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Political Pulse: 2023 Legislative Session
2023 Legislative Session
There is an old proverb that “no individual’s life, liberty, or property is safe while the legislature is in session.” While usually delivered somewhat tongue-in-cheek, there is an element of truth, as the legislature has great power over all three. And as the Georgia General Assembly convenes for the 2023 legislative term, this session presents many unknowns. With a new Speaker of the House, Lieutenant Governor, 57 freshmen legislators, and new committee leadership in each chamber, the makeup of the General Assembly looks substantially different from years past.
From the first day, changes under the Gold Dome have been palpable. Speaker Pro-Tempore Jan Jones (R-Milton) gaveled in the House of Representatives as the interim Speaker of the House, having assumed this role after the unexpected passing of former Speaker David Ralston last November. Ralston had held the position since 2010, making Speaker Pro-Tem Jones both the newest speaker in over a decade and the first female Speaker of the House in Georgia’s history.
Following this historic moment, the House swore in 43 freshmen for the 2023-2024 term and elected former Majority Leader Jon Burns (R-Newington) as the 75th Speaker of the House. While the U.S. House of Representatives took 15 tries to finally elect their Speaker the week before, the Georgia House elected Burns Speaker and Rep. Jan Jones to her previous role as Speaker Pro-Tem by acclimation, as the Democrats opted not to put forward a candidate for either role as a sign of bipartisanship. In addition to the 43 House freshmen sworn in on the first day, there are currently three special elections for vacant House seats, which will likely be settled by the end of January—or February should a runoff be needed.
Speaker Burns isn’t the only new face in Georgia’s leadership triumvirate, which includes the Governor, Lt. Governor, and Speaker of the House. Former State Senator Burt Jones (R-Jackson), now Lt. Governor, has also taken the helm as the Senate’s most powerful leader. He welcomes 11 new Senators this year, 10 of whom won their respective elections in November and were sworn in on the first day, and one special election following the appointment of Senator Dean Burke (R-Bainbridge) as Chief Medical Officer at the Department of Community Heath. This election will follow the aforementioned special election cycle.
While some uncertainty has hung heavy over the General Assembly with the extensive changes that the legislature has witnessed, there is plenty to be optimistic about. For example, in a rare showing of camaraderie, the House and Senate adopted an adjournment resolution, setting the 40-day legislative calendar, on the first legislative day of the session – something that hasn’t happened in recent memory. This signals the potential for a new level of cooperation between the House and Senate and a reconciliation of the internecine quarrels the chambers have had with each other in the past.
With all the new faces, the legislature will be the most diverse it has ever been. Of the 232 current members (not including the four special elections), 155 are men and 81 are women, while 63% of lawmakers are white and 37% are people of color—which very closely reflects Georgia’s racial makeup (59.4% white and 40.6% minority).
Of course, not all of Georgia’s leadership has experienced a change. The state will continue to be led for the next four years by Gov. Brian Kemp, who handily won his re-election bid in November. Gov. Kemp and the new legislature have begun this session with a $6.6 billion budget surplus, even after appropriators fill the state’s rainy-day fund to the legal limit of $4.3 billion. Gov. Kemp has pledged a few billion to fund another round of one-time income and property tax rebates for Georgians. Roughly $1 billion of the surplus will be allocated to replace the lost revenue resulting from the suspension of the state gas tax this past year, which ended on January 10th. The remaining surplus may be used to pay down state liabilities or fund a potential law enforcement personnel raise.
In addition to the budget priorities this year, the legislature will likely focus most of their attention on non-controversial—that is to say, not politically polarizing—topics this year. The three main issues ACEC Georgia predicts the legislature will focus on are workforce shortages, the workforce housing crisis, and freight & logistics funding.
Engineers and others in the A/E/C industry are all too familiar with workforce shortages; however, no industry in the state, or nation, has escaped this issue. With a problem so widespread and consuming, lawmakers are likely to support holistic approaches to workforce development that target all potential employees.
The housing industry has also been plagued with myriad challenges since 2020, from shortages and cost hikes for building materials to an overall accessibility issue resulting from low inventory and skyrocketing prices that have thwarted many from homeownership. The legislature will likely target burdensome state and local regulations and look to reform those rules and regs that advocates believe are contributing to the crisis.
Lastly, freight and logistics planning and funding will likely be heavy on the minds of lawmakers this session. In addition to exploring options to create additional revenue to fund supply chain infrastructure investments, legislators will likely make efforts to engage and support the transportation community on how to plan for an electrified, future proof infrastructure that benefits all Georgians.
While the old proverb may serve to warn us to be watchful of lawmakers, with the new leadership, fresh faces, and policy initiatives of this 2023-2024 General Assembly, we can watch with optimistic eyes.