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By: Allan J. Hayes
The Georgia General Assembly will convene on January 8, 2018 and adjourn after 40 legislative days (usually the end of March). With 2018 being an election year, there is likely to be as much politicking, positioning and posturing as there is legislating during the second half of the 2017-2018 cycle. All statewide elected officials and all seats in the state House and State Senate are up for election in 2018. This generally means that no sweeping new policies will be passed this year.
Governor Deal (R) is term-limited, so the race for the office is open. Lt. Governor Cagle (R) is running for governor, so that office will be open as well. Many current and former legislators are campaigning to replace the Governor and the Lt. Governor, so both chambers are expected to adjourn early so everyone can campaign for their respective office.
But, as Speaker Ralston recently told a group of us, “regardless of elections, the people’s work must get done. And we will stay until it is finished.” This governor and legislature have worked well together in the past, and will likely work together on legislation that include the following (not in order of importance).
Every session, the most scrutinized piece of legislation is the state budget. According to the Georgia Constitution, it is the only issue the General Assembly must address each year. An increase in state revenue means lawmakers will have additional money to use in the 2018 fiscal year. At least some of that new money will go into education, which represents about half of the state budget. The health program for state employees and Medicaid are also likely to receive additional funds. And Lieutenant Governor Cagle wants the state to invest $100 million into venture capital for tech companies, a program he calls “Invest Georgia.” The state will also do what is necessary to continue funding of the Savannah Harbor Deepening Project.
The legislature will also consider spending for new rural development ideas like relocation tax incentives, rural broadband and healthcare funds to fight the opioid epidemic. Other healthcare related priorities include addressing rising health insurance premiums, including exploring association health plans and promoting the selling of insurance across state lines. Out-of-Network “Surprise Billing” or Balance Billing prohibitions is another major issue that will be tackled this session. The department of insurance may pursue ACA 1332 State Innovation Waivers to cover more Georgians and health insurance issues like air ambulance payments, cost-sharing Limits for prescription drugs, health insurance network adequacy standards, and medical marijuana will also be discussed.
The very contentious Religious Freedom Restoration Act has come up in each of the last two sessions of the legislature. Even with legislative leaders declaring it a “non-starter,” it will likely receive attention in the halls, if not on the floor. Last year a bill to modernize Georgia’s adoption laws which included the religious liberty provision was stalled. Legislative leaders have vowed to pass a “clean” adoption bill this year and the Governor has said he will sign it. Additionally, there will be a bill introduced that would restrict local governments ability to ban short term residential rentals like Airbnb.
Another holdover from the 2017 session is Marsy’s Law, a proposed Constitutional Amendment securing permanent, enforceable rights for victims of crime. It passed the Senate and will be addressed in the House in 2018. Georgia’s certificate of need law for healthcare provider facilities is also a likely topic for debate. The Cancer Treatment Center of America is limited to 50 beds and a cap on in-state patients of 35 percent at their Georgia hospital and they support legislation to raise the 35 percent cap.
Finally, lawmakers are expected to debate two separate proposals that would boost pay for police and legislators. The Georgia Sheriffs’ Association is backing a one-cent sales tax to help fund a new mandatory minimum salary for deputy sheriffs and jailers, and legislators would see a 72 percent increase to their salaries under a proposal by a committee created earlier this year to review compensation for elected officials.
If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Allan J. Hayes at [email protected].