolent offenders to bond out of jail, undercutting recent reform efforts. A separate proposal to require special driver’s licenses carries the effect of stigmatizing some immigrants, pulling up Georgia’s welcome mat even more.

Budget and taxes

 Lawmakers are also working to complete  Georgia’s spending plan for the upcoming 2019 budget year that  begins July 1, 2018. Because the house and senate passed slightly different versions of the plan, lawmakers from the two chambers are currently huddled in a conference committee to hammer out the final product. A few tax break bills are still in play as well, for causes ranging from rural broadband to nonprofit health centers. Our annual Adding Up the Fiscal Notes Crossover Day edition looked at tax bills still in the pipeline at the General Assembly Feb. 28., as well as some already on the way to the governor’s desk.

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