These are the top stories from the past week from Georgia's General Assembly.
Georgia water future on the line in U.S. Supreme Court case
ATLANTA — How much water metro Atlanta will be allowed to pull from the Chattahoochee River for decades to come and how much Southwest Georgia can pump from farm irrigation wells will be at stake Monday.
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a lawsuit the state of Florida filed in 2013 demanding the justices order Georgia to use less water. It’s just the latest episode in the so-called “tri-state water wars,” a legal battle over water allocation between Florida, Georgia and Alabama that has dragged on for nearly three decades.
The suit claims Georgia is taking so much water out of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin to meet the needs of fast-growing metro Atlanta and irrigate crops in the lower Flint that Florida isn’t left with enough freshwater for its once-thriving oyster industry Apalachicola Bay.
Georgia’s lawyers counter that the cap on water consumption Florida is seeking would cripple the metro region’s economy by halting growth and devastate farmers.
Georgia appears to have the advantage going into Monday’s hearing, said Chris Manganiello, water policy director for the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper. A special master the Supreme Court appointed to hear the dispute recommended in late 2019 that the court dismiss Florida’s case.
“Special Master [Paul] Kelly was pretty clear: Florida failed to make a compelling argument that Georgia was using too much water or that any harm to Florida’s fisheries could be traced to Georgia,” Manganiello said.
But Gil Rogers, director of the Georgia and Alabama offices of the Southern Environmental Law Center, is less certain. He pointed to the court’s decision in 2018 to assign the case to Special Master Kelly after an earlier special master already had sided with Georgia. That 5-4 ruling followed oral arguments held earlier in 2018.
“It’s a little hard to use [Kelly’s] recommendation as a predictor, particularly since the Supreme Court has ordered oral arguments again,” Rogers said.
Rogers said the court’s different makeup adds to the uncertainty. Two new justices – Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett – have joined the court since it last weighed in on the case.
Another key change since the last time the Supreme Court heard the lawsuit is an agreement Georgia signed with the U.S. Army Court of Engineers last month that for the first time authorizes the use of Lake Lanier as a water supply. While the federally managed reservoir has been supplying water for decades, its use for that purpose has been among the legal issues contested during the water wars.
Since the $70 million contract runs through 2050, metro Atlanta water policy planners and regional business leaders are celebrating it as safeguarding a water supply that has been under threat from the Florida lawsuit and others.
“This contract will help secure our region’s long-range future by ensuring access to water from Lake Lanier to responsibly support long-term growth while protecting this vital natural resource,” Katherine Zitsch, managing director of natural resources for the Atlanta Regional Commission, said in a prepared statement.
While a Florida victory in the current lawsuit theoretically could render moot the new contract between Georgia and the Army Corps, Rogers doesn’t see it as a threat to the agreement.
“The Supreme Court, if it makes a substantive ruling on water allocation, is likely to stop short of directing how that would happen,” he said. “I don’t think the Supreme Court would throw out the contract.”
Water conservation a key legal argument
Metro Atlanta’s ability to grow its population while reining in water consumption has been one of Georgia’s major arguments in defending against Florida’s lawsuit.
Since 2000, total water use in the region has dropped by more than 10%, even as the population has increased by more than 1.3 million.
“Given our region’s excellent record on water conservation through the years, I am confident that our communities will make wise use of this essential resource going forward,” added Katie Kirkpatrick, president and CEO of the Metro Atlanta Chamber.
In fact, metro Atlanta’s water conservation efforts have been so successful that Florida’s lawyers for the last couple of years have focused more on the amount of water farmers in the lower Flint use to irrigate their crops.
But Gordon Rogers, executive director of Albany-based Flint Riverkeeper, said farmers also have made great progress reducing their water consumption.
For one thing, an initiative to install meters on all irrigation wells measuring how much water they use has been completed, he said.
Also, when Hurricane Michael tore through Southwest Georgia in 2018, it forced farmers to replace a lot of their old infrastructure with more modern equipment that uses less water, Rogers said.
