Tom Kirby, a Republican from Loganville, represents portions of Barrow, Gwinnett, Rockdale and Walton counties in the state House of Representatives.

The Georgia House of Representatives reconvened under the Gold Dome on March 1 for the eighth week of the 2021 legislative session.

In preparation for “Crossover Day” on March 8, the House designated two days last week as official committee workdays, and we spent three long days in session as we passed meaningful legislation, including the state budget for the next fiscal year.

We recently learned that our final day of session, or “Sine Die,” will be on March 31 and, as such, this final month of the legislative session will be our busiest and most crucial time at the state Capitol.

Fiscal year 2022 budget

With our priorities set on keeping Georgians safe and healthy, we passed House Bill 81, the Fiscal Year 2022 budget. This comprehensive budget covers July 1, 2021, through June 30, 2022, and is set at $27.2 billion, which is an increase of $1.34 billion, or 5.2%, over the current fiscal year budget.

Nearly 90% of this new funding in the FY 2022 budget would go toward education and health and human services agencies. Education is the largest single expenditure in the state’s budget, totaling $10.2 billion, and we were excited to restore 60%, or $567 million, of the reductions made to K-12 education funding formulas in the FY 2021 budget.

Additionally, the House’s version of the budget infused funds for expanded mental health core and crisis intervention services, rate increases for health and human service providers, access to health care and salary increases for critical positions. Specifically, HB 81 adds more than $58.5 million for the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, including $2.7 million to provide addictive disease services to an additional 2,100 people; $6.5 million to provide mental health services to an additional 5,200 people; $12.3 million for a rate increase for intellectual and developmental disability providers; $7 million for a first-in-the-nation behavioral health crisis center for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities; $2 million to expand the Georgia Apex Program in 59 additional schools as well as additional funding for suicide prevention training in schools as well as a youth suicide prevention specialist; as well as additional funding for the 988 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, suicide prevention services and one suicide epidemiologist.

This budget also recognizes $39.5 million for the new Rural Innovation Fund and $10 million to establish a broadband infrastructure grant program for rural communities.

Due to a new excise tax for the ride-share industry, HB 81 also recognizes $7.63 million in new revenue for transit projects across the state.

After HB 81 was passed on Friday, it was immediately sent to our counterparts in the Senate, who will begin reviewing and making their own changes before the FY 2022 budget is finalized.

Tax cuts and new jobs

The House passed a handful of bills to cut taxes and spur economic recovery for businesses and create new jobs across our state. We unanimously passed HB 593, or the Tax Relief Act of 2021, to cut income taxes during the tax year 2022 by increasing the standard deduction for taxpayers that are single and heads of household to $5,400 from $4,600 and increasing the standard deduction for a married couple filing jointly to $7,100 from $6,000. The standard deduction for those who are married but file individually would increase to $3,550 from $3,000. HB 593 would save Georgia taxpayers about $140 million in this time of need and allow taxpayers to keep more of their hard-earned money.

Further, we overwhelmingly passed HB 586, the Georgia Economic Recovery Act of 2021, to extend a number of sales tax exemptions for manufacturing and other businesses. HB 586 includes the extensions of sales tax exemptions for projects of regional significance and for supplies in select manufacturing industries. It also exempts tickets for fine arts performances from sales taxes to bolster an industry that has been devastated by COVID-19.

HB 587, or the Georgia Economic Renewal Act of 2021, also passed overwhelmingly in the House to attract certain businesses to our state. This bill would make multiple amendments to Georgia’s income tax laws, including a tax credit to incentivize manufacturers of medical equipment to locate and create jobs in Georgia and an additional tax credit to attract high-impact aerospace defense projects to our state.

Next, we adopted House Resolution 185 to reauthorize the House Rural Development Council, which is charged with finding ways to spur economic growth and bring jobs specifically to rural Georgia, for the remainder of the 2021-22 legislative session. To further assist rural Georgia communities, we passed HB 32, which would seek to recruit and retain 1,000 Georgia teachers to 100 extremely rural or low-performing schools by offering a refundable income tax credit of $3,000 for certified teachers for up to five years. HB 32 would be available to teachers who work in a high-need subject area at a rural school or at a school that performed in the lowest 5% of schools. With these legislative measures, Georgia could continue to lead the way in economic recovery efforts with policies that bolster job creation, while also lowering taxes for residents and businesses across the state.

Monitoring devices in nursing homes

On Friday, we approved HB 605 to protect vulnerable Georgians by allowing electronic monitoring devices, such security cameras, to be installed in residential rooms of skilled nursing facilities, intermediate care homes, assisted living communities or personal care homes.

If a resident in one of these facilities has a roommate, this bill would require consent from the roommate to install a monitoring device, and if the roommate refuses to consent, then the facility would be required to relocate the resident when able to a comparable room. This legislation would also allow residents to arrange for internet access through an outside service provider for these monitoring devices or obtain written approval from the facility to use its local network. These facilities would also be required to post signage at the entrance of a resident’s room to notify that the room has an electronic monitoring device in place.

