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Gold Dome

Jan. 31, 2023

Gold Dome Report – Legislative Day 10

Chairman Matt Brass (R-Newnan), clad in military flight suit, pilots the Senate Rules Committee. Photo: Georgia State Senate

The rain may have stopped Monday, but the flood (of legislation) came on Tuesday. With 93 bills and resolutions in the hoppers as legislators and lobbyists arrived this morning, it appears that the much-anticipated legislative deluge has come. The baskets outside the Clerk of the House’s office and bins in the Secretary of the Senate’s office continue to runneth over as this report comes to your inbox, and there is no slowing in sight. 

There were plenty of other sights under the Gold Dome on Legislative Day 10. Familiar faces from the past were present, including former representative Wes Cantrell, who served as Chaplain of the Day in the Senate; former Senator (and Georgia Tech alumnus) P.K. Martin; and veteran lobbyist and dear friend to many, Don Cargill. But perhaps the biggest spectacle was in the Senate Rules Committee on Tuesday. In a nod to its past chairman, retired Senator Jeff Mullis, Rules Committee members were welcomed with a musical introduction — the theme from Top Gun. Newly-appointed Rules Chairman Matt Brass (R-Newnan) capped off the intros with a theatrical entrance, complete with military flight suit and aviator sunglasses. He reminded members of ex-senator Mullis’s maxim to “take the work seriously, but not yourself.”

The House will get to work early on Wednesday with appropriations subcommittees beginning meetings at 7 a.m. to advance the Amended FY23 State Budget. The full House Appropriations Committee is then expected to sign off on the spending plan and send it for consideration on the House floor on Thursday. We’ll let you know what is in and what is out of the budget in the #GoldDomeReport.

In this Report:

  • Committee Reports
  • New Legislation
  • What’s Next

Committee Reports

House Judiciary Committee

The House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Representative Stan Gunter (R-Blairsville), met on Tuesday to consider the following measures:

  • HB 30, authored by Representative John Carson (R-Marietta), amends Title 50 to provide for a definition of antisemitism in the State Code and require state agencies and departments to consider such definition when determining whether an alleged act was motivated by discriminatory antisemitic intent. The bill adopts the working definition of antisemitism adopted by the International Holocaust  Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) on May 26, 2016.

Representative Carson presented the bill to the Committee, explaining that five other states have adopted the definition. Several Committee members expressed concern about adopting a definition in Code that is a “working definition” available only online. Representative Tyler Paul Smith (R-Bremen) suggested that the definition itself be incorporated into Code.

Mark Goldfeder of the National Jewish Advocacy Center, who drafted the model bill, spoke in favor of the bill, explaining that the bill does not criminalize anything but rather requires the use of the referenced definition in considering whether a discriminatory act was committed with antisemitic intent. He stated that the bill and definition does not implicate or restrict any First Amendment rights. Julie Katz of the American Jewish Committee, as well as several others, also spoke in support.

David Small, a member of the Atlanta Friends Meeting, spoke in opposition to the bill, expressing concern about its negative effect on freedom of speech. A representative of CARE Georgia also spoke in opposition. A number of other individuals appeared in opposition to the legislation.

In discussion among Committee members, there was continued concern, particularly from Representatives Omari Crawford (D-Decatur) and Rob Leverett (R-Elberton) about the true and extent of implications of the legislation on judicial determinations. Representative Roger Bruce (D-Atlanta) expressed confusion that legislators were being asked to adopt a definition that is not to be in the statute and moved that the Committee table the legislation. Chairman Gunter also expressed concern about the word “working” and how that might be interpreted by judges if adopted. The Committee TABLED the legislation.

  • HB 77, authored by Representative Gerald Greene (R-Cuthbert), provide for a fourth judge of the superior courts of the Dougherty Judicial Circuit.

Representative Greene presented the bill to the Committee, explaining that the Dougherty Judicial Circuit is number one on the judicial council’s list of circuits that should receive an additional judgeship. According to Representative Greene, the state funding for this judgeship has been included in the governor’s budget proposal, and the county has expressed support and commitment to provide the appropriate local supplement.