Georgia’s lawyers also have cited the state’s long-running moratorium on new well permits in 23 counties drawing from either surface or groundwater in the lower Flint as evidence of a good-faith effort to save water.
“People can’t get permits for the Floridan aquifer or a creek,” Rogers said. “I’m enough of a constitutionalist to say that’s a usurpation of property rights … It’s not a solution. It’s a defense in court.”
Gil Rogers said no matter which state wins the current case, the tri-state water wars will continue. Alabama is still a party to the dispute, specifically through its appeal of the 2017 decision by the Army Corps of Engineers that led to last month’s agreement with Georgia over Lake Lanier.
Ultimately, the solution lies outside the courtroom in cooperative water management among the states, Gil Rogers said.
“Until the states agree on some kind of commission or authority to look after the health of the system, we’ll have ongoing litigation,” he said. “[But] it will be interesting to see how this decision changes the dynamic among the three states.”
COVID-19 vaccine mass sites to open in Georgia with website for appointments
Georgia officials have launched a new website to pre-register for COVID-19 vaccine appointments and are poised to open four mass vaccination sites in different parts of the state, Gov. Brian Kemp announced Thursday.
The governor’s update came as more than 1.6 million vaccines have been given to eligible Georgians so far, including roughly 500,000 second doses, according to state Department of Public Health data.
The new website, myvaccinegeorgia.com, allows Georgians to pre-register for a vaccine appointment even if they do not yet qualify under the governor’s eligibility criteria. They will be notified once they qualify and scheduled for an appointment.
Kemp said on Thursday he is not yet ready to expand who is eligible in Georgia for the vaccine beyond health-care workers, nursing home residents and staff, first responders and people age 65 and older – but that he may do so in the next couple of weeks.
The four mass vaccination sites in metro Atlanta, Clarkesville, Macon and Albany will open Monday and initially administer around 22,000 vaccines per week between them, Kemp said. Those sites can gear up quickly to handle more doses once the federal government allocates more weekly shipments, he added.
“These four sites will serve as the first step in a vaccination effort that we hope will dramatically ramp up in the coming months,” Kemp said at a news conference at the state Capitol.
Georgia is currently receiving shipments of 198,000 vaccine doses per week, up from 120,000 doses the state had been getting in recent weeks. While officials have made a dent in vaccinating people, Kemp stressed demand for shots still lags far behind the state’s current and foreseeable supply.
The supply limits have kept Kemp from adding Georgia school teachers and other staff to the list of vaccine-eligible people, despite loud cries from many teachers particularly in metro Atlanta who have pressed the governor to move them up the line.
On Thursday, Kemp detailed results from a survey he said the state Department of Education recently conducted showing less than half of about 171,000 responding teachers and school staff would not take the vaccine. The governor said the survey will influence when he opens vaccines up for teachers.
“It certainly will factor into our decision,” Kemp said. “But it also shows that demand there was not as much as people thought.”
Dr. Kathleen Toomey, the state’s public-health commissioner, said staff in some hospitals and nursing homes outside of metro Atlanta – as well as many Georgians from predominantly Black and Latino communities – are still reluctant or unwilling to take the vaccine.
“This is not a case of vaccine access,” Toomey said Thursday. “It’s a case of vaccine hesitancy.”
She added state officials are “doing everything we can” to work with local leaders, churches and other groups to boost vaccine acceptance rates in under-served areas, while eying Georgia teachers for vaccines “soon”.
In the meantime, pre-registering for vaccines now will help state officials overseeing the mass-vaccination sites more easily ramp up distribution once larger dose shipments arrive, said Georgia Homeland Security Director Chris Stallings.
“We can make a significant dent in the list of [eligible] people who need support,” Stallings said.
The four mass-vaccination sites will be open Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the following locations:
♦ Delta Flight Museum: 1220 Woolman Place SW, Hapeville, GA 30354
♦ Habersham County Fairgrounds: 4235 Toccoa Highway, Clarkesville, GA 30523
♦ Macon Farmers Market: 2055 Eisenhower Parkway, Macon, GA 31206
♦ Albany branch of the Georgia Forestry Commission: 2910 Newton Road, Albany, GA 31701
Street racing in Georgia targeted in crackdown General Assembly bill
Illegal street racing in Georgia faces toughened penalties and repeat offenders could have their cars confiscated under legislation pushed by Gov. Brian Kemp.
