Session Update: Week Nine

Dale Rutledge Legislative Session W9

On Monday, March 9, 2020, the General Assembly began Week Nine of the 2020 Legislative Session. Every year, my colleagues and I meet for 40 days to work for the betterment of Georgia. On Thursday, March 12, we reached Legislative Day 28, or “Cross Over Day.” Cross Over Day is a critical deadline in the General Assembly, as it is the last day a piece of legislation can pass out of its original chamber and remain eligible for consideration by the opposite legislative chamber. On Cross Over Day, my colleagues and I worked late into the night to pass several House bills, which will now be considered by the Senate.

An important announcement came during the ninth week of the session as Speaker of the House David Ralston and Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan decided to suspend the 2020 legislative session until further notice due to the growing threat of COVID-19 (coronavirus) across the state and country. The suspension is out of an abundance of caution for public safety. We suspended the legislative session indefinitely after we adjourned for Legislative Day 29 on Friday, March 13.

Before we suspended the legislative session, the House passed the most critical piece of legislation of the session, House Bill 793, which is the Fiscal Year 2021 (FY 2021) budget. The FY 2021 budget is at a revenue estimate of $28.1 billion. HB 793 demonstrates the House’s ongoing support of expanded mental health care and crisis intervention services, access to quality health care, and restoring grants for county health departments and public libraries. It also includes the reinstatement of funds to ensure a fully-functioning criminal justice system, including adequate funding for public defenders, accountability courts, and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) crime labs. 

This week, the House also passed House Bill 1114, which would allow the Department of Community Health (DCH) to pursue a Medicaid waiver to extend postpartum health care coverage for mothers for a period of up to six months following birth. Under the bill, the DCH could also submit a Medicaid waiver to provide coverage for lactation care and services for new mothers who are trying or struggling to breastfeed their babies. 

We also passed legislation this week to provide paid parental leave to all of Georgia’s state employees as their families grow. House Bill 1094 will provide approximately 246,000 state employees with three weeks, or 120 hours, of paid leave upon the birth, adoption, or foster care placement of a child. The paid parental leave benefit would apply to state employees with six months of creditable service regardless of the employee’s gender. It would be limited to once in any 12 months, and this benefit will not impact the employee’s accrued leave or rights under any family medical leave policy.         

The House also passed legislation this week to reform and lower personal income taxes for Georgians. House Bill 949 will reduce Georgia’s personal income tax to a flat rate of 5.375 percent. The corporate tax rate, already a flat tax, would remain at 5.75 percent. HB 949 will also institute a new Georgia Income Tax Credit for working families to offset the flattening of the tax brackets.         

My colleagues and I also passed legislation to strengthen the state’s adoption laws to continue to place more foster children in their forever homes. House Bill 913 would reduce the statutory age at which a person is allowed to petition for adoption from 25 to 21 years old, enabling more families to adopt children in our state.. Additionally, HB 913 would allow adoptive parents to file a civil cause of action to address adoption scams when individuals deliberately misrepresent a pregnancy or intention to place a child for adoption when the individual is not pregnant or has no intention of placing a child for adoption.           

To address recent concerns over ethylene oxide leaks in some Georgia communities, we passed a bill this week that seeks to protect Georgia citizens from the dangers of being exposed to this known carcinogen. House Bill 927 would require any permittee of operation or facility that utilizes ethylene oxide in our state to report a spill or release of any amount of this gas to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) within 24-hours of discovery, and the EPD would be required to make this report available to the public on the division’s website.         

On Cross Over Day, we adopted a conference committee report that gave final passage to the Amended Fiscal Year 2020 budget, or House Bill 792. During the 2019 legislative session, the original Fiscal Year 2020 (FY 2020) budget was set by a revenue estimate of $27.5 billion. When Gov. Kemp first released his budget recommendations at the beginning of the 2020 legislative session, he adjusted the state revenue estimate for Amended Fiscal Year 2020 (AFY 2020) down to $27.3 billion. The Conference Committee Report on the AFY 2020 budget includes several of the House’s funding priorities including:

Add $132.8 million for the midterm enrollment adjustment for education

Restore $1.3 million for our libraries and archives

Fund $4 million for our criminal justice reform

Add $8.2 million for new access to Georgians in need of a crisis with the Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Disabilities 

Restore $6.4 million for public health grants to counties

Increase of $100 million from the Revenue Shortfall Reserve for the Governor’s Emergency Fund for the Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Add $5 million to rural hospitals to prepare for the spread of COVID-19

From Day One to now, I presented two bills that passed in the House and are now being considered in the Senate. The following bills include:

House Bill 854, which would require counties, municipalities and consolidated governments to treat fence detection systems, in all matters, as alarm systems

House Bill 1102, which would create the “Revised Homestead Option Sales and Use Tax Act of 2020” (RHOST) to allow voters of a county, where a homestead option sales and use tax (HOST) is already in place, to file a petition with the county election superintendent to replace the current HOST with an RHOST

Each week, you can return to my blog to read updates on what the General Assembly is working on for the State of Georgia. You are always welcome to visit me at my capitol office located at 601-C Coverdell Legislative Office Bldg. Atlanta, GA 30334. You can view my committee assignments for the legislative term here. Please feel free to contact me by phone at 404.656.0254, or by email at dale.rutledge@house.ga.gov. Don’t hesitate to reach out throughout the legislative session with any opinions or questions you may have.

I look forward to hearing from you!

Below, I’ve listed out leaders from both chambers. You can click through each of their names to find more information about them.

House:

Speaker of the House: David Ralston

Speaker Pro Tempore: Jan Jones

Majority Leader: Jon Burns

Majority Whip: Trey Kelley

Majority Caucus Chair: Matt Hatchett

Majority Caucus Vice-Chair: Micah Gravley

Minority Leader: Robert Trammell

Minority Whip: William Boddie

Minority Caucus Chair: James Beverly

Minority Caucus Vice-Chair: Erica Thomas

Senate:

President Pro Tempore: Butch Miller

Majority Leader: Mike Dugan

Majority Whip: Steve Gooch

Majority Caucus Chair: John Kennedy

Majority Caucus Vice-Chair: Larry Walker

Minority Leader: Steve Henson

Minority Whip: Harold Jones

Minority Caucus Chair: Gloria Butler

Minority Caucus Vice-Chair: Emanuel Jones