• Commentary

A Mixed-Bag Legislative Session, With More Changes to Come

The 2022 legislative session marks the end of a legislative era in some ways, with potentially even more change fully realized once lawmakers convene again in January 2023. 

This of course is an election year, with campaign stops and fundraising for incumbents already ramping up this week upon adjournment. 

Each of the state’s constitutional offices will be on the ballot this fall, including open seats for Lieutenant Governor, Agriculture Commissioner and Labor Commissioner. 

The composition of the General Assembly will also experience change. Each seat in the House and Senate will not only be up for election, but this will be the first election cycle since the decennial redistricting process. 

As the Gold Dome Report observed, “there are 37 Representatives retiring from their seats with 88 incumbents in contested elections. The 37 who are leaving have a combined 341 years of service. On the Senate side, 10 Senators are retiring from their seats with 26 incumbents in contested elections. The 10 leaving the Senate have a combined 94 years of service.”

And that’s only the change we know for certain. 

Speaking of change, Georgians will see additional revenue in their pockets after HB 1437 was passed to lower the state’s tax code. This bill underwent multiple changes along the way to passage on the last day of the session. 

The version which initially passed the House would have lowered the income tax to a flat 5.25% and eliminated almost all itemized deductions. The Senate Finance Committee passed a revised bill that would have gradually implemented the flat tax by 2032. It also capped the Film Tax Credit at $900 million, an addition that didn’t even survive the process to the Senate floor vote.  

Ultimately, the bill which passed both chambers and now awaits the Governor’s signature will drop the income tax rate from 5.75% to 4.99% by 2029. It also phases in a standard exemption on married couples that will reach $24,000 by 2030; the standard exemption for single filers is $12,000 and will go into effect in 2024. 

Lowering the income tax rate is undoubtedly a positive step to keep Georgia economically competitive with neighboring states. 

Unfortunately, efforts to increase choice in healthcare and education failed once again.

Despite high profile attention on education policy this session, legislation that would have created Promise Scholarships for students failed in both chambers, albeit in their own unique way.

HB 60 became the focus of national attention after a mailer targeted state representatives reportedly on the fence about the legislation. Ultimately, House Speaker David Ralston announced it would not be brought up for a floor vote. The Senate effort to revive this bill didn’t fare much better, when the basic concept reappeared as SB 601 and failed on a floor vote during Crossover Day. 

One bright spot however was the increase of the state’s cap on tax credits from $100 million to $120 million for student scholarship organizations. 

In health policy, HB 1547 was a positive step that would have repealed the state’s Certificate of Need (CON) system, which effectively grants hospitals a monopoly. Unfortunately, after passing out of committee the bill was not brought up for a vote in the House. 

Even a less ambitious bill that would have repealed the CON process only for rural communities failed to gain any traction. After being voted down in committee in the House, the language from HB 1403 re-emerged as part of a different bill in the Senate, where it also failed to receive a vote on the Senate floor after making it out of committee. 

Heading into the session, legislation to reform the state’s delivery of mental healthcare was the stated prerogative of House Speaker David Ralston. Upon passing the House, days of spirited debate and public testimony in the Senate ensued.  After changes were made to alleviate concerns about payment parity, the bill passed both chambers unanimously.

Fittingly, one of the final pieces of legislation that passed before final adjournment was the $30.2 billion state budget, their only required piece of legislation. 

Thus, with the business of 2022 concluded, legislators were free to head home and begin the process of sharing all they accomplished and make their case for why voters should return them to the Gold Dome in 2023.