The measure would criminalize anyone in Georgia who organizes, promotes or participates in street racing, also called drag racing. City and state officials in Atlanta have long complained of rampant street races in the city and are seeking to crack down.
“Our streets, highways and parking lots have become a free-for-all speedway for criminals,” Kemp said at a news conference Friday to unveil the bill.
It aims to “toughen penalties for offenders, hold those who promote these activities accountable and keep our streets safe through modernizing our code to include these popular activities that put Georgians in harm’s way,” Kemp said.
Under the bill, speedsters would have their driver’s licenses suspended for at least a year depending on how many times they have been caught racing. They would also be slapped with fines ranging from $750 to $5,000, as well as face possible prison time.
Anyone convicted of street racing more than once within a 10-year period would have their vehicle confiscated or be forced to transfer the auto title to another family member if it is a transportation mode a family depends on to avoid financial ruin.
State Rep. Josh Bonner, R-Fayetteville, who is one of Kemp’s floor leaders, is sponsoring the bill. It has a good chance of passing due to the governor’s backing and since it is similar to a separate measure aimed at punishing street racing brought by Democratic state Sen. Emanuel Jones, D-Decatur.
Kemp framed the street-racing bill as another piece of his criminal justice policies that include crackdowns on gangs and human trafficking. His administration has secured legislation and funding for police to hunt gangs and traffickers since Kemp took office in 2019.
“This legislation will help us build on that commitment,” the governor said.
Absentee-voting restriction bills advance in Georgia State Senate
ATLANTA — Bills aimed at scrapping Georgia’s no-excuse absentee voting law and to increase identification requirements to vote by mail advanced in the Georgia Senate Wednesday.
The four bills, which passed by party-line votes out of two separate Senate Ethics Committee subcommittees, marked the first push by top Republican state lawmakers to move a slate of election bills focused on changes to absentee voting.
The most far-reaching measure would halt registered Georgia voters’ ability to vote by mail without providing a reason, ending a practice widely used in the 2020 election cycle by millions of voters wary of exposure to COVID-19 at in-person polling places.
Another bill that passed Wednesday seeks to boost voter ID requirements for requesting and casting absentee ballots, marking changes favored by top-ranking Georgia Republicans including Gov. Brian Kemp and House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge.
The bill would require registered voters to provide their date of birth, driver’s license number or other ID card number to request an absentee ballot, overhauling the state’s current system of verifying voter signatures on absentee request forms and ballot envelopes.
Two other measures that cleared Wednesday’s subcommittees would create a new state elections supervisor in charge of training local elections officials and restrict mobile polling places for use only when regular voting sites have lost power or been damaged.
The four bills now head to the full committee for consideration before potentially reaching the Senate floor.
The proposals address many claims former President Trump and his allies made following the 2020 elections of widespread voter fraud that state officials and federal courts rejected as baseless. Trump lost the Nov. 3 election in Georgia to President Biden by 11,779 votes.
Republican lawmakers have called many of the proposed changes necessary to restore voter confidence in the state’s election system and rein in mail-in voting after local elections officials complained they were overwhelmed during the 2020 cycle.
Their push to overhaul the absentee-voting process has been condemned by Democratic lawmakers who have framed the bills as attempts at voter suppression seeking to halt the momentum Democrats have built in recent elections.
Democratic lawmakers also slammed Republican state senators for holding Wednesday’s two subcommittee hearings at 7 a.m. – an unusually early hour for hearings in Georgia legislative sessions – and for not broadcasting the hearings via live-stream video for the public to watch.
“Clearly, we are trying to hide something from the public, the people we answer to,” state Sen. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta, said. “This gamesmanship is unacceptable.”
Subcommittee hearings in the state Senate “are not typically streamed unless we have approval from leadership,” said Andrew Allison, director of the Senate Press Office, which is in charge of broadcasting meetings during the session.