Joint House and Senate Retirement Committee

Chairman Senator Rick Williams (R-Milledgeville) called the Joint House and Senate Retirement Committee meeting to order. Chairman Williams reviewed the senate committee rules with his members and passed them. Then all committee members introduced themselves. Chairman Williams asked Executive Director Buster Evans from Georgia’s Teacher Retirement System (“TRS”) to come forward for his presentation.

Evans provided a quick history of TRS as a defined benefit plan which began roughly 70 years ago. They serve various customers, and a growing customer group is charter schools. TRS has 246,000 active contributing members which include K-12, the Board of Regents, the Technical College System of Georgia, public libraries, county extension, and charter schools. Their funding ratio is 81.3%; TRS lowered their actuarial formula for returns to 6.9%. Currently, their assets sit at $92 billion, and 80% of their assets are managed in-house. To have a solvent system, they are funded two ways by an employer contribution at 19.98% and an employee contribution rate at 6% of their payroll which is set in law. Their plan formula is based on years of creditable services, a two percent multiplier, and a two-year final average salary.

Some members inquired about 401k participation and TRS’s role. TRS does not offer 401k plans; most school districts offer these as supplements. Senator Marty Harbin (R-Tyrone) asked if environmental, social, and governance (“ESG”) factors were used in investment decisions.. Evans noted that TRS is prevented from making investments based on ESG criteria. Representative Debbie Buckner (D-Junction City) asked about the school nutrition workers, bus drivers, and other school staff being included in TRS.. Evans mentioned this would take some consideration on the part of the plan, employer, and employee.

Vice Chairman Representative Lehman Franklin (R-Statesboro) requested that all House members review the House Retirement Committee rules. After which, they were adopted.

Once questions subsided, Chairman Williams introduced Executive Director Jim Potvin from the State Employee Retirement System (“ERS”). This is the pension system for most state employees, and ERS administers five defined benefit programs. There are three benefit tiers: employees hired before 1982, the new plan for those hired between 1982-2008, and the current system or the hybrid system, also known as the Georgia State Employees’ Pension & Savings Plan (“GSEPS”), for those hired since January 1, 2008. GSEPS is technically two plans working in concert. From a financial perspective, the plans vary widely regarding funding ratios. ERS’s average annual benefit pays roughly $26,000 a year, which varies extensively over the differing groups. ERS’s private equity portfolio, which began in 2013, is capped at 5% of the portfolio's assets. From a return standpoint, since these are less liquid than the public market, ERS generally looks for returns with plus 200-300 basis points. In FY2022, the S&P 500 returned -18%, and ERS had a +5%. ERS has exceeded its returns and is pleased with its work over the last nine years. ERS has had comparisons with the S&P 500, which. Potvin felt was unfair since their portfolio is diversified, whereas theirs is just stocks. ERS includes 52,500 members and is increasing. SB 343 immediately increased the match, a dollar-for-dollar match, and employees can receive an enhanced match for those who stay with the state for more than five years.. Potvin projected stability over the next few years.

Representative Buckner asked about the likelihood of COLAs rising to three percent.. Potvin felt it would require continual state investment.

Chairman Williams and Vice Chair Lehman Franklin (R-Statesboro) adjourned the meeting.

House Public Health Committee

Chairman Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta) chairs this committee which was previously known as the Health and Human Services Committee. The committee adopted its rules for the 2023-2024 biennium, and the rules establish a quorum at 10 members for business to be conducted. The chairman had members present to briefly introduce themselves and offer a bit about their professional backgrounds. 

The Alzheimer’s Association of Georgia made a presentation to the Committee on Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia issues which now are a larger killer than breast and prostate cancer.  6 million Americans are impacted by Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia - meaning 1 in 3 seniors.  COVID-19 has also caused a 17 percent increase. By 2050, it is expected 13 million Americans will be impacted by Alzheimer's and dementia. The Committee reviewed a bit about the State’s Task Force and Adoption of a State Plan and also reviewed the Georgia Memory Net which provides assessment clinics.

