On the Thursday, March 30 edition of Georgia Today: Yesterday was the final day of the 2023 Georgia legislative session.  Today we will detail new regulations and some failed legislation. 


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Orlando Montoya: Welcome to the Georgia Today podcast from GPB News. Today is Thursday, March 30. I'm Orlando Montoya. On today's episode, Sine Die has come and gone. We'll tell you what bills did and did not advance on the final day of the 2023 legislative session. Electric car owners might soon be paying more for their vehicles under newly passed legislation. Plus, the home of the Masters is hosting a women's tournament this week. Those stories and more coming up on this edition of Georgia Today.



Story 1

Orlando Montoya: State lawmakers ended their 2023 legislative session late last night, giving final passage to a number of bills while leaving others behind. The House and Senate both passed a $32 billion state budget pushed through in the Senate by Appropriations Chairman Vidalia Republican Blake Tillery.

Blake Tillery: I bring to this body the conference committee report to House Bill 19: the state's FY 24 general appropriations budgets 34 — $32.4 billion. It funds every agency from this body, the Legislature, to veterans at the end and the services that we provide for our veterans.

Orlando Montoya: The budget that begins in July includes full tuition for all college students receiving a HOPE scholarship, but it cuts $66 million from the University System of Georgia. It also includes pay raises for state employees, public school teachers and law enforcement officers. Lawmakers from both chambers did not agree on a bill to require cash bail for more crimes, and it failed to pass. In a lengthy debate, some Democrats, including Lawrenceville state Rep. Gregg Kennard, argued the bill puts privilege over justice.

Gregg Kennard: In our current criminal system, you're treated better if you're rich and guilty than if you're poor and innocent. Therefore, wealth, not culpability, is turning our — is impacting our justice outcomes.

Orlando Montoya: Other closely watched measures that did not pass include a bill to improve mental health care and a bill to offer vouchers to children attending low-performing public schools. In the House, Speaker Jon Burns adjourned the chamber shortly after midnight.

Jon Burns: On the motion of adjourning, this house stands adjourned. Sine die.

Orlando Montoya: Going to the governor's desk are many of his priorities, including a pair of billion-dollar income tax breaks, the full funding for HOPE scholarship recipients and the pay raises for state employees and teachers. The Senate also passed legislation to stiffen penalties for gang crimes, a measure sought by Kemp. Senate Bill 44 adds a mandatory five years to prison sentences for anyone convicted of a gang crime and 10 years for anyone convicted of recruiting minors into a gang. Gov. Brian Kemp told GPB's Lawmakers that he didn't have to weigh in on a lot during the 40-day session.

Brian Kemp: We really had an agenda that a lot of people on both sides of the aisle could get behind, and we didn't have to, you know, so-called flex our muscles too much.



Story 2

Orlando Montoya: Some Kemp supported bills failed to pass, however, including a bill to offer private school tuition vouchers to children attending low performing public schools. A bill to increase funding for mental health failed in the legislature as well. But advocates say they're still hopeful, given its bipartisan support groups. GPB's Ellen Eldridge has that story.

Ellen Eldridge: HB 520 included funding for supportive housing treatment and county-based mental health coordinators to work with police. But since this is Year 1 of a two-year legislative session, it could return in 2024. Jeff Breedlove with the Georgia Council for Recovery called the bill delayed, not dead, and says they will continue to work on its passage.

Jeff Breedlove: And it may not be the exact outcome that many folks were looking for. But the good news for my community is that we are moving the ball forward. We are addressing the broken system.

Ellen Eldridge: The bill passed the House earlier in the session but never made it to the Senate floor. Opponents cited its potential price tag. For GPB News, I'm Ellen Eldridge.


Rep. Marcus Wiedower, R-Watkinsville, votes yea for HB 493 in the House chambers during crossover day at the Georgia State Capitol on Monday, March 6, 2023, in Atlanta.