The Georgia Senate Republican Caucus also stressed subcommittee meetings are not live-streamed, though the state House of Representatives does broadcast live video of subcommittee meetings.
The Republican caucus punched back at Democrats, saying their complaints “misrepresent election integrity efforts” and bashing the Georgia Senate Democratic Caucus for soliciting donations in a message on Twitter criticizing the election bills.
“Ethics complaints are being considered,” the Republican caucus said.
Citizen's arrests in Georgia to face limits in General Assembly bill
ATLANTA – State officials unveiled details of a bipartisan bill Tuesday aimed at revising Georgia’s citizen’s arrest law to limit who can detain someone suspected of a crime.
The first major criminal-justice measure proposed in the 2021 legislative session, sponsored by Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta, would repeal a current Georgia law that broadly allows private citizens to detain someone who commits a crime in their presence or during an escape attempt.
It would still allow owners and employees in businesses including restaurants, as well as security guards and out-of-jurisdiction police officers, to detain those believed to have committed a crime on their property – so long as they’re handed over to local authorities within an hour.
The proposed changes would not affect the state’s stand-your-ground law or any other legal protections for Georgians who seek to reasonably defend themselves from crimes committed against themselves or others, officials stressed at a news conference Tuesday.
“Our bill to overhaul the citizen’s arrest statute is a balanced approach to protecting the lives and livelihoods of ourselves, our friends [and] our neighbors, while also preventing rogue vigilante-ism from threatening the security and God-given potential of all Georgians,” said Gov. Brian Kemp.
Kemp, joined by more than a dozen top state lawmakers from both parties, called the state’s current Civil War-era citizen’s arrest law “an antiquated law that is ripe for abuse.”
He said the bill stems from the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man who was jogging in a neighborhood outside Brunswick on Feb. 23, 2020, when two white men who suspected him of robbing a nearby home under construction shot him dead while trying to detain him.
The two men, Travis and Gregory McMichael, were arrested months later after protests over police brutality and racial injustice swept across the country and drew attention to the lack of action in the case by coastal Georgia authorities. They have pleaded not guilty, citing the citizen’s arrest law.
Anger over Arbery’s death and protests over the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minnesota on May 25, 2020, convinced a bipartisan slate of Georgia lawmakers last June to pass legislation outlawing hate crimes in the state. The citizen’s arrest bill follows up on that measure, Kemp said.
“Like the anti-hate crimes legislation, reforming Georgia’s citizen’s arrest statute is first and foremost about who we are as a state,” Kemp said Tuesday. “In Georgia, we value lives … regardless of race, creed or culture.”
The bill comes as Democratic lawmakers push a wide-ranging package of criminal-justice reform proposals including bans on certain police tactics like no-knock warrants and chokeholds, citizen-led oversight of inquiries into officer-involved shootings and stronger standards for use-of-force training.
Republican lawmakers have taken a less-expansive approach to criminal justice this session, so far filing bills to ease employment challenges for people on probation and carrying out Kemp’s priority to crack down harder on human trafficking.
So far, Reeves’ measure on citizen’s arrests faces the best odds for passing in the Republican-controlled General Assembly, despite wariness by some Democratic leaders to accept the proposed legal protections for business owners to detain suspected criminals.
Rep. Calvin Smyre, D-Columbus, who is the legislature’s longest-serving member, sought to quell concerns from within his party Tuesday by assuring the bill has backing from criminal-justice advocates and has elicited “excitement” from Arbery’s family.
“I think we’re on pretty good footing,” Smyre said after the news conference. “We assured the [Arbery] family and those in Brunswick that citizen’s arrest would be our next move. … It would have been an abdication of our responsibility if we had not touched citizen’s arrest early on in this legislative session.”
The bill also has support from James Woodall, the president of Georgia’s chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, saying he “fully endorses” Reeves’ measure.
“We urge members of both parties and in both chambers to do the same,” Woodall said.
