2024 legislative session hits midpoint this week

Georgia’s 2024 legislative session hits its midpoint this week. As usual, the second half will be far more active and intense than the first. But let’s pause to consider how this session has already defied expectations.

Tort reform: The biggest news to drop so far – and it isn’t even close – was Gov. Brian Kemp’s decision not to pursue a tort reform package this year that he’d begun talking about late last summer. A sprawling coalition of industry groups stood ready to push for long-sought restrictions on trial lawyers, who have turned Georgia into America’s worst “judicial hellhole” according to the American Tort Reform Association.

State senators have pressed forward with a more limited bill to bring Georgia into the mainstream regarding lawsuits involving truck drivers, and good luck to them. But the House has long been the more skeptical chamber on this issue, and a full-court press by the governor was likely needed to persuade members to adopt legislation with any real ambition. 

Medicaid expansion: In the weeks before the session began, Atlanta-based media began breathlessly reporting that Republicans were changing their spots on this issue. Call it “Medicaid expansion” or, like some folks, insist it’s technically not “Medicaid expansion.” Either way, the rumored approach would result in a vast increase in the number of Georgians receiving health insurance through Medicaid, at a cost of billions of taxpayer dollars per year.

Except, we have nothing to call it because there is no “it” just yet. 

Early on, House Speaker Jon Burns declared himself “encouraged that we’re looking at the facts that surround (Medicaid) expansion.” Numerous members of his GOP caucus buzzed about the rumors in those days, alarmed at the prospect of their party flip-flopping on the issue. Yet, a month later, no such expansion has been proposed.

There is, of course, still plenty of time for one to emerge. But such a political sea change merits more discussion, not less discussion. It requires more time for members to mull a multibillion-dollar expansion of the welfare state, not less time. It demands more attention given to the unintended consequences for current recipients, not less attention.

Hold on tight. This one probably isn’t over yet.

Workforce development: Talk to any employer about the challenges they face, and workforce is bound to be the first word to pass their lips. People who hire need people who want to work, and the labor market remains tight and competitive.

Making sure Georgia is producing as many capable workers as possible has been one legislative effort. One Senate bill would enhance the transferability of course credits among institutions in the University System of Georgia and the Technical College System of Georgia.

The House also proposed a bill to streamline and align the state’s many career-education programs to make sure they aren’t at odds with one another. Crucially, that bill would also require a return-on-investment analysis of these programs to make sure they’re working effectively. For example, a recent Georgia Public Policy Foundation report found that data and metrics for Georgia’s popular college and career academies lack the consistency and quality needed for taxpayers and policymakers to draw reliable conclusions about the schools. 

More controversially, the Senate recently approved a bill to bar companies that receive state economic development incentives from denying workers a secret ballot in votes to unionize. The bill doesn’t make it harder to unionize; it simply says a company can’t try to grease the skids toward unionization if it’s taking taxpayer money. 

One of Georgia’s more underrated advantages in economic development is its labor-market flexibility. Georgia has the tenth-lowest unionization rate in the nation, according to Americans for Tax Reform, but we’re middle of the pack within the Southeast. Preserving flexibility and dynamism in our labor market is key if we’re to continue growing and expanding economic opportunity to more Georgians.

Seven weeks remain in this session until the final gavel. Stay tuned.

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