Georgia First group’s 2024 legislative wish list: Better health, education and ballot access

Georgia State Capitol on mostly sunny day

[Photo of Georgia Capitol by DXR, licensed CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons]

by Heather Breeden, Georgia Recorder [This article first appeared in the Georgia Recorder, republished with permission]

December 27, 2023

We’re mere days away from the beginning of the 2024 legislative session and our elected leaders will once again be making decisions on critical issues that impact every Georgian. At Georgia First, we’re committed to advancing economic opportunities, education, and health outcomes for all Georgians – and we’re calling on our policymakers to move forward in bold, yet pragmatic ways to improve the lives of all who call Georgia home. 

Improving the health of all Georgians

Perhaps the most pervasive issue on the mind of Georgians is health care. With rising costs, hospital closures, and the coverage gap faced by hundreds of thousands of people, many Georgians can’t create economic stability for themselves or their families. When a person cannot afford the health care they need – everything is at risk. People can’t work when they are sick, children miss critical learning, and businesses small and large suffer when they don’t have a reliable workforce. 

We believe health care is the most important issue faced by Georgia policy makers this year.  

A robust workforce fuels Georgia’s economic competitiveness and that can only be propelled with a healthy and productive population. Currently, about 487,000 Georgians do not have access to affordable and quality health care, and these are often low-wage workers, working parents, veterans and seniors. By closing the Medicaid coverage gap for these Georgians, our state would see increased opportunities for health care innovations, empower individuals to better manage their health, improve access to meaningful health services, and protect Georgia families from medical debt and financial stress.

Stronger literacy leads to a more viable workforce

The long-term economic viability of Georgia requires an engaged workforce – one that is healthy, skilled, and prepared for work. An investment in education is required to maintain our economic position, but our state’s current literacy rates are concerning as we are consistently ranked in the bottom ten (or lower) in literacy. Our future workforce needs us to invest in early care and education. 

The science of early brain development provides a road map for early childhood education investments; our lawmakers simply must prioritize it and proactively seek new funding sources. We’re on the right path with the governor’s budget proposal and a mutual literacy focus in both the Georgia House and Senate, but we can’t stop there.

Education, combined with access to health care, are not only fundamental keys to a person’s success and quality of life, but are proven solutions to growing and strengthening Georgia’s middle class. 

To support a higher quality of education for all Georgians, and our youngest learners in particular, we are advocating for legislation that allows sports wagering. Currently, millions of dollars in sports wagering are spent in states outside of Georgia. Revenue that, if solely dedicated to education, could transform our state and its families for generations – approximately $50 to $75 million dollars annually.

Currently, two-thirds of Georgia’s third graders are not reading on grade level. As summarized by the Get Georgia Reading campaign, children who cannot read proficiently by the end of third grade are more likely to experience poor health, have discipline problems, become teen parents, and drop out of high school. As adults, they are more likely to spend time in prison, struggle with unemployment, and face shorter life expectancies.

This is not acceptable. Georgia lawmakers must consider the long-term implications if we do not invest more in early care and education in our state.

Voting as a tool for change

Voting is the vehicle in which Georgians can achieve change on decisive topics like healthcare and education.

Free and fair elections are the bedrock of our democracy, and we are strongly committed to ensuring every eligible Georgian’s right to vote is protected. Outside influences have sowed distrust across our country and Georgia has been placed in the unfortunate center of unfounded conspiracies that remain part of the election conversation, even almost four years later. 

We can’t go back to 2020, but we know one thing for sure – making changes to the state’s voting process during a presidential election cycle is a mistake Georgia cannot afford to repeat. We will work diligently to support our local election offices by opposing any changes to the voting process during 2024 and advocating for better guidance to Georgia’s 159 counties on how to handle challenges to voter eligibility.  

With everything we do, we are championing Georgians. To live better, healthier lives; to have easier access to affordable health care for themselves and their families; to receive quality education and to participate in the very democracy our country is founded upon. 

We’ll keep fighting until every hard-working family, no matter where they live, has the opportunity to succeed. Let’s get to work, Georgia!

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.