Mary Lee Boatright Quinn, the Division of Aging Director, discussed more details about the state’s plan which is now in place and its work with a new plan for years 2024-2027.  “GARD” was formed in 2014 and hired its first coordinator in 2016.  The dementia-capable plan is focused on work force, public safety, expanding outreach and partnerships, and informing policy.  The Georgia Memory Net is a two-step process which commences with the patient’s visit to his/her primary care physician.  The Georgia Memory Net is a hub and spoke model with locations in Atlanta, Macon, Columbus, Augusta, and Macon.  After the visit to the primary care physician, the individual will then be referred to the local “MAC” for assessments (which are typically paid for by Medicaid or Medicare). It was noted that the Columbus “MAC” is now focused on outreach.

House Health Committee

Under the leadership of Chairman Lee Hawkins (R-Gainesville), the newly configured House Health Committee met for an organizational meeting.  The Committee, composed of 23 members, adopted its rules.  The quorum to conduct business is set at 8 members.  Chairman Hawkins noted a couple of times that this committee process with the new health committees is a work in progress, but the focus is on access and quality of healthcare.  Lawmakers will need to ask for their bills and those requests are to be made to Chairman Hawkins or his vice chair Representative Mark Newton (R-Augusta).  Chairman Hawkins stressed that not all bills will be heard and that legislation will be prioritized over the two-year cycle. Additionally, he noted that legislation will be held to presentations of 30 minutes and that presenters should not be duplicative.

Joint Senate Education and Youth and Higher Education Committee

The Senate Education and Youth and Higher Education Committees met jointly on Tuesday to hear an overview of literacy programs. Newly-appointed Chairman of the Education and Youth Committee, Senator Clint Dixon (R-Gwinnett), presided.

After the Committee introduced its members and adopted its rules for the session, State School Superintendent Richard Woods provided a literacy update from the Department of Education. Superintendent Woods explained that the Department is in the process of wrapping up revisions to its new English Language Arts Standards (which include a renewed emphasis on phonics); addressing learning loss through BOOST grants and increased access to the Georgia Virtual School; providing science-based literacy training for teachers and vision and hearing screenings for students in rural schools; and addressing dyslexia with a statewide dyslexia coordinator and updated State Board Rule to provide an intervention and screener process for districts. He also highlighted L4GA, Literacy for Learning, Living, and Leading, which combines community partnerships with research-proven instruction to achieve increased literacy outcomes and has helped nearly 9,000 more students get to reading at or above grade level.

Matt Jones, Chief of Staff at the Department of Education, discussed the State’s current performance on literacy metrics.. Jones acknowledged a substantial drop in literacy rates when Georgia switched from CRCT to Georgia Milestones, which was NAEP aligned. He pointed to Lexile scores as a better metric of literacy over time. When looking at Lexile scores, among third grade students, 73% were reading at or above grade level in 2019, down to 64% in 2022 (post-pandemic). Among fifth graders, 73% were reading at or above grade level in 2019, down to 70% in 2022.. Jones also explained that Georgia’s ACT reading and SAT reading and writing scores are both above the national average. 71% of Georgia students take the SAT.

Superintendent Woods assured the Committee that the Department is not standing still on literacy. He explained that the Department is advocating for and working toward expanding access to high-quality Pre-K programs and emphasizing the importance of kindergarten; funding for paraprofessionals in first and second grades to help provide more personalized literacy instruction; ensuring all teacher prep programs have a strong literacy focus and compensating teachers for participating in intensive, science-based training outside of the school day; and providing dedicated funding to support literacy efforts and ensuring state learning loss funding has a targeted literacy focus.

Dr. Dana Rickman, President of the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education, presented on GPEE’s “Top Ten Issues to Watch in 2023.” This year’s list is aimed at a ten-year plan to get Georgia to a place where 65% of adults have a postsecondary credential of value.

Senate Higher Education Chairman Billy Hickman (R-Statesboro) explained that the Joint Committee will plan to meet on Wednesday, next Tuesday and Wednesday, and wrap up on Wednesday, February 15, with testimony from individuals members want to invite.

