Lawmakers focused on jobs, education; now it’s Gov. Kemp’s turn
The 40 legislative days of darkness—when the Georgia General Assembly is in session—finally came to a close on March 29 as lawmakers adjourned for the year. It concluded a three-month sprint in which legislators introduced nearly 1,200 bills.
Some were good, some were bad, and others were just weird, which may explain the now-famous quote from Gideon J. Tucker, a 19th century jurist and politician: “No man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the Legislature is in session.”
I am largely being facetious, but if you paid heed to many headlines, it would be easy to assume lawmakers only focused on controversial topics and remained locked in political dog fights. In fairness, some bills caused plenty of fireworks, even proposals related to leaf blowers and the soap box derby.
Despite some pundits’ characterization of the recent legislative session, many lawmakers advocated bipartisan issues important to Georgians—jobs and education. They carefully crafted a handful of bills and sent them to Gov. Brian P. Kemp, who has 40 days from the end of session to consider them.
Faced with rampant workforce shortages and government-imposed impediments to employment, lawmakers eyed changes to the state’s occupational licensing regimes and the government’s hiring practices.
Easily the most important piece of workforce legislation is HB 155, sponsored by Rep. Chuck Martin, R-Alpharetta. As it stands, when people—who hold an out-of-state professional license in good standing—move here, they must clear time-consuming, costly and duplicative bureaucratic hurdles to get the state’s permission to work.
HB 155 is designed to create a less burdensome system for these individuals, and it would be done via the highly regulated licensure by endorsement process, which institutes strong consumer protections. Already 20 states have enacted similar pieces of legislation, and if Georgia wants to remain competitive and help people get to work more quickly, Kemp ought to sign this too.
This bill promises to go a long way, but lawmakers admit that more must be done, although some of it will occur out of session. Sen. Larry Walker, R-Perry, introduced SR 85 to create a licensing study committee to determine how to safely and responsibly get more people to work, and the committee’s recommendations should become public before the end of the year.
Study committee members will have their work cut out for them too. Georgia’s professional licensing system is one of the most burdensome in the country for lower-income professions; there are 43 licensing boards under the Secretary of State and the state licenses some 142 occupations; and while lawmakers created many licensing mandates with the best of intentions, some have the effect of reducing competition within industries and driving up consumer costs.
Meanwhile, Sen. Walker’s colleague, Sen. John Albers, R-Johns Creek, introduced SB 3 to direct the Department of Administrative Services to “Regularly assess the educational, experiential, and training requirements necessary” for each state government job to determine which prerequisites to work can be reduced. By removing unnecessary barriers to government employment, this could open up state ranks to a host of people previously considered unqualified and fill longstanding gaps in our workforce.
Regardless of whether Gov. Kemp signs SB 3, some educational standards for particular jobs will always exist. Thankfully, lawmakers—along with Kemp—want to expand access to post-secondary education by reforming the lottery-funded HOPE scholarship.
It “used to cover all [college] tuition and provide some money for books and fees if students attended a public college in Georgia,” wrote the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “That changed when lawmakers overhauled the program in 2011 to prevent it from going broke.”
Now it only covers a fraction of the rapidly rising cost of tuition, but Speaker Jon Burns’ HB 19 could change all of that. It would revamp the scholarship to cover 100 percent of HOPE recipients’ tuition and make sure the scholarship aligns more closely with its original intent. This could encourage more of Georgia’s youth to attend college and help keep students out of crippling student loan debt, which has already topped $1.75 trillion across the United States.
Partisan culture wars and controversial hot topics may grab headlines and capture the electorate’s attention, but the General Assembly buckled down and passed some critically important pieces of legislation. While there was some legislative theatrics and drama, lawmakers focused on jobs and education, and deserve a pat on the back for it. Now that the Georgia General Assembly has passed all of the aforementioned bills, it’s up to Kemp to sign them into law.