On Tuesday, March 8, my colleagues and I returned to the Georgia State Capitol for another eventful week of the 2022 legislative session. The Crossover Day deadline is approaching in a matter of days, and as such, this week was one of our busiest and most crucial times of the session thus far. We took advantage of an entire committee work day and spent three long days in the House Chamber to vote on a multitude of bills, including the Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 budget, mental health care reform legislation and several other measures that will impact Georgians.

Fiscal Year 2023 Budget

Before the week was over, the House came one step closer to fulfilling our only constitutional obligation by passing House Bill 911, the FY 2023 budget. This budget dedicates all of our state funds for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, 2022, and ends the following year on June 30, 2023. The FY 2023 budget is set at a revenue estimate of $30.2 billion, which is a $2.9 billion or 10.8 percent increase over the FY 2022 original budget, and this budget permanently restores nearly $640 million eliminated from the budget in FY 2021 during the economic uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic. This budget includes more funding for K-12 education than ever before. The Quality Basic Education (QBE) funding formula for public schools is fully funded at more than $11.8 billion, and we made sure to include an additional $3 million to maintain our charter school facilities. These are just some of the highlights that I am most excited to bring your attention to today.

Amended Fiscal Year 2022 Final Passage

In addition, the Georgia General Assembly gave final passage to House Bill 910, or the Amended Fiscal Year 2022 budget this week, sending it to Governor Kemp to be signed into law. The AFY 2022 budget is set at a revenue estimate of $30.3 billion, which is an increase of $3.08 billion or 1.3 percent over the current budget. This increase will allow our state to provide additional funding during the current fiscal year for many of our priorities, including more than $900 million in one-time expenses for our state’s infrastructure and $950 million to provide salary increases for state employees and teachers.

Mental Health Parity Act

We also passed one of the most important, bipartisan bills of the entire session this week with House Bill 1013, or the Georgia Mental Health Parity Act, to provide comprehensive reforms for our state’s mental health care system and give Georgians struggling with mental illness the resources they need. This legislation, which has been in the making for the last three years, would provide sweeping legislative changes to help improve insurance coverage and the delivery of mental health care.

Of the nearly 10.8 million people living in our great state, approximately 10 percent of Georgians have been diagnosed with a mental illness. I hope this legislation will serve as a reminder to Georgia families and individuals who are in crisis that they are not alone and that help is on the way. But, our work will not stop with this 80-page bill; the Georgia Mental Health Parity Act is only the cornerstone of our work to overhaul a broken mental health care system, which we will continually improve in the coming years.

Georgia Tax Reduction and Reform Act

The House also passed House Bill 1437, or the Georgia Tax Reduction and Reform Act of 2022, to cut income taxes for Georgians starting in 2024. HB 1437 would eliminate personal income tax brackets and replace them with a single, flat rate of 5.25 percent. This legislation would also create a standard exemption of $12,000 for single or head-of-household filers and a $24,000 exemption for married couples who file jointly. HB 1437 would also allow taxpayers to elect to apply the sum of the taxpayer’s charitable donations used in computing the taxpayer’s federal taxable income in lieu of the personal exemption. Proponents of this bill estimate that Georgians would save an estimated $1 billion per year when the cut goes into effect.

Rural Health Care Workforce Shortages

We also passed two important bills this week to attract more health care providers to rural communities. First, my colleagues and I passed House Bill 1042 to provide grant funding to eligible development authorities seeking to establish primary care, dental or mental health care medical facilities in health professional shortage areas. Additionally, we passed House Bill 1371 to create the Rural Health Advancement Commission, which would collaborate with educational institutions and health care facilities to address long and short-term workforce shortages in rural Georgia.

Gas Tax Suspension

On Friday evening, we passed critical legislation to provide relief to Georgians at the gas pump. The price of gas has skyrocketed since the Russian invasion into Ukraine, and we expect gas prices to continue to rise, especially since President Biden halted the import of Russian oil into our country.  As such, we passed to allow the governor to suspend the state motor fuel excise tax through the end of May 2022. The Governor can extend the suspension by executive order should the shortages continue. We will continue to closely monitor how the Russian invasion will continue to impact us here at home, and we anticipate that our colleagues in the Senate will also pass this legislation so our governor can sign it into law as quickly as possible.

The House will return next week to reconvene for Crossover Day. Known for being one of the longest days of the session, Crossover Day is the last day that a bill can pass out of its chamber of origin. Please continue to reach out to me with any questions or concerns you have about legislation, policies or issues that impact our community. 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.