Senate Regulated Industries and Public Utilities Committee

Chairman Bill Cowsert (R-Athens) and his Committee met late this afternoon to close out the day. 

Broadband expansion was top of the agenda this afternoon.. Jessica Simmons outlined the funding received from various sources (state and federal and what is expected to come).. Simmons, with the Georgia Technology Authority, shared information on the broadband availability map. Georgia now has a location level map, outlining more about services in a given census block. FCC has its own location level map but there are some accuracy issues. The focus is getting Georgia the most funds possible. The American Rescue Plan Act had $400 million which was provided in February 2022 to help serve underserved locations.  Governor Kemp also announced $234 million for unserved locations for infrastructure with projects to be completed by December 31, 2023.. Simmons mentioned the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act with $100 million allocated for Georgia’s broadband expansion but allotments have not been fully determined. There are additional funds to be awarded for digital equity and middle mile projects. The state has been approved for Digital Equity Planning Grant and Broadband Equity Access and Deployment Planning Funds.

Elizabeth Reynolds, with AT&T, shared a handout with the Committee. There still remains a need for broadband but “we are in a great place today.”  AT&T has operated in Georgia for 145 years. Today, they focus on wire line and wireless products.  . Reynolds shared AT&T’s investment story - $5 billion invested in capital (without federal grants) over the last three years in Georgia with two thirds of the investment outside of metro Atlanta. Now there is a great amount of fiber - now in the state 42 counties and 95 communities. Georgia is well ahead of many other states - some do not have address specific maps for instance. No one company can close the digital divide alone. It requires all the providers to work together. 1.5 million homes and business have access in Georgia to AT&T fiber.

Executive Director Rhonda Chatham, from GTBA, was the third speaker to talk about her 22 members work in the state. There are four cooperatives and 12 family owned and a few rural commercial businesses. Some of her members were the first to deploy broadband in the state. Serve 200,000 rural locations with 75,000 new locations which fiber to the home. The individual companies’ service territories were also shared with the Committee. The first bill to impact them was the Telecommunications Act of 1996.  SB 402 established the framework needed to allow the map. There were other bills important SB 2 (2019) and SB 17 (2019). Three members participate with EMCs. Wheeler County was accented as one of the poorest counties in the state and that work in broadband there would be beneficial to its economic growth.  Senator Matt Brass (R-Newnan) commended the work of the Association and his senate colleagues.  $4.8 million for 600 homes was a capital intensive project.

Deena Perry with Windstream provided a report - again the address level map was accented. Georgia Kinetic by Windstream has ILEC territories in 18 states. Windstream has invested $18 million. It completed, in 2022, a total of 37,739 locations with fiber. She also shared information on community launches as well as growth in its internal construction teams. More construction is expected in 2023 (another 71,000 additional locations) and 2024.

The Committee continued to meet as this report went to print.

New Legislation

The following legislation of interest has been introduced in the House:


Innocent Georgian Process Improvement Act; enact

Rep. Sandra Scott (D-076)


Police Accountability Act; enact

Rep. Sandra Scott (D-076)


Buildings and housing; comprehensive state civil rights law protecting individuals from discrimination; provide

Rep. Sandra Scott (D-076)


Uniform Civil Forfeiture Procedure Act; certain property is exempt from seizure; provide

Rep. Sandra Scott (D-076)


Uniform Civil Forfeiture Procedure Act; reporting of property seized and forfeited to the Carl Vinson Institute of Government; require

Rep. Sandra Scott (D-076)


Quality Basic Education Act; pilot program to implement student based funding recommendations of the 2015 Education Reform Commission; provide

Rep. Sandra Scott (D-076)


Ethical Policing Act; enact

Rep. Sandra Scott (D-076)


Preventing Tragedies Between Police and Communities Act; enact

Rep. Sandra Scott (D-076)


Law enforcement officers; implicit bias training; provide

Rep. Sandra Scott (D-076)


