The Georgia General Assembly adjourned its 2022 legislative session on Monday, April 4. Many lawmakers have already shifted their attention to election season, preparing for reelection races or higher office bids ahead of the May 24 primary.
A cornerstone of the Legislature’s work is a new state budget, which allocates $30.2 billion in state revenues as part of an overall $57.9 billion, including federal resources.
COVID-19 Prevention and Mitigation Hospital Grant Program
To help prevent and mitigate the spread of COVID-19, Governor Brian Kemp announced a plan last month to award more than $217 million in American Rescue Plan funding to hospitals, assisted living communities, and personal care homes with 25 or more beds. Licensed hospitals will get $170 million (up to $950,000 per facility), while the remaining $47 million will go to assisted living communities and personal care homes (up to $100,000 per facility).
Healthcare facilities can request reimbursement for eligible expenses incurred between March 3, 2021, and December 1, 2022, which include the following:
- Improvements or construction for COVID-19 testing sites and laboratories, and acquisition of related equipment
- Improvements or construction for medical facilities generally dedicated to COVID-19 treatment and mitigation (e.g., emergency rooms, intensive care units, and telemedicine capabilities for COVID-19-related treatment)
- Establishing temporary medical facilities and other measures to increase COVID-19 treatment capacity, including related construction costs
- Acquisition of equipment for COVID-19 prevention and treatment, including ventilators, ambulances, and other medical or emergency services equipment
- Installation of and improvements to ventilation systems
Certificate of Need
Lawmakers again considered proposals to weaken or eliminate the Certificate of Need process, but none gained traction this session. House Bill 1547 sought to repeal the state’s CON process in 2025. Lawmakers also considered a second bill that would have exempted a replacement hospital in Butts County from the CON process.
In response to the state’s healthcare worker shortage, lawmakers created the Georgia Council on Addressing Healthcare Workforce Challenges. The Council will provide strategic thought leadership and recommendations on the future of the state’s healthcare workforce. It will work with various experts and stakeholders to explore workforce challenges, identify future trends, raise awareness of workforce issues, and provide recommendations to state leaders.
Mindful that Georgia’s maternal mortality rate ranks among the nation’s five worst states, lawmakers extended postpartum Medicaid coverage from six months to one year, backed by $28.2 million in the fiscal year 2023 budget.
Mental Health Parity
On Monday, Gov. Kemp signed the Georgia Mental Health Parity Act (HB 1013) into law. It directs private insurance companies to cover depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders, requires publicly funded insurance programs to more extensively cover patient care, and forgives student loans of future mental health professionals. It also establishes new grant funding for crisis preparedness and management collaborations among mental health providers, courts, and law enforcement.
In addition, the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities will get $180 million to help address the state’s mental health crisis. Reimbursement rates for intellectual and developmental disability providers will increase by 1%, and state psychiatric hospitals will receive $13 million to raise the salaries of nurses and other staff. Funding has also been allotted for the purchase of new psychiatric beds, expansion of a mandatory assisted outpatient treatment program, and care for more than 200,000 people who struggle with mental illness, development disabilities, or addiction.
The Legislature passed the “Unmask Georgia Students Act,” which allows parents to opt their child out of school district mask policies. Lawmakers also passed a bill prohibiting state agencies, local governments, and schools from requiring COVID-19 vaccination, but such a ban would not apply to hospitals or medical facilities.
Georgia’s new budget invests $11.8 billion in K-12 education, the largest in the state’s history. It includes $5,000 pay raises for university and state employees and $2,000 raises for teachers.
Lawmakers also passed several bills relating to school curriculum. HB 1084 bans a list of “divisive concepts” from classroom discussions, and HB 1178 provides a process for parents to review classroom materials and opt their child out of all sex education courses, if they choose to do so.
Lawmakers passed HB 1437, which will cut state income taxes to 5.49% by 2024, then step down gradually until the rate reaches 4.99% by 2029. Standard exemptions will rise gradually as well, with single filers going from $2,700 to $12,000, and married couples filing jointly from $7,400 to $24,000.
Following Florida’s lead, the Legislature approved a bill to give the Georgia Bureau of Investigation jurisdiction over election crimes and voter fraud. SB 441 also gives GBI the authority to subpoena election records with approval of the state’s Attorney General. Previously, state election officials investigated fraud allegations.
Lawmakers passed the “Constitutional Carry” bill (SB 319), allowing individuals who can legally have a firearm to carry their weapon in public without first going through the licensing process. Proponents argued that the measure lessens paperwork for Georgia gun owners, while critics said it eliminates one of the state’s few background checks and could let dangerous criminals slip through the cracks.