Kemp, state lawmakers preview legislative priorities for 2024 for business leaders

Georgia State Capitol on mostly sunny day

by Ross Williams, Georgia Recorder [This article first appeared in the Georgia Recorder, republished with permission]

January 10, 2024

Georgia’s business elite and state leadership filled up Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium from endzone to endzone Wednesday morning for the Georgia Chamber of Commerce’s annual Eggs and Issues Breakfast, offering a sneak peek at the new laws that could shape the lives of the state’s 10 million-plus residents.

Anti-union action, billions in infrastructure projects and new restrictions on kids’ social media use could all be on the table. So could Medicaid expansion, long considered a third rail in the GOP-led state government.


One of Gov. Brian Kemp’s top priorities is a bill targeting labor unions by preventing businesses that seek state incentives from allowing unions to form without a formal, anonymous election.

“My commitment to you is that we will never cower to activists who seek to attack job creators and undermine the countless opportunities they create in communities across Georgia, big and small,” Kemp said. “We will remain a right to work state, and this legislative session, we will take further steps to protect workers and require transparency from unions.”

Only 5.4% of Georgia workers were represented by unions in 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, down from 5.8% the year before. That’s lower than all but six other states.

“A lot of this is coming out because of the massive strikes that have been going on across the country,” said Zak Norton of Atlanta, an IATSE Local 600 camera technician in the film industry. “Georgia’s actually been affected by a few of the strikes, particularly in my industry, the film industry. And of course, the threat of UPS this summer was a huge issue, particularly in the South. And so what I think what’s going on is you’re seeing employers are trying to fight back.”

Norton said he’s particularly concerned about the bill’s effects on the film industry, which is spurred on by the state’s Film Tax Credit, which costs the state about $1 billion per year.

“When there’s more wealth in the middle class, there’s more prosperity for the rest of us and the rest of the state,” he said. “And that is a belief that I don’t think Kemp and his administration really believes, because of what we’re seeing. We’re seeing some of the unhappiest workforce in the country and some of the lowest union representation.”

James Clements, president of the Georgia State Council of Machinists, said he’d like Gov. Kemp to meet with members of his union.

“We are not sure who he is talking about in his statements, but it certainly isn’t the workers of the (International Association of Machinists),” he said. “We look forward to having a conversation about our workers and the security a contract gives us on the job. We are constantly working to improve dialogue between us and our elected officials. We think this is best achieved by taking out heavy rhetoric and bombastic language.”

“Machinists in Georgia represent a wide range of industry and are heavily loaded with defense workers. A lot of us voted for him,” he added. “We are also working folks who want a fair wage. Our union helps that. Let’s talk.”

Infrastructure and tort legislation

Kemp said stopping “frivolous” lawsuits from driving up business owners insurance premiums is a priority that will take longer than this year’s session to resolve.

“Like in every major undertaking our state has tackled in the past, we will work on a Georgia-specific solution; one designed to make meaningful reforms in this area over the next several years,” adding that his office will introduce the first legislation of a coming tort reform suite this year.

The governor’s speech also outlined some of the budget items he is set to announce Thursday at his annual state of the state address.

Kemp said his recommended budget will include $1.5 billion for the Georgia Department of Transportation for projects aimed at benefiting the movement of commuters and freight, and another $250 million for the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority to spend on local water and sewer projects.

The budget also calls for investments in medical training at two Georgia universities. If the plan passes, Georgia Southern University would receive $178 million to build a dental school in Savannah. Now, the only dental school in Georgia is the Dental College of Georgia at Augusta University.

“I am also proposing 50 million dollars for a medical school at our flagship institution – the University of Georgia,” he said. “This will go a long way to helping us address the medical workforce gap Georgia has struggled with for years.”

Medicaid Expansion

House Speaker Jon Burns raised eyebrows with a suggestion that Georgia is considering expanding Medicaid.

“When it comes to health care, there has certainly been a lot of discussion of late about Medicaid expansion. Expanding access to care for lower income working families through a private option in a fiscally responsible way that lowers premiums is something we will continue to gather facts on in the House.”

Georgia is one of 10states that have not adopted full Medicaid expansion, which extends coverage to adults who make less than 138% of the federal poverty level. Expansion could provide access to health care for hundreds of thousands of low-income Georgia adults. The opposition has been largely ideological, with GOP state lawmakers erecting roadblocks to expansion under the Affordable Care Act.

Speaking to reporters after the event, Georgia Chamber President and CEO Chris Clark said the General Assembly will consider models approved in other states, including Arkansas. Arkansas’ Medicaid expansion was unusual in that instead of enrolling the expansion population into existing Medicaid programs, Arkansas used the money to buy private insurance for most of its qualifying residents.


On Monday, as lawmakers convened for the first day of the Legislative session, dozens of 2020 election-denying protesters walked through the Capitol with signs calling for paper ballots and rallied in the public square behind the building.

On Tuesday, Vice President Kamala Harris flew into Atlanta to call on voting rights advocates and elected officials to continue to fight for expanded access to the ballot box.

The Republican-led Legislature passed a voting overhaul in 2021, which Democrats call an attempt to stifle votes.

Burns said the House will continue to tweak Georgia election law ahead of the big November election.

“We’re going to look at making our State Board of Elections more autonomous by separating them from the Secretary of State’s office,” Burns said. “This will allow them to adjudicate election complaints more efficiently, independently and impartially. Second, we’re going to strengthen the security of our ballots by moving away from the QR code on balance, which many voters find confusing, and towards visible watermarks on security paper to denote voter selections.”

Burns also pledged to nip a new type of high-tech election interference in the bud.

“We want to prevent any election interference through the use of generative AI by creating significant criminal penalties for any bad actors attempting to alter an election,” he said. “When voters see a political advertisement from a candidate or campaign, they should have the utmost confidence that is that candidate’s voice, image and likeness, not a robot’s.”

Education and children

The Legislature’s technological aspirations for the year don’t stop at AI deepfakes. Burns Wednesday echoed a call from Lt. Gov. Burt Jones to limit children from accessing potentially harmful aspects of social media.

“We’re going to look at things like age verification, parental consent, as well as strengthening cyberbullying definitions and penalties to create safer learning environments in our schools,” he said.

States including Utah and Arkansas have passed social media age verification bills, which require social media users to prove their age and restrict what content is available to minors.

Major social media companies argue against these bills, often advocating for blanket federal regulations rather than different rules for different states.

In his remarks, Jones called for the resurrection of a controversial education bill that passed his chamber last year, but stopped short in the House: expanding school vouchers by offering $6,000 to parents in low-performing districts to pull their children out of public schools.

“I’m a son of a public educator, but I’m also somebody who believes in public education, but I also believe in giving opportunities and choices to parents,” Jones said. “We’ve got a lot of great public school systems, but even in the best public school system, it might not be the right fit for an individual child. And so in cases like that, we need to have choices and other opportunities for those parents to feel like they’re empowered.”

Last year’s bill was scuttled by a group of House Republicans who voted with nearly all of the Democrats, who argue that vouchers take money away from public schools and don’t provide enough cash for the average private school tuition.

Speaking with reporters Wednesday afternoon, Burns expressed his support for the idea and his optimism for its chances.

“I’ve had conversations with the proponents, go out and educate my members, and then let’s see what we can do. So it’s an ongoing conversation.”

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