Guns, Taxes, Textbooks: Bills that Passed the Georgia Legislature in 2022
- State lawmakers moved to lower the Georgia's income tax rate and give teachers a pay raise.
- Controversial bills also passed on restricting "divisive concepts" in schools and sports participation for transgender students
- Georgia becomes the 25th "open-carry" state to allow residents to purchase firearms without a license.
Georgia’s legislative session ended late Monday with lawmakers passing hundreds of bills over a nearly three-month span. This year, the General Assembly tackled high-profile measures on guns, taxes, mental health, transgender student athletes and critical race theory.
Oh, and milk.
Here’s what you should know:
Georgians should see some relief on their tax bills from this year’s wrangling in the legislative session. Lawmakers passed a long-awaited lowering of the state income tax rate, from the current 5.75% to 5.49% in 2024, then gradually down to 4.99% by 2029.
More immediately, lawmakers backed Gov. Brian Kemp in passing a one-time tax refund ranging from $250 to $500 for full-time Georgia residents filing taxes this year.
Lawmakers in the Georgia House of Representatives celebrate ending the 2022 legislative session by tossing paper copies of bills at the State Capitol in Atlanta on April 5, 2022. (Credit: Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon for State Affairs)
What taxpayers do pay this year will go toward the state’s $30 billion budget, which includes a permanent $5,000 pay raise for tens of thousands of state government workers and a $7,000 raise for police guards and juvenile-detention officers. Those raises aim to help curb high turnover among state workers.
Passing a balanced budget is the one and only thing state lawmakers legally must do each session under Georgia’s constitution.
Along with state government workers, the new budget also green-lights a $2,000 raise for Georgia’s roughly 118,000 public k-12 teachers, plus a $1,000 one-time bonus for COVID-19 relief.
A bevy of bills pushed by Republican lawmakers would mirror moves made in over a dozen other states to ban “critical race theory” (CRT) as well as ease the ability to restrict or ban educational materials deemed “obscene”.
Modeled after similar legislation first passed in Florida, the Kemp-endorsed “Parental Bill of Rights” states that parents have the right to review all classroom materials and curricula, opt-out of sex education, and have the right to object to their child’s image being used without consent. While these rights already exist, the Parental Bill of Rights forces local school districts to codify a process for parents to object to classroom materials they don’t like.
Lawmakers in the Georgia House of Representatives watch vote counting on a measure related to sports participation for transgender students in the closing hours of the 2022 legislative session on April 4, 2022. (Credit: Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon for State Affairs)
The bill passed along with another GOP-backed measure that bans the teaching of “divisive concepts” including that “the United States of America is fundamentally racist” or that an individual, due to their race, should “feel anguish, guilt, or any other form of psychological distress.”
That bill also included a highly controversial requirement potentially allowing Georgia high-school athletics officials to "prohibit students whose gender is male from participating in athletic events that are designated for students whose gender is female." Critics say the prohibition discriminates against transgender students, and federal court cases so far have upheld the rights of trans athletes to participate in school sports.
A third bill which failed to pass last year but now seems set to become law, would place a ban on materials deemed “harmful to minors,” which it defines as “that quality of description or representation, in whatever form, of nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, or sadomasochistic abuse, when it:
- Taken as a whole, predominantly appeals to the prurient, shameful, or morbid interest of minors;
- Is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community as a whole with respect to what is suitable material for minors;
- Is, when taken as a whole, lacking in serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors.”
Opponents of these measures are concerned they will only worsen tensions between teachers and parents amid an escalating culture war over how U.S. history, gender and sexuality is taught and discussed in classrooms. Civil liberties groups like the ACLU as well as students, teachers and librarians across the state have voiced opposition to these measures and warned they will open the door to book bans and other forms of censorship.
Proponents say the bills ensure parents have control of their children’s education, and that the bills are intended to “protect” children and prevent them from “hating America.”
Health & Hospitals
Every session in the General Assembly comes with a high-profile bill that convinces lawmakers from both parties to set aside political differences and get behind it. This year, it was the Mental Health Parity Act.
Sponsored by Georgia House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge), the bill expands mental-care coverage for millions of Georgians in a bid to lift the state from the bottom ranks in access to mental care. It also kickstarts more funding for programs aimed at helping keep people with serious mental-health issues out of jails and emergency rooms.
Georgia House Speaker David Ralston speaks with reporters after wrapping up the 2022 legislative session at the State Capitol in Atlanta on April 5, 2022. (Credit: Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon for State Affairs)
While Ralston’s bill gained wide support, two passed measures that focus on Georgia’s COVID-19 response spurred lawmaker clashes. One leaves it to parents whether their kids should wear masks in schools. The other bars state and local governments from requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination to set foot on public grounds.
Lawmakers also passed a bill to extend Medicaid coverage for new mothers from 6 to 12 months after giving birth.
Guns & Police
Georgia is set to become the 25th state to allow residents to purchase firearms without any licensing requirement, so-called “constitutional carry” or “permit-less carry.” The bill, which Gov. Kemp said he would sign, passed the House and Senate along party-lines. Democrats tried to amend the bill to expand background checks but Republicans rejected that proposal.
Georgia’s current permitting system would remain in place because a permit is still required for gun-owners to transport their weapons across state lines in order to prove lawful ownership, but a permit is not required to own and carry a weapon within the Peach State. A federal background check is required to purchase a gun from a licensed dealer, but no such requirement exists for private sales.
Lawmakers depart the Georgia House of Representatives after wrapping up the 2022 legislative session at the State Capitol in Atlanta on April 5, 2022. (Credit: Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon for State Affairs)
Critics say the new law would only worsen the dramatic rise in gun violence and accidental shooting deaths seen in recent years, a trend which has mirrored record gun sales across the state. Georgia ranked 15th among 50 states for gun injury deaths per capita in 2020, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics. That year 1,897 people died from gun wounds, a toll that has steadily risen since 2014 when the state recorded 1,492 such deaths. In 2017, nearly 300,000 guns were sold in the state, while in 2021 that figure rose to nearly half a million, according to data compiled by RobarGuns, a firearm review site.
Proponents of the bill say easier lawful gun ownership will help Georgians protect themselves amid the recent rise in violent crime.
Beyond guns, lawmakers also empowered the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to inspect election records such as paper ballots and electronic votes. The measure is a step back from the sweeping election changes lawmakers passed last year to overhaul voter ID rules, absentee-ballot verification and oversight of local election boards.
Additionally, lawmakers passed a measure pushed by Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan to create a new tax credit for households and companies that donate to police-related causes.
Food is big business in Georgia – the biggest, in fact. Last year, agricultural operations led the state’s industries with a $75-billion output.
After years of false starts, lawmakers this session finally pushed through a contentious measure that limits the ability of neighbors to sue new farms and agribusiness operations that set up shop in their backyards for nuisances, like water pollution or chicken stench.
Local farmers – with support from groups like the Georgia Farm Bureau – largely backed the measure as a safeguard against frivolous, costly lawsuits. Environmentalists argued the restrictions would give cover to bad-actor food producers, to the detriment of nearby residents.
Additionally, lawmakers passed a bill to legalize small-scale sales of raw milk, previously banned in Georgia over health and safety concerns from bacteria killed in pasteurization. But you won’t be able to buy raw milk at the grocery store – the legalization only applies for direct-to-consumer sales such as at farmer’s markets.
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