LEGISLATIVE RECAP with Rep. Rick Williams
EDITOR'S NOTE: Written and released on March 5 by Rep. Rick Williams, Georgia House of Representatives, District 145
The Georgia House of Representatives reconvened for another impactful week of legislating on Monday, February 28. The House had a full schedule all week, and we are counting down the days until Crossover Day, which is the last legislative day that a bill can pass out of one chamber and still be eligible for consideration this year.
As such, we worked diligently to pass dozens of bills on the House floor in preparation for this critical deadline. On Legislative Day 22, my colleagues and I passed historic tax relief legislation that would help millions of hardworking Georgians in our state. Our state’s economy has bounced backed exponentially over the last year, resulting in an unprecedented budget surplus of $1.6 billion in undesignated funds. To that end, House Bill 1302 would fulfil the governor’s plan to give these funds back to Georgia taxpayers. This legislation would provide a one-time tax credit for eligible Georgia taxpayers who filed income tax returns in both 2020 and 2021. Based on their 2020 tax filer status, single tax filers would receive a $250 refund, head-of-household filers would receive $375, and those who file jointly would receive a $500 refund. These refunds would not be available for non-residents, individuals who were claimed as a dependent for the 2020 or 2021 tax years, estates nor trusts. If HB 1302 is signed into law, the refund would be automatically credited once a taxpayer files an income tax return for 2021, but these refunds would first be credited against a filer’s outstanding income tax liability prior to being issued to the taxpayer. Furthermore, this tax refund would not be taxable under Georgia law, and taxpayers would not accrue interest on the rebate.
Throughout the pandemic, our state has strived to keep businesses open, and our economy certainly stands stronger and more stable as a result. Now, with this legislation, Georgians could reap the benefits of the state’s economic stewardship. The House unanimously passed another bill to keep more hard earned dollars in the pockets of Georgians and reinforce our standing as a military-friendly state. House Bill 1064 would exempt up to $17,500 in military retirement income from state income taxes for retired service members under 62 years old. If a military retiree continues to work and earns at least $17,500, the retiree would be eligible for an additional exemption up to $17,500 in state income taxes for a total exemption of $35,000. If HB 1064 is passed and signed into law, it would become effective on July 1, 2022, and subsequently applicable to all taxable years starting January 1, 2022. Currently, Georgia’s neighboring states have incentives in place to entice military retirees, and through this legislation, we hope to attract more military retirees to Georgia to put their skills to work in our state. We are honored that so many U.S. military retirees have already chosen to call Georgia home, and this legislation would greatly benefit these individuals, especially as the cost of living and inflation has increased recently.
In an effort to curb vaping inside public spaces, my colleagues and I passed House Bill 1348, which would add vaping to the Georgia Smoke-free Air Act and align our vaping laws with our cigarette smoking laws. Like smoking, vaping would be prohibited inside most public areas, such as restaurants and government buildings, under this bill. Additionally, businesses would be able to designate enclosed areas for vaping that would be separate from non-vaping areas, and individuals who vape in prohibited public spaces would face a $100 to $500 fine. In 2018, the Georgia Department of Public Health released a report that highlighted just how much e-cigarettes have become a major public health concern for our youth, especially among high school students. The Georgia General Assembly has passed critical legislation since then to help regulate the sale and purchasing of these products, but our laws to prohibit vaping indoors have not yet been updated to address the growing use of e-cigarettes. As such, HB 1348 would ensure that we treat vaping the same as smoking in most public spaces to further deter the use of these hazardous products. Last year, the House Study Committee on Childhood Lead Exposure met extensively to examine how our current laws could be updated to promote early detection and treatment of lead exposure in children. This study committee’s final report recommended that our state laws be updated to align with the most recent standards of both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
This week, House Bill 1355 was passed on the House floor to update several provisions regarding lead poisoning testing and remediation based on the study committee’s recommendations. First, HB 1355 would reduce the required blood level of lead that would prompt public health action from 20 to 3.5 micrograms per deciliter, which could be detected through a single venous blood test or two capillary blood tests taken within 12 weeks of each other. This bill would also update our public health department’s lead hazard abatement protocols to specifically address the removal and disposal of lead-based paint and disposal activities, such as the removal of lead-based paint from exterior surfaces, fixtures and soil. This study committee developed several other legislative recommendations to mitigate any childhood lead exposure, and HB 1355 would take the necessary first steps to ensure Georgia’s lead exposure laws are based on nationally recognized guidelines to protect Georgia children.
Additionally, my colleagues and I passed two bills this week that would encourage hands-on agricultural experiences for Georgia students. First, House Bill 1303 would authorize the Georgia Department of Education (GaDOE) to implement agricultural education programs in all public elementary schools. This bill would also require schools to hire an agricultural education teacher for these programs, and the GaDOE would evaluate the success of the program at the end of this year. A few years ago, the Georgia General Assembly passed legislation that created a pilot program for agricultural education, and HB 1303 would make this pilot program permanent and allow all of our public schools to take part in this program.
We also passed House Bill 1292 to ensure that students would not be counted as absent from school when they participate in our state’s invaluable 4-H activities and programs. Under HB 1292, a school could request documentation from a 4-H representative if a student was absent due to involvement in 4-H. Both of these bills seek to educate and expose more Georgia students to our state’s agriculture industry and hopefully, encourage more students to explore one of the many careers in agriculture someday.
In other news, we were joined by Kirby Smart, head football coach for the University of Georgia Bulldogs, in the House Chamber on Tuesday. It was an exciting moment as Coach Smart was the first special guest invited to join us on the House floor since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020. The House was proud to recognize Coach Smart for leading the Dawgs to their 2021 College Football Playoff National Championship victory, and we wish his team the best of luck as they defend their national championship title next season. It is hard to believe that we are now in the final month of the 2022 legislative session.
While I am legislating on behalf of our community over this next month, I hope you reach out to me with any questions or concerns you have about the legislative process or bills that may be pending. My Capitol office number is 404-656-0254, and my email is email@example.com
As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your state representative.