The 2022 legislative session will begin on Monday, January 10, under a cloud of uncertainty: Will Kirby Smart and the Georgia Bulldogs finally defeat the Alabama Crimson Tide, and claim the program’s first national championship since 1980?
That’s no joke: The state Legislature – mandated by the state Constitution to commence on the second Monday in January of each year for a 40-day session – is expected to start early on the 10th, conduct a few procedural formalities, and then conclude the day’s activities to allow ample time for making kickoff in Indianapolis.
Once the business at hand in Lucas Oil Stadium has been concluded, and lawmakers return to the business at hand under the Gold Dome, they will face several issues in a session expected to be dominated by election-year considerations on both sides of the aisle.
Election-year sessions traditionally are good for two things. First, ambitious politicians propose legislation that is equally ambitious, but has zero chance of getting passed. Sometimes bills fail due to their own merits, or lack thereof. Other times, it’s because the legislator down the hall – who is also running for higher office – wants to kneecap legislative victories by the competition.
We might especially expect to see that this year. A handful of legislators are running for statewide office in difficult primaries, and several others are running in reconfigured districts or against fellow incumbents due to the recent redistricting.
Second, election-year sessions typically are more compressed since legislators are not allowed to raise money for their election campaigns during the session. However, this will be the first full session since a 2021 law that allows the governor, lieutenant governor and legislative leaders to raise money for political action committees during the session. It will be interesting to see whether this new wrinkle keeps the session going longer than usual.
Speaking of money, ambitious policy proposals often come with hefty price tags. And with state revenues buoyed by a record surplus, inflationary concerns will be the primary way of saying “no” to many newfound spending requests.
One previously anticipated tax cut was derailed by the onset of COVID-19 in 2020. Nearly two years later, eliminating the state income tax entirely is dominating the conversation in a number of primary campaigns. That leaves legislators with a range of tax reductions to consider if they wish to move forward. A recent Foundation study illustrated potential paths for legislators to reduce the personal income tax to a flat rate or 5%, 4% or 3%.
The healthcare landscape continues to be fragile as overwhelmed providers cope with another variant. While the state’s previously approved Medicaid waiver was revoked in December by the Biden administration, and its private health-insurance waiver is on life support, opponents will maintain their longstanding call for Medicaid expansion in their place.
Election reform consumed most of the General Assembly’s bandwidth in 2021, and early indications are that this issue could be on the docket once more despite appeals to see the recent reforms in action first. These bills could run the gamut from the procedural to the substantive, but all will be parsed and debated through the lens of political gain.
The restart of virtual schooling in some districts as COVID-19 cases rise will bring education to the forefront of many homes and likely the Gold Dome. Time will tell if general disgruntlement at the education establishment is more likely to manifest itself in legally mandated in-person learning, additional school choice programs or legislation banning Critical Race Theory in schools. Governor Kemp has already signaled he aims to make good on a campaign promise by fulfilling the remaining $2,000 portion of his $5,000 raise for teachers.
This week, the governor also announced his plan to allow Georgians to carry concealed weapons without a state permit. Expect to see that along with other legislation to expand gun rights this year, while Democratic leadership has already stated they intend to make “loud opposition” to any movement on gun issues.
As William Faulkner once observed, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Thus, expect the elections of 2018 and 2020, and the scar tissue accumulated, to hover over this session as legislators try their best to look forward while navigating recent history.