Wednesday August 10th, 2022 10:50AM

Frantic finish to the 2022 legislative session

By Jonathan O'Brien Anchor/Reporter

Georgia lawmakers worked past the traditional midnight deadline on the final day of the 2022 legislative session and, in the process, rammed through several significant measures. 

"This House is adjourned Sine Die!" are the words the antsy chamber was ready to hear from House Speaker David Ralston. When it finally came at about 12:15 a.m., it marked the quick finish to a day that took a while to get started. 

Legislators successfully ushered through two priorities Gov. Kemp wanted to see passed: limiting "divisive concepts" in Georgia schools and addressing transgender athletes in girls' sports. At the last minute, House lawmakers amended HB 1084, the so-called CRT bill, to include the creation of a committee to look into whether transgender students should play in high school sports that match their gender identity. 

"Passing this bill will be inconsistent with the theme of what we have adopted in the house this year, and that is promoting mental health for Georgians," said Rep. Matthew Wilson, D-Brookhaven.

Smyrna Democrat Stacey Evans said the amendment flies in the face of the Republicans' "parents know what is best for their kids," mantra that was ever-present this session. 

Ultimately, the House changes were passed, and the senate adopted them. Brushing off criticism that there wasn't enough time for lawmakers to read the amendment, Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller told AccessWDUN, "if they're on top of their game if they're keeping up with their business, they knew what they were voting for." 

Even though a conference committee hammered out the details of the 2023 budget Monday morning, the House waited to vote on it until the session's final hour. 

The $30.2 billion measure maintains the pay raises included in the midyear budget—$2,000 for teachers and $5,000 for other state employees. Appropriations Committee Chair Sen. Blake Tillery, R-Vidalia, warned senators that the 2024 budget might look different. 

"The storm clouds are on the horizon concerning economic conditions, and we need to know that and be honest with our constituents as we approach the next 12 months," he said.

Lawmakers sent a bill to Gov. Kemp's desk that bars state agencies and local governments from mandating COVID-19 vaccines; this includes public colleges and schools but not hospitals. 

A rewritten bill lowering the state's income tax got final passage. The compromise brings the tax rate down from 5.75% to 4.99% by 2029. 

Legislation legalizing raw milk for human consumption is also heading to the Governor after it passed 110 to 55 in the House. The law mandates the product include a label "Warning: This is a raw milk product that is not pasteurized and may increase the risk of foodborne illness." The legislation would take effect in July 2023 and wouldn't allow the sale in retail stores. 

Legislators approved a bill to give the Georgia Bureau of Investigations the power to investigate election fraud allegations. Under SB 441, the GBI would have the right to launch inquiries without a request from local jurisdictions. 

Read more about what passed and failed from our partners at the Associated Press here

A day of celebration and goodbyes

Surrounded by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, Gov. Brian Kemp signed HB 1013, overhauling mental healthcare in Georgia. 

"The provisions of House Bill 1013 will lift this state out of the basement on mental health care," said House Speaker David Ralston. "It is not the end, just the end of the beginning. There is still work to be done."

The law enforces federal standards that insurance companies cover mental care like physical care. It also grants student loan forgiveness for mental health providers working in underserved parts of the state.

"Today, we take the next step, a monumental step toward a Georgia where every person receives the help they need to fight and overcome whatever personal trials they may face today; we make sure that they do not fight alone," Gov. Kemp said.

Rep. Calvin Smyre, Dean of the Georgia House, bid farewell to state lawmakers today after 48 years in the lower chamber. 

"I'm going to miss you, my dear brother," said House Minority Leader James Beverly. 

House Speaker David Ralston called Smyre "one of the greatest that's ever walked through these halls." Ralston described him as "a calming influence on the waters when the storms were raging around us." 

Lawmakers greeted Smyre with thunderous applause and later presented him with a portrait that will hang in the Capitol. 

"After 48 years of serving in this chamber, I will not be returning to this hallowed chamber for another legislative session," Smyre said while fighting back tears. 

After the session, Smyre told members of the press corps he was glad he could see the session through. "I really needed to finish here, and I needed to go out right," he said. 

The Columbus Democrat will now go through the confirmation process to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic. 

  • Associated Categories: Homepage, Local/State News
  • Associated Tags: general assembly, State legislature, Georgia politics
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