Bill to block defunding police advances in Georgia State House
ATLANTA — A bill aimed at preventing Georgia city and county governments from making deep cuts in the budgets of their local police agencies advanced in the Georgia House of Representatives Tuesday.
Sponsored by state Rep. Houston Gaines, R-Athens, the bill would limit local governments from reducing funds for police by more than 5% over a 10-year span. It includes exemptions for smaller jurisdictions and for spending on equipment purchases.
Gaines highlighted recent failed attempts by some Athens and Atlanta elected officials to slice millions of dollars from their police budgets amid protests over police brutality and racial injustice that swept across Georgia and the country last summer.
“These efforts are underway in our state and certainly something I think we need to fight against,” Gaines said. “We all recognize that supporting law enforcement is of the utmost importance and, in my opinion, the most important role that our local governments have.”
Gaines’ bill cleared the House Governmental Affairs General Government Subcommittee on a party-line vote. It heads to the full committee for another vote before potentially moving to the House floor.
The bill comes after last summer’s protests following high-profile killings of Black men by police officers, including the deaths of George Floyd in Minnesota and Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta.
Property destruction and violence at some of those protests sparked a backlash from conservative leaders over a push by some progressive officials to curb police funding, dubbed “defund the police.” The subject took center stage as an issue for both political parties in the 2020 election cycle.
Opposition to the bill came Tuesday from the Georgia Municipal Association and the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, which represent city and county governments. Decisions on police funding should be left to local officials, said Todd Edwards, ACCG’s deputy legislative director.
“Police power is one of our inherent or supplemental powers under the constitution,” Edwards said. “We’d like to maintain our flexibility to fund and manage police forces how our local elected officials – those accountable to the public – feel is the best use of taxpayer dollars.”
Georgia set to distribute COVID-19 rental relief
ATLANTA – The state will distribute more than $552 million in federal coronavirus relief aid to landlords and tenants affected by the pandemic, Gov. Brian Kemp announced Friday.
“The effects of COVID-19 have hit many Georgians hard financially,” Kemp said in a prepared statement. “In addition to protecting lives, we have to protect livelihoods so that Georgians can continue to have economic opportunity. I am pleased to be able to provide this rental relief to renters and landlords who have been impacted the most.”
The state Department of Community Affairs will administer the program under U.S. Treasury guidelines that are still being developed. The money will go directly to landlords and utilities.
In general, households that qualify for unemployment benefits or have suffered a reduction in household income or other financial hardship due to the pandemic will be eligible for assistance.
Those at risk of homelessness or housing instability also will qualify for the program.
Georgians with household incomes at or below 80% of the Area Median Income (AMI) will be eligible, while those below 50% of AMI will be given priority, as will people who have been unemployed for 90 days or longer.
Payments generally may not exceed 12 months, but some households may qualify for 15 months under certain circumstances.
The agency expects to launch a public application portal to the program next month. For more information on the program, click on www.GeorgiaRentalAssistance.ga.gov.
A federal eviction moratorium now in place has been extended until March 31. As a result, no one should be evicted solely for non-payment of rent at least until that date.
Legalizing horse racing discussed in Georgia Senate committee
ATLANTA — Legalizing pari-mutuel betting on horse racing in Georgia would generate commercial investment and create jobs without using tax dollars, state Sen. Brandon Beach told a Senate committee.
Beach, R-Alpharetta, pitched a proposed constitutional amendment calling for a statewide referendum on horse racing and a separate bill specifying how the industry would operate in Georgia at a hearing held by the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee. Bringing horse racing to Georgia would produce an economic impact of more than $1 billion a year, not only from racetracks but from breeding racehorses, Beach said.
“When we first got into the movie business, a lot of people thought we weren’t going to be successful,” he said. “I think we can do the same thing in the equine industry.”
The difference, Beach said, is that horse racing can operate in Georgia without state subsidies like the large tax credit the state has provided for the past dozen years to lure film and TV productions to the Peach State.
“It’s all private investment,” he said. “We’re not going to have any public investment in this.”
The legislation calls for the construction of up to three mixed-use developments featuring a racetrack, hotels and restaurants. The facilities also could include convention space, entertainment venues and retail shopping.
