Relief for new parents, protections for renters and distinction for cornbread

House speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones is sponsoring a bill to double the amount of parental time leave for state workers. (Credit: Georgia House).

Georgia lawmakers spent week six of the legislative session fashioning bills that would double leave time for parents, provide more protections for renters and make cornbread the official state bread. 

In the House

More parental leave. The House passed HB 1010, which would increase state employees’ paid parental leave to six weeks from three following the birth, adoption or foster care placement of a child in their home. Sponsored by Rep. Jan Jones, R-Milton, the House speaker pro tem, the bill would cover more than 300,000 state workers, including 170,000 teachers. 

“This would provide a low-cost, high-value benefit to help recruit and retain employees and tangibly demonstrates our respect and support for them at a most significant and life-changing time in their lives,” Jones said.

Several Democrats praised the bill, including Marietta Rep. Solomon Adesanya, who said several studies have shown that length of paid leave is crucial for infant and maternal health and is linked to decreased postpartum depression in mothers and fathers. 

Rep. Jasmine Clark, D-Lilburn, said the bill is “momentum in the right direction” because “the gold standard for parental leave is 12 weeks.” Because most child care centers don’t accept infants younger than 6 weeks, Clark said, the bill also addresses an important societal need.  

The bill passed by a vote of 153-11 and moves on to the Senate for consideration.

Maternal and infant health commission. The House unanimously passed HB 1037 to create the Georgia Commission on Maternal and Infant Health. The commission would seek input from perinatal facilities, health care providers and other professionals on the state of perinatal care in Georgia, review current scientific and medical recommendations for care of infants and mothers, and submit statewide policy recommendations by June 30, 2026.

Rep. Lauren Daniel, D-Locust Grove, the bill’s sponsor, noted the U.S. has seen a rise in maternal health issues such as heart disease, cardiomyopathy, pre-eclampsia, embolism, gestational diabetes and mental health conditions, which “can lead to consequential health issues in infants.” The bill passed 160-0 and moves on to the Senate.

More career readiness for teens. The House passed House Bill 282, which would require schools to offer a minimum course of study in career readiness education for students in grades six through 12. Such coursework would include training experiences focused on employability, career exploration and work-based learning programs such as internships and apprenticeships. 

Rep. Mesha Mainor, D-Atlanta (Credit: Georgia House)

Sponsored by Rep. Mesha Mainor, R-Atlanta, the bill says students would be better prepared to enter the workforce and succeed in their chosen careers by participating in such programs and learning more about “professionalism; problem solving and resiliency; effective communication; time management and efficiency; and collaboration, teamwork, and leadership competencies in the workplace.” It passed 165-0 and moves on to the Senate.

In the Senate

Cornbread made in Georgia. (Credit: @d3adstories)

Georgia’s official state bread? The Senate is considering a House-passed bill that would make cornbread the official state bread. House Bill 1048 states that “cornbread enjoys a singular stature in Georgia history and culture that is rivaled only by its undeniable appeal as a versatile and satisfying food. Establishing cornbread as the official Georgia state bread is necessary to fully recognize the importance of this product to this state.” The bill was read in the Senate and referred to its Economic Development and Tourism committee.

Limiting tort reform. The Senate passed Senate Bill 426, which would limit a plaintiff’s ability in lawsuits against commercial truckers to sue the trucking firm’s insurance carrier directly. The “direct action” legislation is a tort reform priority of Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, who presides over the Senate.

Property tax relief. Local governments would be prohibited from raising residential property assessments more than 3% a year under Senate Bill 349 which cleared the Senate Thursday in a vote of 42-7. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome.

Legalized sports betting. A proposed constitutional amendment — a necessary component — allowing Georgians to vote on whether to legalize sports betting in the state cleared a Senate committee this week. Roughly 80% of the tax revenue derived from sports betting would go toward Georgia’s HOPE Scholarship and pre-K programs. The Senate Regulated Industries Committee unanimously passed the bipartisan measure, Senate Resolution 579, Tuesday.

Protections for renters. The Senate Judiciary Committee passed HB 404, a bill to increase tenant protections. Called the Safe at Home Act, the bill would require landlords to provide rental units that are “fit for human habitation,” though it does not define what that means. The bill, which has been amended since it stalled in the same committee last year, also provides tenants who are behind on rent a three-day grace period before their landlords may file for eviction, caps security deposits at two months’ worth of rent and does not allow landlords to turn off utilities for cooling before an eviction action. The bill now goes to the full Senate for consideration.  

Removing remnants of the pandemic. Under a new bill, businesses and health facilities would no longer have to display warning requirements regarding COVID-19. Senate Bill 430, sponsored by Sen. Greg Dolezal, R-Cumming, unanimously passed the Senate on Thursday. The bill would eliminate certain warning requirements on health care facilities, health care providers, entities and individuals related to COVID-19 liability claims. The bill now heads to the House. 

Sen. Billy Hickman, R-Statesboro. (Credit: Georgia Senate)

Preserving dwindling farmland. The Senate adopted 47-1 a resolution Thursday to create a study committee on preserving farmland. Georgia has lost 2.6 million acres of farmland and timberland to development, resolution sponsor Sen. Billy Hickman, R-Statesboro, told his peers. Farmland is renting for about $100 an acre and selling for about $25,000 an acre, an alluring proposition for cash-strapped families. The seven-member study committee will include four farmers and will take up the issue this summer, focusing on farmland and timberland preservation, industry expansion and water protection, Hickman said.

Other legislative updates 

Enacted bill: Gov. Brian Kemp signed legislation this week that will give Gwinnett County voters the chance to decide if they want Mulberry to become Gwinnett’s 17th city. A vote could come as early as this spring.

New Rules chair in the House:  Speaker of the House Jon Burns, R-Newington, appointed Rep. Butch Parrish, R-Swainsboro, the new Rules Committee chair in the House, filling the vacancy left by Rep. Richard Smith, who died Jan. 30. 

The Rules Committee oversees the flow of legislation from passage in committee and serves in a gatekeeping role to decide which bills should be debated and voted on the House floor.

Parrish said he was honored to be chosen, adding, “Throughout my time in the House, I have strived to bring an open mind, focus on the facts and deliver results for my constituents and the people of Georgia — and that’s what I intend to continue to do as Rules chairman. I can only hope to live up to the legacy that my good friend Chairman Richard Smith left on the Rules Committee and build on the tremendous work that he accomplished here.” 

This week’s legislative activities have created a hankering for cornbread. Here’s a cornbread recipe shared by our editor-in-chief and food aficionado, Alison Bethel. If you’ve got a great cornbread recipe, we’d love for you to share it with us. 

Have questions? Contact Jill Jordan Sieder on X @journalistajill or at [email protected] and Tammy Joyner on X @lvjoyner or at [email protected].

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