Law restricting use of hormones, surgery to take effect July 1
Gov. Brian Kemp moved quickly to sign a bill to prevent some hormone treatments for transgender children seeking to align with their gender identity.
The governor put his name to Senate Bill 140 two days after Republicans in the Georgia Senate gave final approval to the measure that bars medical professionals from providing surgical treatment and some hormones to transgender children.
Kemp didn’t hold a bill-signing ceremony like he sometimes does with high-profile legislation. Instead, he made the announcement on Twitter.
The signing caught SB 140′s sponsor, state Sen. Carden Summers, R-Cordele, off guard, but he said he was “tickled” to learn it is now law.
“I think he signed it because he realized the importance of the bill,” Summers said. “None of us could support a bill that was zero-tolerance like some of the other states put out.”
Earlier in the week, Summers said he was looking forward to “looking people straight in the eye and telling them that I am compassionate to their plea and I understand their passion, but we’re doing the right thing by protecting children.”
The compassionate thing to do, said state Sen. Kim Jackson, a Pine Lake Democrat and the Senate’s first openly LGBTQ member, was to vote against SB 140 and allow transgender children — who commit suicide at a higher rate than their nontransgender peers — to receive the care they require.
“Our children are at risk when they’re not given access to the hormone therapy they need to properly manage their gender dysphoria,” she said, referring to the distress that comes from feeling you’re one gender when you physically look like another.
Supporters of SB 140 say it protects children from taking steps toward gender transition that are permanent.
Medical professionals, however, would still be allowed to prescribe hormones that delay puberty or stop it from progressing.
The bill provides an exception for the treatment of intersex children — those who are not born with the genitalia, chromosomes or reproductive organs of only one gender.
SB 140 will not take effect until July 1, so children who begin receiving hormone treatments before then will be able to continue to receive such care.
Opponents said SB 140 runs counter to published medical “standards of care” and veers away from previous GOP measures that allow parents to make other health decisions for their children, such as opting them out of school policies that require vaccines and masks.
The purpose of the bill, they said, is to push “culture war” issues to energize the GOP base.
“We are using children to really push forward work that’s under the guise of compassion — and I do believe the sincerity of some of the members in this room — but, broadly speaking, this is about bullying children to score political points,” Jackson said.
Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC
Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC
Senate and House budgets are wide apart in some areas
The Georgia Senate has approved a $32.4 billion budget for fiscal 2024. The state House has also approved a $32.4 billion budget.
Still, there’s a lot of work to be done on the state’s spending plan before the legislative session ends Wednesday.
The next step is a conference committee, where state senators and representatives will hash out a deal. They’ll have plenty to talk about because of the significant differences in their budgets.
The Senate had some extra cash to work with after cutting about $105 million that Gov. Brian Kemp had designated for the University System of Georgia.
If you’re the type of person who says there are no coincidences, you could find this interesting: $105 million is essentially the same amount Kemp and lawmakers recently approved for a new electronic medical records system for the Medical College of Georgia, part of Augusta University.
The cost of the medical records system did draw some scrutiny from Senate leaders, but this could be more about the Wellstar Health System, which is negotiating a partnership with the Augusta University Health System and could possibly take control of it.
The Cobb County-based health system has publicly opposed the Senate’s push, behind the leadership of Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, to make it easier to build new hospitals in Georgia. That would include a private hospital proposed in Jones’ native Butts County that could be built on land owned by the father of the lieutenant governor and potentially take patients away from two nearby Wellstar facilities.
The Senate plan would instead spend the money in many other ways.
First off, it would reward some law enforcement officers with pay bumps: Troopers, GBI investigators and game wardens would all receive raises of $6,000.
The House plan would increase the pay for those same law enforcement officers by $4,000, which is double what Kemp proposed.
The Senate sided with Kemp on a plan to fund HOPE college scholarships at 100% of tuition. The House backs a plan to boost funding for the scholarship from 90% to 95% except for high-achieving students with Zell Miller scholarships who would get the full 100%.
The upper chamber’s budget also would add $173 million to the state’s reinsurance program, which is designed to stabilize the health insurance market and make coverage more affordable. That’s almost twice what Kemp proposed.
The Senate is calling for a 26% reduction in its budget for Georgia Public Broadcasting, and it would also cut some of the money the House proposed for school nutrition, sexual assault nurse examiners and mental health.
The House and Senate do agree on some things.
Both chambers’ plans call for spending $26.7 million to give 54,000 state government pensioners a $500 boost next year.
Each chamber also set aside $1.25 million to open a Georgia State Patrol satellite post in Buckhead that would house up to 20 troopers from the motor unit and Nighthawks DUI Task Force.
Credit: Georgia Senate Press Office
Credit: Georgia Senate Press Office
Senate adopts new rule limiting travel by members about to leave office
The lieutenant governor and state senators will no longer be able to take out-of-state trips on the taxpayers’ dime if they are nearing the end of their terms in office.
Senate Resolution 334 passed the chamber on a vote of 54-0 to ban such trips. The measure does not require House approval.
The new policy comes following an internal probe that was launched after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in February that outgoing Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and then-Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller led a tour of Europe focusing on economic development only weeks before the left office. The two headed a 14-member delegation that included senators, other government officials and members of Duncan’s security detail on the trip to Germany and the United Kingdom.
A report from the internal investigation said the trip had “the appearance of nothing more than a taxpayer-funded vacation” for Duncan and Miller.
The taxpayers’ bill for that “vacation”? About $110,000, according to the AJC’s findings.
The General Assembly initially tried to hide the cost of the trip, citing the exemption it gave itself from complying with the state’s Open Records Act. But the AJC came up with the amount using open records requests to various state agencies and other sourcing.
Following the AJC’s story, Lt. Gov. Burt Jones and Senate President Pro Tem John Kennedy called for the internal investigation.
The rule change in SR 334 bans out-of-state travel paid for with Senate funds within six months of a lieutenant governor or senator leaving office, or after they lose a primary or general election.
As part of the new rule, Senate leaders said as of April 1, all out-of-state travel expenses paid for using funds appropriated to the Senate and Jones’ office should be itemized and posted at the end of each month on the Senate’s website (https://www.legis.ga.gov/senate). Jones and Kennedy said they would seek approval of the change at the next meeting of the chamber’s Administrative Affairs Committee.
That marks a change for the General Assembly, which traditionally declines to say how it spends the money in its budget — $53 million this year — citing the Open Records Act exemption.
Georgia House seat filled: Democrat Eric Bell, 26, won a special election this past week in Georgia House District 75 representing the Jonesboro area. Bell replaces former Democratic state Rep. Mike Glanton, who resigned in January. Bell is a Morehouse College graduate and a former aviation officer for the U.S. Navy. He works as a government affairs coordinator at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
Walker still has pile of cash: Republican Herschel Walker’s failed U.S. Senate campaign still has more than $5.1 million in cash on hand, it reported in an amended disclosure. The campaign also reported spending roughly $1.3 million since Walker’s loss in the December runoff against Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock. Among the bigger expenditures was $127,000 for “logistics consulting” to Michelle Beagle, a close friend of Walker’s wife, Julie Blanchard.
White House honors: It was better late than never for singer Gladys Knight when she was celebrated at the White House as a 2021 winner of the National Medal of Arts. In a news release, the White House said Knight’s “exceptional talent influenced musical genres” and that she had “inspired generations of artists.” At the same event, which was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, former Spelman College President Johnnetta Betsch Cole was honored as a winner of the 2021 National Humanities Medal.
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