ATLANTA (AP) — The Georgia General Assembly convenes today for its 2024 regular session, and all eyes are on whether Republicans will support a further expansion of health care for low-income adults under the state’s Medicaid program. House Speaker Jon Burns expressed interest in the idea, while Lieutenant Governor Burt Jones said he is open to considering it. Governor Brian Kemp, a Republican, has advocated for a more limited expansion of coverage. With last year’s unfinished business still on the table, this legislative term could see swift action on bills that came close to passing. Educational vouchers are expected to be prioritized for resolution.
As this year also marks an election year for representatives and senators, lawmakers may pursue measures that appeal to their supporters and win them votes. With the state’s coffers flush, there is potential for further pay increases for public employees and teachers, as well as a push for additional income tax cuts by Republicans.
Among the top issues likely to arise during the 40-day session are discussions around lawsuit limits. Governor Kemp aims to make it harder for people to file lawsuits and receive large legal judgments. Caps on noneconomic damages were implemented in 2005, but the state Supreme Court ruled them unconstitutional in 2010. Commercial property owners, apartment owners, and the trucking industry are among the groups advocating for limits on lawsuits.
Election law is another contentious subject after years of ongoing debates in Georgia. Partisans may introduce measures clarifying the State Election Board’s legal authority to investigate Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s handling of post-election audits following President Joe Biden’s victory in 2020. Some lawmakers questioning the election results are seeking a bill to review paper ballots and investigate claims of counterfeit ballots. Secretary Raffensperger has requested funds to allow voters to verify their ballots’ computer codes, while others propose outlawing the use of codes or reintroducing manual ballot marking.
Senate Republicans plan to propose a bill that eliminates the Georgia Supreme Court’s requirement to approve rules for a commission to discipline and remove state prosecutors. This comes in response to the court’s ruling that it lacks the authority to do so, resulting in the commission not being operational. Some Republicans want the commission to take action against Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis for indicting former President Donald Trump. Critics argue that these measures aim to control prosecutors and create a bias favoring prosecution, while supporters argue that district attorneys have an obligation to prosecute.
A bill to define antisemitism in Georgia law faced delays in 2023 due to debates over the exact wording. Strong Republican support for Israel amid its conflict with Hamas, coupled with increasing pressure, has renewed calls for a definition. Supporters believe that a definition would aid in identifying hate crimes and illegal discrimination against Jewish people, while critics warn it could limit freedom of speech, particularly regarding criticism of Israel. Evangelical Christian leaders have encouraged Georgia lawmakers to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism.
Mental health advocates anticipate a focus on increasing funding for raising wages, payments to service providers, and the availability of crisis beds. Legislative action may also be necessary to address the backlog of pretrial mental health evaluations for individuals accused of crimes.
In the realm of social media, Georgia might join other states in requiring parental permission for children under 18 to create social media accounts. Efforts to implement such restrictions have faced legal challenges in other states. Additionally, there are debates surrounding the impact of threats and other social media activity on schools’ functionality.
As the Georgia General Assembly begins its 2024 session, the primary focus is on potential Republican support for expanding health care for low-income adults under Medicaid. Other key issues expected to be debated include lawsuit limits, election law, prosecutor discipline, defining antisemitism, mental health, and social media restrictions for minors. The outcome of these discussions will shape the legislative priorities and policies for the state in the coming year.