The Georgia General Assembly’s legislative session closed on Friday, June 26, 2020. Our GPHA Legislative liaison Scott Maxwell provided a summary and a tracking list of bills in this legislative report:
Here are some excerpts from the report:
The Georgia General Assembly was gavelled into adjournment sine die at 10:16 p.m. Friday evening, bringing to a close a 40-day legislative session spread out over nearly a six-month period. Lawmakers were interrupted by a three-month COVID-avoidance break, which overlapped with days of street protests resulting from the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta, and Ahmaud Arbrey in Brunswick. These events not only impacted the daily work environment for legislators, they were directly responsible for shaping legislation that passed before the final gavel.
The economic shock of the Coronavirus pandemic caused state revenues to plummet and resulted in a $2.2 billion (nearly 10%) reduction to the state’s budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Georgia was one of only four states in the nation without a hate-crimes law on the books, and the high-profile deaths and subsequent protests pushed legislators to finish work on a stalled bill that originally passed the House in 2019.
The 2020 session was the second half of a two-year term, thus any bills introduced since January 2019 that did not pass the House and Senate must start the process over next year. The Governor has 40 days (August 1) in which to sign or veto bills that cleared both chambers, or such legislation becomes law without his signature.
Budget Cuts Deep, but Less than Feared
Make no mistake, cutting $2.2 billion out of Georgia’s $27.5 billion budget is going to cause some economic pain. However, early assessments of a 14% cut were reduced to an average of about 10%. This enabled budget writers to avoid mandating furloughs for any state employees, although currently vacant positions were eliminated in many agencies.
Vaping Products Taxed, Cigarettes Dodge Increase
Advocates for significantly increasing the excise tax on cigarettes were disappointed yet another year, but were able to establish a 7% excise tax on the wholesale price of vapor products and devices. In addition, the legal age to buy cigarettes and vaping products was raised to 21 and the purchaser, sales clerk and retail owner can be penalized for violating the age limit. SB 375 (Mullis-R) also requires a vapor vendor to obtain a license, which can be forfeited for violation of state laws concerning the sale of “alternative nicotine products,” defined as any consumable product with nicotine but no tobacco leaf.