End Racial Profiling Act; enact

Rep. Sandra Scott (D-076)


Holidays and observances; revise holidays observed in Georgia

Rep. Sandra Scott (D-076)


Uniform rules of the road; procedure for passing stationary vehicles; provide

Rep. John Corbett (R-174)


Motor vehicles; standards for issuance of limited driving permits for certain offenders; provide

Rep. John Corbett (R-174)


Georgia Achieving A Better Life Experience (ABLE); governance of program by board of directors of Georgia Higher Education Savings Plan; provide

Rep. Lee Hawkins (R-027)


Sales and use tax; certain menstrual products; create exemption

Rep. Ron Stephens (R-164)


Appeal and error; judgments deemed directly appealable; change a provision

Rep. Tyler Smith (R-018)


State Board of Education; establish rules and regulations for local school system outreach efforts regarding ESOL program; require

Rep. Mesha Mainor (D-056)


Public assistance; expand temporary assistance for needy families eligibility criteria to pregnant women

Rep. Soo Hong (R-103)


Workforce Development Act; enact

Rep. Kasey Carpenter (R-004)


Crimes and offenses; establish offense of failure to adequately secure a firearm

Rep. Mary Oliver (D-082)


Penal institutions; commissioner of corrections to report certain information; require

Rep. Jesse Petrea (R-166)


Bishop's Law; enact

Rep. Clint Crowe (R-118)


Criminal procedure; restrictions of disclosure of personal information of non-sworn employees; provisions

Rep. Clint Crowe (R-118)


State employees; three-year pilot program to provide coverage for the diagnosis and treatment of certain pediatric disorders; provisions

Rep. Lee Hawkins (R-027)


Education; require local school systems to conduct suicide screenings on all students age eight through eighteen

Rep. Mesha Mainor (D-056)


Community Health, Department of; include continuous glucose monitors as a pharmacy benefit for Medicaid recipients; require

Rep. Danny Mathis (R-149)


Talley, Mr. Terry L.; compensate

Rep. Debbie Buckner (D-137)


House of Representatives; gun violence as a major public health problem and a leading cause of premature death; recognize

Rep. Sandra Scott (D-076)


House Study Committee on a State Digitization Act; create

Rep. Mesha Mainor (D-056)


General Assembly; motor fuel and diesel fuel taxes; ratify Governor Brian P. Kemp's Executive Orders

Rep. Matthew Gambill (R-015)


House of Representatives; recognize and support the commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout the great State of Georgia

Rep. Mesha Mainor (D-056)

The following legislation of interest has been introduced in the Senate:


"Georgia Hemp Farming Act"; persons convicted of any misdemeanor or certain felonies to grow industrial hemp; allow

Sen. Kim Jackson (D-041)


Firearms; unlawful possession of firearm parts; provide

Sen. Valencia Seay (D-034)


Human Trafficking Hotline Information; model notice requirements; increase the fine for failure to comply

Sen. Mike Hodges (R-003)


Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act; mandatory minimum penalties for violations; provide

Sen. Bo Hatchett (R-050)


Education; care of students being treated for epilepsy or a seizure disorder; provide

Sen. Jason Anavitarte (R-031)


Control of Sexually Transmitted Disease; physicians and healthcare providers to test all pregnant women for HIV and syphilis at the first prenatal visit, at 28–32 weeks' gestation, and at delivery; require

Sen. Chuck Hufstetler (R-052)


Offenses Against Public Health And Morals; vaping in restricted areas is a misdemeanor punishable by fine; provide

Sen. Chuck Hufstetler (R-052)


Education; local boards of education which operate a school with grades nine through 12 may provide instruction in lifeguarding and aquatic safety; provide

Sen. Max Burns (R-023)


Sales and Use Taxes; sale or use of certain menstrual products; exempt

Sen. Nabilah Islam (D-007)


Georgia Student Finance Commission; to establish participation and performance targets for the program; require

Sen. Elena Parent (D-042)

What’s Next

The General Assembly will reconvene for Legislative Day 11 on Wednesday, February 1 at 10:00AM.