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Friday, March 29, 2024 - Sine Die edition
Session ended yesterday!

Archive of all 2024 Legislative Updates

SB 105, a bill that allows for future and immediate increases in the state pension plan for school bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians, and maintenance personnel, passed on the last day of the legislative session, yesterday.  Funding, through the 2024-2025 state budget, also passed - an allocation of $5.6 million - that GAE secured.

Without passage of the bill, pension benefits for these educators could never be increased due to a limit on benefits in state law.

Passage and funding were the conclusion of a two-year effort led by GAE to improve retirement benefits for those whose retirement benefits are provided by the Public School Employees Retirement System (PSERS).

In January of 2022, GAE approached then-Senate Retirement Committee chairman Sen. Randy Robertson, a Republican who represents Harris, Meriwether, Muscogee, and Troup counties, asking that he and his committee to look into ways to improve the retirement benefits of ESP in the PSERS.  Chairman Robertson agreed.

Robertson's first hearing was held on a Friday morning in September of 2022, when, unfortunately, no ESP whose retirement benefits are provided under the PSERS could attend.  Subsequently, GAE asked the chairman to hold a hearing on a day when affected educators could attend.  Sen. Robertson agreed, scheduling a second hearing on Saturday, December 17, 2022.

Only two Senators attended the meeting, Sen. Robertson and Sen. Larry Walker, R-Perry.  Fifty-five or more GAE members, many of them ESPs, attended and shared their stories and brought attention to the inadequacies of the PSERS pension fund.

Both Senators were taken aback and touched by the testimony of GAE ESPs at this second hearing, learning that the average monthly benefit for those covered by the PSERS was $290 and was capped by state law.

As a result, Sen. Walker introduced legislation, SB 105, on February 7, 2023, to eliminate the cap on PSERS benefits found in state law.

As a retirement bill with a financial impact on a state pension plan, the bill was a two-year bill, meaning that although the bill was introduced in 2023, it could not be advanced until 2024, after a financial impact study of the legislation had been conducted.

In 2023, the Senate Retirement Committee gave approval for the bill and sent the bill out for a fiscal review.  On January 26, 2024, following a favorable study of the limited cost of the bill, the committee passed the bill.  On March 31, 2024, the bill passed the state Senate by a 49-1 vote.

On March 20, the House Retirement Committee gave its unanimous approval of the bill
.  Finally, on March 28 - the last day of the session - the House of Representatives voted for the bill, 163-0.

The bill needed approval by both chambers, which it had achieved.  But it also needed funding to raise the multiplier used to calculate PSERS benefits from the previous maximum set in state law of $16.50 to the $17 minimum proposed by the bill.

About 6 p.m. on March 28, a specially appointed committee (conference committee) of three House representatives and three Senate members announced that funding in the 2024-2025 budget was provided to fund the bill.  Not long thereafter, both chambers - the Senate and the House - approved the 2024-2025 state budget with funding for SB 105!

Shortly after the vote, Lisa Morgan, GAE president and kindergarten teacher, praised Walker and Robertson for their efforts to pass the bill.  "Quite simply, had they not been in attendance at the final hearing a week before Christmas of 2023, there would be no bill," Morgan stated.  "They took the testimony to heart and were touched by the testimony of GAE members whose pension is under the PSERS."

"GAE would also like to express its gratitude to Senate Appropriations Chairman Blake Tillery, R-Vidalia, current Senate Retirement Committee chairman Rick Williams, R-Milledgeville, House Majority Leader Chuck Efstration, R-Dacula, and House sponsor Rep. Bethany Ballard, R-Warner Robins, for their support," Morgan added.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp must sign the bill for it to become law.  Should he do so, the bill would become effective July 1, 2024, immediately raising benefits for all PSERS beneficiaries.

House declines to vote on two troubling bills

HB 1104, originally a suicide-prevention bill, heavily modified in the state Senate to include troubling language pertaining to sex education, censorship of school material, and gender identity, was NOT brought to the House for a vote.  The legislation cleared the state Senate earlier this week by a 33-21 vote but was never scheduled for a House vote.  The bill would have:

   Required that parents and guardians "opt-in" rather "opt-out" their children for sex education classes and mandated that no sex education be offered before the sixth grade.  School systems could elect not to offer sex education at all,

•   Required that public school libraries notify parents and guardians each and every time their child checks out a book or other library material,

•   Required students use the restrooms or locker rooms associated with their gender as determined at birth and prohibits "any person whose gender is male but whose gender identity is female to participate in any interscholastic athletics designated for females."

This section of the amended bill defines "sex" as: "the biological state of being male or female, in the context of reproductive potential or capacity, based on the individual's sex organs, chromosomes, naturally occurring sex hormones, gonads, and internal and external genitalia present at birth, including secondary sex characteristics.  An individual's sex can be observed or clinically verified at or before birth,"

Expanded the "Parents Bill of Rights" that passed a few years ago to create a new parental complaint process to challenge "instructional material."  The bill now expands to cover "any written or electronic materials made available to students in a public school, including classroom materials, school library materials, or any materials made available to a public school student ..."

Another bill, HB 1170, that would have prohibited students under the age of 18 from using so-called "puberty blockers," also died on the final day of the session, 23-30.
Other bills that passed or failed on the final day of the legislative session:

HB 409 won final passage yesterday by two votes.  The bill states: "In establishing routes for school buses, a public school system shall consider routes that do not have stops requiring a student entering the school bus to cross a roadway with a speed limit of 40 miles per hour or greater."  The bill also increases, from $250 to $1,000, the fine for passing a school bus at a bus stop.

HB 1122 provides funding for administrators for charter schools.  An amendment to the bill also requires the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement (GOSA) to establish a ranking of schools, on a scale of 0-100, which would presumably be used to identify the "lowest performing schools" in the state for eligibility in the recently passed private school voucher program.  The bill also allows students of educators to attend the school at which their parent or guardian is employed.

SB 169 passed and will be sent to the governor.  The legislation will amend state law to state: "The [disciplinary] hearing is held no later than ten school days after the beginning of the suspension unless the school system and parents or guardians mutually agree to an extension, in which case the school system shall set a new date and time of the hearing that shall not occur more than 15 school days after the beginning of the suspension.  The hearing may be held later than 15 school days after the beginning of the suspension upon a written request by a parent or guardian and agreement by the school system."

SB 240, originally a bill to require a study of school districts to determine which are and are not contributing to Social Security on behalf of members of the Public School Employees Retirement System (PSERS), and which was amended to allow teachers to opt-out of the Teachers Retirement System (TRS), failed to receive a majority of vote in the state Senate.  The bill raised questions about the potential financial harm the bill could do to TRS.  Further, the bill appeared only to benefit one specific charter school.

SB 386, a bill to allow betting on sports events for the benefit of the HOPE Scholarship and pre-K programs in Georgia, died on sine die.

Final Legislative 2024 Session Report wil be Monday, April 1
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