One of the racetrack complexes would have to be located within 50 miles of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and require an investment of at least $250 million. The other two facilities would be outside the metro region and require a smaller investment of at least $125 million.
Portions of the betting proceeds would go toward education, health care, rural development and to efforts to address problem gambling and promote the horse racing and breeding industries in Georgia.
Horse racing would generate revenue from three sources: pari-mutuel betting during at least 60 days of live racing, betting on simulcast races conducted at tracks in other locations, and betting on historic racing machines, similar to slot machines, located at the racetracks.
Beach said the historical racing machines at tracks in Kentucky generated $700 million in 2017 and nearly $1.4 billion in 2018.
“There’s a lot of money in these historical racing machines,” he said.
Several committee members questioned whether racetracks could operate successfully in Georgia without casinos, pointing to examples of racetracks that have struggled financially without them. Beach said members of the Georgia Horse Racing Coalition, which supports legalizing pari-mutuel betting on horse racing, have assured him racetracks can make a go of it without casinos.
Sen. David Lucas, D-Macon, expressed concern that requiring racetracks to be at least 125 miles apart would disqualify Macon, which is closer than that to Hartsfield-Jackson. Beach responded that he would be willing to amend those distance numbers in the bill.
The legislation also drew criticism from representatives of religious groups.
Mike Griffin of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board said legalized gambling doesn’t make economic sense. He cited a study showing that every $1 in gambling revenue generates $3 in social costs including gambling addiction and family bankruptcies.
Paul Smith of Citizen Impact, a network of pastors, used a slippery-slope argument.
“Once we get horse racing, it’s hard to argue we won’t get the next type of gambling,” he said. “It will be difficult to do one without the other.”
Opposition to legalized gambling among church congregations has played a large part in sinking past efforts in the General Assembly to approve casino gambling and horse racing. But Beach cited polls showing strong support for legalizing horse racing in Georgia.
“I don’t think anybody’s going lose a primary or general election letting voters decide whether to allow pari-mutuel betting on horse racing,” he assured his Senate colleagues. “There’s nothing to be scared of.”
Georgia State Senate committee passes standard time-only bill
ATLANTA — Georgia would observe standard time all year long under legislation that cleared a state Senate committee Wednesday.
Senate Bill 100 would do away with the current practice of switching back and forth between standard time and daylight saving time every six months.
“Most people want to stay on the same time all year,” Sen. Ben Watson, R-Savannah, the bill’s chief sponsor, told members of the Senate Government Oversight Committee.
Watson cited studies that point to an increase in heart attacks during the two weeks in spring following the switch from standard to daylight time.
On the other hand, judges have been found to mete out harsher sentences to criminal defendants immediately following the switch from daylight to standard time in the fall, he said.
“It interferes with our sleep … for about a one- to two-week period every fall and spring,” he said.
Watson said his bill calls for going on standard time permanently only because federal law prohibits states from unilaterally going on daylight saving time all year.
He said most people would rather be on daylight time permanently if given the choice.
As a result, he has amended his original bill to provide that Georgia would observe standard time all year until Congress acts to allow states to switch to daylight time permanently. If and when that happens, the substitute version of the legislation the committee approved on Wednesday would move Georgia to daylight time all year.
Before the vote, freshman Sen. Kim Jackson, D-Stone Mountain, said going on standard time permanently could hurt businesses in Georgia. Earlier sunsets would lead to fewer daylight hours during the evenings for shoppers, she said.
“I’m concerned this would have a significant economic impact, particularly in the summer,” Jackson said.
But Watson, who is a physician, said he’s heard from trauma surgeons who worry that later sunrises during the winter if Georgia goes on daylight time permanently would increase the risk of children being hit by cars on their way to school.
Watson’s bill isn’t the only one before the General Assembly dealing with time. The House State Planning and Community Affairs Committee approved legislation sponsored by Rep. Wes Cantrell, R-Woodstock, last month calling for Georgia to observe daylight saving time all year.
