Georgia’s 2024 Legislative Session: An Agenda to Lift Up Vulnerable Communities
As Georgia lawmakers convene for the 2024 legislative session, multiple bills are on the table that could break down barriers in poor and disadvantaged communities.
A key issue to track: education opportunity. Lawmakers have a chance to enact several options, including Georgia Promise Scholarships (SB 233), expansion of the Tax Credit Scholarship Program, and public school transfers.
Other bills to know include job licensing reforms to expand work opportunities for people with criminal records (SB 157) and a reform to better connect welfare and work support in Georgia (HB 738)
Georgia lawmakers are back in Atlanta for what could prove to be the most impactful legislative session in years. Georgia’s legislature is considering multiple bills that could break down barriers facing poor and disadvantaged communities.
The timetable is short. The session will end by March 28, so time is of the essence if our elected officials are going to improve the quality of life for the people they serve. Below is a list of a few bills our team is watching and working on to lift up vulnerable and low-income communities across Georgia.
Our hope for the 2024 session: Give more Georgians better pathways out of poverty and into opportunity
“During the 2024 session, we hope to see tremendous progress on expanding school choice through passage of Senate Bill 233, the Promise Scholarship bill,” said GCO’s vice president of public policy, Buzz Brockway. “In addition, we hope to see an increase in the cap on Georgia’s Tax Credit Scholarship program, which would also expand private school options parents have.”
“We also will be working on seeing SB 157 passed into law,” Brockway added. “This bill will create a pathway for people with a criminal record many years in the past to obtain an occupational license, opening up opportunities for many people to earn a living and support their family. Finally, we hope to make progress on reforming how Georgia delivers workforce and safety-net programs, placing people on a pathway toward self-sufficiency.”
Education: Expanding schooling options to help families find the best fit for their kids
- SB 233, Promise Scholarships: Would make $6,500 per student available for parents to direct toward the best educational opportunities for their children. The funds would be available for use for private school tuition and public school alternatives, such as homeschooling. The scholarships would only be available to students enrolled in the lower 25% of schools in Georgia, amounting to around 400,000 students. Status: The Georgia Senate passed the bill in 2023 but it fell short in the House by a 85-89 margin. However, it is eligible for reconsideration this session. In his recent State of the State address, Gov. Brian Kemp gave full-throated support to getting Promise Scholarships passed this year. To learn more, view our primer on Promise Scholarships.
- SB 147, public school district transfers: Would allow students to transfer to a different public school within their district or a different district. This would provide much needed support for the majority of families who chose to continue sending their students to public schools in Georgia. Status: The Senate tabled this bill in 2023 but it is eligible for consideration this year.
- HB 54 and HB 101, Tax Credit Scholarship cap increase: Would raise the cap on the Tax Credit Scholarship from $120 million to $130 million. Through this program, businesses and individuals can donate toward private school scholarships for K-12 students enrolled in public schools. In return, they receive a dollar-for-dollar state income tax credit. In 2022, lawmakers raised the cap from $100 million to $120 million, but demand continues to increase, making another jump necessary. Status: The measures weren’t considered in 2023 but they are eligible for reconsideration this year.
- HB 318, improve charter school laws: This measure would reestablish the Office of Charter School Compliance under the State Charter Schools Commission. Currently, two entities oversee charter schools in Georgia: The State Charter School Commission oversees state authorized charter schools, while the Georgia Department of Education oversees charters authorized by local boards of education. This creates confusion and differences in application of laws and rules governing charter school laws. HB 318 would bring oversight of all charters under one roof, providing more resources and uniformed application of laws and rules regarding charters. Status: Both chambers passed this bill in 2023 but the Senate amended it and the House did not reconsider the changes. The bill is eligible to be considered this year.
Safety-net reform: Connecting our welfare system to work support
- One Door task force bill in Georgia, HB 738: Our nation’s welfare system is a fragmented hodgepodge of programs. The dozens of programs that make up the system have different and, at times, competing goals, inconsistent rules, and overlapping groups of recipients. At the same time, there is often a disconnect between safety-net programs and welfare-to-work initiatives. The end result is that people stay mired in generational poverty rather than receiving a helping hand to live a better life. In this environment, the GCO team is on the vanguard of educating about safety-net reform. A key way we are doing so in Georgia is by pushing forward this legislation to create a One Door task force in the state. The task force would study how to integrate the safety net with workforce development, in line with the successful One Door approach in Utah. Other states, including West Virginia and Louisiana, are weighing similar proposals. So why not here in Georgia? Status: The bill was introduced in the House in 2023 and is now moving through committee this year.
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Occupational licensing and public safety: Increasing personal safety and job opportunities in local communities
- Senate Bill 157, appeals process for justice involved individuals: Would create a preclearance process in licensing of individuals with criminal records who make an application to or are investigated by certain licensing boards and commissions. Often, returning citizens from the criminal justice system face huge barriers in finding work, and we know that attachment to work is a significant determinant of an individual not ending up back behind prison walls. Status: This measure was added to the House Rules calendar last year but didn’t receive any attention.
- House Bill 212, Niche-Beauty Services Opportunity Act: Would offer barbers and cosmetologists the opportunity to provide services like blow-dry styling, braiding, threading, and the application of cosmetics without requiring licensure by the State Board of Cosmetology and Barbers. Occupational licensing is needed in some industries and job categories due to public health and safety concerns, but the laws on the books today in many cases are an unnecessary roadblock to employment for workers. Status: The House tabled the bill last session but it is eligible for consideration this year.
- House Bill 334: Expungement: Would revise Georgia’s requirement that criminal history records be disclosed in certain situations. Known as expungement, this is an important step for individuals who have served their time and need to reintegrate into the workforce. Status: The bill was amended onto Senate Bill 157 but never came to a vote.
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