Rep. Marcus Wiedower, R-Watkinsville, votes yea for HB 493 in the House chambers during crossover day at the Georgia State Capitol on Monday, March 6, 2023, in Atlanta.

Credit: AP Photo/Alex Slitz

Story 3

Orlando Montoya: Even though HB 520 failed on the final working day of the legislative session, state lawmakers in the House were successful in a last-minute attempt to salvage part of it. GPB's Sofi Gratas reports.

Sofi Gratas: House Bill 520, filed largely with bipartisan support, would have clarified definitions for people with behavioral health needs and secured funding for mental health services. A Senate health committee postponed a vote on the bill last week, and it never made it to the floor. Lt. Gov. Burt Jones told PBS's lawmakers on Wednesday that the proposed $72 million price tag on the bill was just too high for a Senate agreement. In an effort to pass part of the bill, House lawmakers presented an amendment on Wednesday to existing legislation, Senate Bill 23. The amendment secures data sharing and analysis between state agencies and the Office of Planning and Budget. That can help with future policymaking in areas like public and behavioral health. SB 23 also repeals inactive commissions and councils. It passed 48 to 1. For GPB News, I'm Sofi Gratas.



Story 4

Orlando Montoya: And after rounds of updates, the Georgia House and Senate have agreed on the latest electric vehicle regulation bill and sent it to Gov. Brian Kemp to sign. GPB's Amanda Andrews has more.

Amanda Andrews: The last major change to the bill was setting the new rate for a new tax on charging your car. That's 2.84 cents per kilowatt hour charged for the average driver. That could mean a tax of $100 or more on top of the over $200 annual registration fee Georgia electric vehicle owners already pay. That's prompted complaints from EV owners like Bette Holland. Holland is a member of the Club of North Georgia, and she says this new tax is unfair.

Bette Holland: Because you're trying to build the electric vehicle industry in Georgia. And here they are double-taxing people for the privilege of using an electric vehicle.

Amanda Andrews: Once Gov. Kemp signs the bill, the new tax will go into effect Jan. 1, 2025. For GPB News, I'm Amanda Andrews.



Story 5

Orlando Montoya: Now we've been telling you about a number of closely watched bills, but among the bills going to the governor's desk that did not receive a lot of attention this year. One might interest fans of two popular water sports. GPB's Benjamin Payne reports.

Benjamin Payne: The bill would prohibit wakeboarding and wake surfing within 200 feet of a shoreline or an idle boat. It would also outlaw the sport between sunset and sunrise. Republican state Sen. John Kennedy spoke in favor of the bill's passage.

John Kennedy: It's a lot of fun, but the problem is the large wakes that are being created are causing property damages, is causing damages to boats, is causing damages and safety issues, and it's causing some advanced erosion issues in the lakes around our state.

Benjamin Payne: There are some exceptions to the bill. It doesn't apply to privately owned lakes, nor to a narrow band of inland water channels west of the Atlantic Ocean, known as the Intracoastal Waterway. The bill would bring Georgia in line with neighboring South Carolina and Tennessee, which already have similar laws on the books. It now heads to Gov. Brian Kemp. For GPB News, I'm Benjamin Payne.



Story 6

Orlando Montoya: The 2023 Augusta National Women's Amateur began yesterday. Seventy-two of the world's top amateur golfers are competing in Augusta. World No. 1 and Stanford sophomore Rose Zhang opened with a 66 and has a one-shot lead over Andrea Lignell of Sweden, a senior at Mississippi. The second round continues today at Champion's Retreat. Final Round is Saturday at Augusta National Golf Club, the home of the Masters tournament, which begins next week.

And that's it for today's edition of Georgia Today. If you haven't yet hit subscribe on the podcast, take a moment to do it now and keep us current in your feed. And if you have feedback, let us know. We're always open to hear suggestions. You can email us at GeorgiaToday@GPB.org. I'm Orlando Montoya. Pleased to be with you today. I'll talk to you tomorrow.


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