‘Express lane’ children’s Medicaid bill clears Georgia State House
ATLANTA - The Georgia House of Representatives unanimously passed legislation Tuesday that would make it easier to enroll low-income children in Medicaid.
Under House Bill 163, children in families that are eligible for food stamps could be enrolled in Georgia’s Medicaid program automatically rather than having to go through the normal application process.
“For many families, this is difficult,” said state Rep. Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta, chairman of the House Health and Human Services Committee and the bill’s chief sponsor. “They don’t have computers, they live in South Georgia where there’s no internet, or don’t have a car to go to the DFCS [Division of Family and Children Services] office.
“We have children today who are eligible for Medicaid but aren’t getting it because of this glitch.”
If it becomes law, the “express lane” bill would allow an estimated 60,000 additional Medicaid-eligible Georgia children to enroll in the joint state-federal health coverage program, according to the nonprofit advocacy group Georgians for a Healthy Future.
Cosponsors of the bill include Reps. Houston Gaines, R-Athens; Katie Dempsey, R-Rome; Spencer Frye, D-Athens; Eddie Lumsden, R-Armuchee , and Mesha Mainor, D-Atlanta.
The legislation now moves to the Georgia Senate.
Georgia State House passes parental leave measure
ATLANTA — State employees and Georgia teachers would be able to take up to three weeks of paid parental leave under legislation the state House of Representatives passed overwhelmingly Tuesday.
The bill, which passed 155-2, would apply to parents following the birth of a child of their own, an adopted child or a foster-care placement.
The House passed the same bill last March, shortly before the General Assembly was forced to take a three-month break because of the coronavirus pandemic.
When lawmakers returned to the Capitol, the state Senate essentially gutted the bill and swapped in a different measure reducing legislators’ salaries in a bid to cut costs because of the pandemic. When the House refused to go along with the change, the bill died.
“This is something [former] President Trump and Ivanka Trump led on at the national level,” Rep. Houston Gaines, R-Athens, the legislation’s chief sponsor, told his House colleagues Tuesday. “This is a positive step forward for the state.”
The legislation is a priority of House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, who instituted a parental leave policy for House employees two years ago.
The bill’s cosponsors include House Speaker Pro Tempore Jan Jones, R-Milton, and Reps. Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta; Marcus Wiedower, R-Watkinsville; Bonnie Rich, R-Suwanee and Terry England, R-Auburn.
The legislation now moves to the Georgia Senate.
Gov. Brian Kemp signs $26.5B mid-year state budget
ATLANTA – Gov. Brian Kemp signed a $26.5 billion mid-year budget Monday that restores $2.2 billion in spending cuts the General Assembly imposed on state agencies last June due to the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
During a brief signing ceremony, Kemp noted the early reopening of Georgia businesses forced to shut down by the virus allowed the legislature to adopt the fiscal 2021 mid-year spending plan last week with no new cuts and no furloughs or layoffs of state employees.
“Thanks to our measured reopening and strong fiscal management, Georgia weathered the storm,” he said. “This balanced budget sets our state on a clear path to recovery in the coming months.”
The governor’s original mid-year budget plan called for $1,000 bonuses to Georgia teachers and other school workers saddled with the responsibilities of delivering online instruction to students stuck at home during the pandemic.
Later, as the spending plan went through the General Assembly, lawmakers ordered up the same bonuses for about 57,000 state workers earning less than $80,000 per year, and the University System of Georgia extended the bonuses to income-eligible employees of the state’s public colleges and universities.
The mid-year budget also includes $20 million to extend broadband connectivity in rural Georgia, $1 million in marketing funds to help bring back a state tourism industry rocked by COVID-19 and $289,000 to help the Grady Regional Coordinating Center continue its vital mission of coordinating emergency room use during the pandemic.
The General Assembly moved quickly to complete work on the mid-year budget in order to have state spending commitments through June 30 in place in case the virus forced a temporary shutdown in the legislative session, as happened for three months last year.
With the mid-year budget delivered and signed, lawmakers will focus next on the $27.2 billion fiscal 2022 state budget, now before the Georgia House of Representatives.
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