HB 605 would protect a resident’s privacy and rights to keep recordings confidential, and it would prohibit a facility from discriminating against residents who wish to use these devices. This bill would address cases of elder abuse and give family members who have loved ones in these facilities some peace of mind that their loved ones are given the best care, especially since many families have been separated due to COVID-19.

Toxic coal ash ponds

The House also passed legislation to oversee the handling of toxic coal ash disposal in Georgia. HB 647 would require companies that manage coal combustion residual surface impoundments, also known as toxic coal ash ponds, to conduct post-closure care at the site for at least 50 years after it is closed. Under HB 647, post-closure care would include maintaining the final cover system and ground-water monitoring system and monitoring of ground water. The Environmental Protection Division would inspect these toxic coal ash ponds annually during the closure process and at least once every five years following the closure, and any groundwater monitoring report would be required to contain a detailed executive summary that is easy for the public to understand.

HB 647 would provide critical accountability to mitigate and prevent future neglect of coal ash waste disposal, which has been found to impact the health of Georgia citizens.

Key legislation

The House also passed the following bills and resolutions on the House floor this week:

  • HB 44, which would allow Georgia to observe daylight savings time year-round if it is first authorized by the U.S. Congress;
  • HB 94, which would designate a new felony crime when a person possesses stolen mail addressed to three or more different addresses and possesses a minimum of 10 separate pieces of stolen mail; the bill would also designate a new felony crime for “porch piracy” when a person takes or removes any envelope, bag, package or other sealed item of another person from that person’s porch, steps or entranceway without that person’s permission;
  • HB 124, which would allow crematories to use aquamation by creating a new definition for “cremation device” and expand the current references to a “retort” to also include vats and containers in which cremation occurs by traditional flame, alkaline hydrolysis or other approved means;
  • HB 248, which would allow the local governing body of the city or county whose law enforcement agency is authorized to enforce speed limits to apply for school zone speed enforcement camera permits rather than have each school apply;
  • HB 303, which would provide active-duty military service members with private motor vehicle insurance a reduction in the premium for motor vehicle liability, first-party medical and collision coverage for each named driver listed on the policy application;
  • HB 328, which would establish a one-time right of way permit fee, reduce the annual right of way fee that is paid to cities by telephone companies that do not have retail and would end user customers located within the city limits;
  • HB 333, the Ethics in Government Act of 2021, which would make several changes regarding the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission’s operations and authority, as well as update requirements for utilizing campaign funds;
  • HB 334, which would authorize remote online notaries and remote online notarizations;
  • HB 369, which would expand the eligibility as to who can issue an affidavit to authorize a motor vehicle disability parking permit by including advanced practice registered nurses and physician assistants;
  • HB 371, which would allow judges to conduct hearings in civil cases via telephone or video conference, excluding criminal trials;
  • HB 451, which would allow a taxpayer that claimed the finished goods inventory exemption for the 2020 tax year to have the option for the 2021 tax year to claim the exemption using the fair market value of finished goods as of Jan. 1, 2020, or Jan. 1, 2021;
  • HB 459, which would prohibit certain municipalities from annexing any territory that includes a county-operated airport unless the county government adopts a resolution approving such annexation;
  • HB 476, which would create the Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors Act of 2021 to rename the State Board of Registration for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors to the Georgia Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors Board; and the bill would update education requirements for engineers, structural engineers and land surveyors;
  • HB 480, which would establish liens for labor, services or materials performed or furnished by registered interior decorators;
  • HB 511, which would dedicate specific fees by general law for 10 years and create the framework to segregate the collections for each fee dedicated in this manner as a unique trust fund earning interest within the office of the treasurer;
  • HB 531, which would make several changes to Georgia’s voting laws, such as requiring a photo ID, driver’s license number or state ID card number to request and submit an absentee ballot; requiring that drop boxes be placed inside early voting locations and are actively monitored and only accessible during voting hours; banning mobile polling locations, out-of-precinct voting, private funding for elections, and securing precinct locations; and requiring shorter timelines for processing absentee ballots and certifying results; and
  • HB 606, which would include the Georgia Independent School Association in the list of accepted accrediting agencies in order to establish HOPE eligibility for private high schools.

Monday, we made our way back to the Capitol for Crossover Day, which is typically one of the longest days of the legislative session and the final day that a bill can pass the chamber in which it originated.

After Crossover Day, we will shift our focus and consider Senate bills that have already received passage in the Senate. I encourage you to reach out with any questions or concerns you may have for me. You can contact my Capitol office at 404-656-0177, or you may reach me directly at tom.kirby@house.ga.gov.

As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your state representative for House District 114.

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