Georgia House and Senate showcase contrasting priorities as 2024 session ends

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia’s 2024 legislative session again showcased contrasting Republican approaches to governing, while minority Democrats couldn’t leverage those differences to advance top policy priorities.

And while many GOP initiatives in the state Senate seemed like appeals to that party’s primary voters, Republicans are hoping tax cuts and a harder line on immigration will carry them to victory in November’s legislative races. Democrats walked away more furious than ever about the failure to expand Medicaid health insurance, one cornerstone of their campaign to make gains in the state House.


In the background of 2024 campaigns for all 236 state legislative seats is jockeying for elections to statewide office in 2026. Republican Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, displaying a conservative edge, seems more likely than ever to run to succeed Gov. Brian Kemp, as many GOP lawmakers try to satisfy an activist base.

Some issues unified Republicans, including speeding up an income tax cut, uniting around a crackdown on undocumented immigrants in jails, and pay raises for teachers and state employees.

But there’s a continuing power struggle between the chambers. Last year, that conflict burst into the open, with House and Senate leaders killing bills from the other chamber in a dispute that was set off by Jones’ push to loosen health care permitting requirements.

Jones won a partial loosening of those rules this year, and conflict overall was less public. But sharp disagreements were evident as each chamber completely disregarded measures passed by the other.

“You know, some folks choose politics. The House chooses results,” Republican House Speaker Jon Burns of Newington told reporters moments after the House adjourned at 12:58 a.m. Friday. He and other House leaders said they instead focused on “kitchen table” issues often funded through the budget, like a spending boost for prekindergarten programs.

Divisions showed in how, even more than normal, decisions cascaded into the last hours of the last legislative day. Both the House and Senate blew past a once-sacrosanct midnight deadline.

“There were a lot of challenges and tensions between the two chambers. It’s not the first time, but it was particularly elevated this year.” said Rep. Scott Holcomb. The Atlanta Democrat again saw the Senate snub his push to compensate people released from prison after they are exonerated, even though top House Republicans supported the effort.

That was far from the only initiative that failed. The Senate spent precious time on the session’s last day passing a ban on puberty blocking drugs for transgender youth, but the bill sank without a trace in the House. So did an education bill that sought to cut back on sex education and write a ban on transgender girls playing girls’ sports into law, as well as a Senate bill banning public money from being spent on what Republican senators say is the left-wing American Library Association.

“To me, the 2024 session was a battle of the far-right Senate versus the moderate Republican House, in which the House ultimately prevailed by stopping the vast majority of these culture war issues, from attacks against transgender youth to putting a Clarence Thomas monument on the Capitol grounds,” House Minority Whip Sam Park, a Lawrenceville Democrat, said Friday.

But on some other terms, the Senate may the winner. All of the priorities the Senate Republican Caucus announced in January became law. That included a bill requiring cash bail for more crimes, and a call for private and home school vouchers that finally passed the House after Kemp and House leaders joined the push. A Senate-backed bill requiring parental consent before children younger than 16 can sign up for social media is also on the way to Kemp’s desk.

“I’m proud of all that the Senate accomplished this session, promoting an agenda to help Georgia families, expand access to health care, support HBCUs, crack down on sanctuary policies and protect women’s sports,” Jones said in a statement Friday. “These issues are a marathon, not a sprint, and we’ll continue to build on our accomplishments year after year to enact policies that lift up the middle class and fight back against radical Democrats’ insanity.”


For Democrats, though, it was another year of frustration. After Burns opened the door to Medicaid expansion, the minority party worked feverishly to try to expand health coverage to lower-income adults. They even believed they had a deal with Senate leadership to bring forward a bill at the last minute, only to claim betrayal after it was voted down in committee by Republicans who said they wanted to support Kemp’s struggling Pathways program that offers insurance only with proof of work or study.

“The problem is that Georgia’s health care policy failures are deliberate choices made by Gov. Kemp and the Republican leadership in the legislature,” outgoing House Minority Leader Gloria Butler, a Stone Mountain Democrat, told reporters. “We were told to let them cook. We were told that if we were nice to Republicans and if we asked politely, Medicaid expansion would be on the table. But guess what? It is still on the table.”

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