The Georgia House of Representatives reconvened for another impactful week of legislating on Monday, February 28. The House had a full schedule all week, and we are counting down the days until Crossover Day, which is the last legislative day that a bill can pass out of one chamber and still be eligible for consideration this year. As such, we worked diligently to pass dozens of bills on the House floor in preparation for this critical deadline.
On Legislative Day 22, my colleagues and I passed historic tax relief legislation that would help millions of hardworking Georgians in our state. Our state’s economy has bounced backed exponentially over the last year, resulting in an unprecedented budget surplus of $1.6 billion in undesignated funds. To that end, House Bill 1302 would fulfil the governor’s plan to give these funds back to Georgia taxpayers. This legislation would provide a one-time tax credit for eligible Georgia taxpayers who filed income tax returns in both 2020 and 2021. Based on their 2020 tax filer status, single tax filers would receive a $250 refund, head-of-household filers would receive $375, and those who file jointly would receive a $500 refund. These refunds would not be available for non-residents, individuals who were claimed as a dependent for the 2020 or 2021 tax years, estates nor trusts. If HB 1302 is signed into law, the refund would be automatically credited once a taxpayer files an income tax return for 2021, but these refunds would first be credited against a filer’s outstanding income tax liability prior to being issued to the taxpayer. Furthermore, this tax refund would not be taxable under Georgia law, and taxpayers would not accrue interest on the rebate. Throughout the pandemic, our state has strived to keep businesses open, and our economy certainly stands stronger and more stable as a result. Now, with this legislation, Georgians could reap the benefits of the state’s economic stewardship.
The House unanimously passed another bill to keep more hard earned dollars in the pockets of Georgians and reinforce our standing as a military-friendly state. House Bill 1064 would exempt up to $17,500 in military retirement income from state income taxes for retired service members under 62 years old. If a military retiree continues to work and earns at least $17,500, the retiree would be eligible for an additional exemption up to $17,500 in state income taxes for a total exemption of $35,000. If HB 1064 is passed and signed into law, it would become effective on July 1, 2022, and subsequently applicable to all taxable years starting January 1, 2022. Currently, Georgia’s neighboring states have incentives in place to entice military retirees, and through this legislation, we hope to attract more military retirees to Georgia to put their skills to work in our state. We are honored that so many U.S. military retirees have already chosen to call Georgia home, and this legislation would greatly benefit these individuals, especially as the cost of living and inflation has increased recently.
Additionally, my colleagues and I passed two bills this week that would encourage hands-on agricultural experiences for Georgia students. First, House Bill 1303 would authorize the Georgia Department of Education (GaDOE) to implement agricultural education programs in all public elementary schools. This bill would also require schools to hire an agricultural education teacher for these programs, and the GaDOE would evaluate the success of the program at the end of this year. A few years ago, the Georgia General Assembly passed legislation that created a pilot program for agricultural education, and HB 1303 would make this pilot program permanent and allow all of our public schools to take part in this program. We also passed House Bill 1292 to ensure that students would not be counted as absent from school when they participate in our state’s invaluable 4-H activities and programs. Under HB 1292, a school could request documentation from a 4-H representative if a student was absent due to involvement in 4-H. Both of these bills seek to educate and expose more Georgia students to our state’s agriculture industry and hopefully, encourage more students to explore one of the many careers in agriculture someday.
During week eight of session, the following House bills and Senate bill were also passed and are now under consideration in the Senate:
House Bill 1, or the Forming Open and Robust University Minds Act, which would establish that unrestricted outdoor areas of University System of Georgia and the Technical College System of Georgia campuses are public forums for their campus communities, and this bill would prohibit these institutions from restricting expressive activities in those areas or designating any campus areas as a “free speech zone;”
House Bill 1056, which would allow the Georgia Firefighters’ Pension Fund to invest up to 15 percent of the fund’s total assets in alternative investments;
House Bill 1084, or the Protect Students First Act, which would prevent the use of and reliance on curricula or training programs in state public schools that espouse “divisive concepts” that are specifically included in this bill, and the bill would require each local board of education to adopt a complaint resolution policy to address complaints or violations of this new policy, as well as establish an appeal process for violations through the State Board of Education;
House Bill 1150, or the Freedom to Farm Act, which would update Georgia laws in order to prevent a nuisance lawsuit from being brought against a farming operation that has been active for more than one year, address concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) requirements and clarify that the provisions of the proposed law do not apply if a nuisance is caused by negligence or illegal operations;
House Bill 1178, or the Parents’ Bill of Rights, which would codify a parent’s fundamental right to direct the upbringing and education of their minor children, create certain standards to prevent schools from infringing upon these fundamental rights, as well as require the school board or its governing body to consult with parents, teachers and administrators to develop and adopt policies that promote parental involvement in public schools;
In other news, we were joined by Kirby Smart, head football coach for the University of Georgia Bulldogs, in the House Chamber on Tuesday. It was an exciting moment as Coach Smart was the first special guest invited to join us on the House floor since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020. The House was proud to recognize Coach Smart for leading the Dawgs to their 2021 College Football Playoff National Championship victory, and we wish his team the best of luck as they defend their national championship title next season.
In addition to our regularly scheduled session this week, our Georgia Secretary of State will also be hosting qualifying week for the upcoming election cycle. After much prayer and consideration, I am excited to announce that I will be seeking re-election to continue my service as your House Representative within the Georgia General Assembly. Our family sincerely appreciates the guidance and wisdom so many have lent over the years, and we are grateful to have your support as we work to continue serving our home.
The pace will continue to quicken as we delve further into session in preparation for our Crossover Day deadline, scheduled for Tuesday, March 15. Crossover Day is the last day any legislation can pass its respective chamber with enough time to pass the other prior to day 40. As always, we will keep you updated on major happenings. In the meantime, if you need anything at all, please feel free to contact me. Thank you for the honor of allowing me to serve our home under the Gold Dome. It is humbling to know that you have entrusted me to ensure our district values are protected. Please be on the lookout for future updates as we move through the remaining days of session.
It is hard to believe that we are now in the final month of the 2022 legislative session. While I am legislating on behalf of our community over this next month, I hope you reach out to me with any questions or concerns you have about the legislative process or bills that may be pending. My Capitol office number is 404-656-0325 and my email is Stan.Gunter@house.ga.gov.
As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your state representative.