The papers are tossed, the bills are ripped up and most Georgians are on spring break this week. When the 2023 legislative session drew to a close on March 29th, the Republican infighting within the Georgia General Assembly ultimately defined what measures passed, failed, or prevented certain ideas from coming to the floor. House Speaker Jon Burns and Lt. Gov Burt Jones attempted to coalesce at the end of the session, but their relationship prevented certain issues from getting accomplished.
A notable example was the mental health package, which would’ve been an expansion from the reforms the late House Speaker David Ralston was able to get across the finish line last year. House Bill 520 would have recruited more mental health workers, helped people who bounce between hospitals, jails and homelessness, and studied other needs. The Senate version of the measure removed language that would have barred insurers from withholding certain drugs and mandated a housing plan for certain mentally ill homeless people, regardless if an individual has a criminal record.
“I’m learning from what I’ve experienced the last few days on how you make sure you can impart to other elected officials, other friends, the Lieutenant Governor and I are certainly friends as well,” House Speaker Jon Burns said. “We’ve worked closely together. I’m disappointed again that the value that we saw in the mental health legislation was not shared in the Senate. It was not able to be moved forward. So we will continue to work together. We will continue to work with all the Senators, not just the Lieutenant Governor, to ensure they see the value in the propositions we put forward that impact every family in this state.”
Additionally, measures regarding sports betting, the creation of Buckhead City and private school vouchers failed.
“The Republicans control all houses,” House Minority Leader James Beverly said when asked about the prospects of sports betting. “Republicans control the governor’s mansion. They control the house and they control the Senate. They killed this bill. They control all houses. They are the ones and I’m saying this to the sports betting people y’all hear me clearly: Republicans are the ones who killed this.
They keep talking about Democrats, [but] we don’t have the power. But we certainly do have influence where we can make sure that the bill is better if our allies in this ecosystem will treat us as such. We will get something done.”
Another example of Republican leadership infighting centered around the funding of Georgia’s colleges and universities. Tuesday, Governor Brian Kemp vetoed a budget proposal, House Bill 319, which would prevent the Georgia Board of Regents from raising tuition or fees no more than 3% without approval from the Legislature. Oddly enough, the Senate version of the budget did cut $87 million from the state’s teaching funds.
“The Georgia Constitution makes plain the authority to govern, control, and manage the University System and all system institutions is vested in the Board of Regents,” said Governor Kemp in a statement. “Because of the constitutional reservation of authority in the Board of Regents, the legislation cannot be adopted without the approval of Georgians through exercise of their franchise.”
The dispute also simmered from a plan by Lt. Gov. Jones, that would allow a new hospital to be built in Butts County, which would’ve been constructed on land his father currently owns. Senate Bill 99 would have allowed acute care hospitals to be built in rural areas. Moreover, Wellstar Health System’s plan to assume control of Augusta University’s hospitals were also tied into the plan. Eventually, the Georgia Board of Regents approved a partnership with Wellstar on Friday. Governor Kemp described the agreement as a transformational win for Georgia’s families.
Meanwhile, the game of political football between Georgia’s Republicans will likely continue through the heat of summer.
“Well, you know I certainly respect the governor’s opinion on many things,” Burns said when asked about the Governor’s view on the budget. “He’s done a awfully good job of helping ensure this state’s moving forward that we have a robust economy by the policies that he’s put forth along with working with the General Assembly. Here’s what I know about the budget. We work hard on a budget. There’s a way we ensure that both sides have a lot of different voices and a lot of needs are met.”