Georgia Governor Brian P. Kemp delivers the annual State of State Address on the House Floor of the State Capitol on Wednesday, January 25, 2023. (Photo: Itoro N. Umontuen/The Atlanta Voice)

With a joint session inside the Georgia Legislature, Governor Brian P. Kemp laid out an agenda that had equal amounts of love for education, law enforcement, and a conservative-styled expansion of Medicare and Medicaid in his State of the State Address inside the House Chamber at the Georgia State Capitol. 

While Governor Kemp described his agenda during his inaugural address and throughout the weeks leading up to today’s address, he had pointed comments for gangs that are actively recruiting children to take part in violent activities.

“Let me be clear: come after our children, and we will come after you! I know Lt. Governor Burt Jones and his team are also actively working on the broader issue of gang violence,” Kemp said. “We look forward to partnering with them on those efforts. My administration is thankful for his dedication to this urgent problem.”

Governor Kemp also voiced his appreciation for a Fulton County judge’s decision to set bond for four of the six rioters arrested last Saturday, while giving the other two alleged perpetrators bonds of over $355,000, along with a 24-hour curfew and ankle monitors. He said that approach is not universal across the judicial system. 

Lt. Gov. Burt Jones applauds Georgia Governor Brian P. Kemp as he delivers the annual State of State Address on the House Floor of the State Capitol on Wednesday, January 25, 2023. (Photo: Itoro N. Umontuen/The Atlanta Voice)

“That’s just the latest example of why here in Georgia, we will always back the blue,” Kemp said to rapturous applause.

Many Democrats in attendance, including Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens, supported some of Governor Kemp’s anti-crime, anti-gang measures. However, in a televised response, State Senator Elena Parent was quick to point out she’s afraid of “over-criminalizing” behavior. Also, she made references to the fact Georgia is now a permitless-carry state. Upon passage of Senate Bill 319 in 2021, anyone who can legally possess a firearm under state and federal law as long as the person is 21 or older. Exceptions are made for persons 18 to 20 years of age and an Active Military/Honorably Discharged Veteran can carry a firearm openly or concealed without any type of Permit/License in Georgia. 

“Gov. Kemp talks about the crime and violence on our streets, but let’s be honest about what’s really going on,” Sen. Elena Parent, a Democrat from Decatur, said in her response. “Georgians can now carry a gun without a permit because of a bill the Republican majority passed. We need policies and laws that require common sense use of these weapons.”

“What we did not hear addressed at all in any meaningful way is the seizure of gun violence that’s happening in our communities,” State Rep. Tanya Miller said, a Democrat from Atlanta. “We had 170 homicides in the city of Atlanta alone. 19 of them are children. The number one cause of death in this country for children is gun violence. Nowhere in his public safety discussion did we hear any meaningful references to how we deal with gun violence and the proliferation of guns in our community that continue to go unregulated.”

HEALTHCARE

Minority Leader of the Georgia House Democrats, Dr. James Beverly, D-Macon, delivers a portion of the Democratic Party’s response to the annual State of State Address inside the Georgia State Capitol on Wednesday, January 25, 2023. (Photo: Itoro N. Umontuen/The Atlanta Voice)

During his speech, Gov. Kemp highlighted the Georgia Pathways to Coverage program which he says was negotiated in good faith with the federal government so that Georgia could expand access to health insurance for those who need it the most, while also sustaining the quality of coverage.

Gov. Kemp criticized Democrats and President Joe Biden for what he calls ‘one-size-fits none, massive government health programs’, the Governor promised more funding for his healthcare program.

“I am allocating $52 million to stand this program up and connect those in need to its benefits,” Gov. Kemp said. “Here’s another fact, upwards of 345,000 Georgians could qualify for the Pathways program and healthcare coverage for the first time, with no changes for those who qualify for regular Medicaid. And unlike Medicaid expansion, Georgia Pathways will not kick 200,000 Georgians off their private sector insurance.”

Democrats said it was the lack of Medicare and Medicaid expansion that led to 500,000 Georgians without any access to healthcare.

“We have failed to extend Medicaid,” State Rep. Dr. James Beverly, a Democrat from Macon said. “Hospitals are closing around the state of Georgia due to the governor’s failed attempt to limit the expansion of benefits necessary for the rest of us.”

EDUCATION

Georgia State Senator Gloria Butler delivers the Democratic Party’s response to the annual State of State Address inside the Georgia State Capitol on Wednesday, January 25, 2023. (Photo: Itoro N. Umontuen/The Atlanta Voice)

Gov. Kemp once again promised the HOPE Scholarship, will be fully funded. He said his budget will place state dollars into every level of education to grow a generation of highly skilled workers.

“In fact, between both budgets we will devote an additional $1.9 billion to education and fully fund the QBE Formula,” Kemp said.

Kemp also said his budget will increase teacher pay by $2,000. He said in five years, including this year’s budget, he’d increase teacher pay by a cumulative amount of $7,000.

“No other General Assembly or governor will have raised teacher pay by so much, so quickly, in state history,” Kemp continued.

Democrats said they want to give all public employees additional $10,000 raises. The move would cost at least $2.8 billion and would be paid for with money placed in the state’s rainy day fund which came from the estimated $17.4 billion the state received through the American Rescue Plan Act. Georgia’s investment plan for this funding includes: $8.1 billion in state and local fiscal assistance.

“What else is not enough. is the amount of raises the government is proposing for $2,000,” State Senator Harold Jones, D-Augusta, said. “This pay increase, you really do the math is nothing more than just over $100 a month after taxes.”

“And so therefore, Georgia Democrats are going beyond the proposal $2,000 and continue with our proposal of a minimum of $10,000 annual payments, and also more importantly, establish rate regular wage increases to assure our educators and our educational system delivers the best quality programs possible.”

Itoro Umontuen currently serves as Managing Editor of The Atlanta Voice. Upon his arrival to the historic publication, he served as their Director of Photography. As a mixed-media journalist, Umontuen...