April 4, 2024

The Georgia Catholic Conference witnesses to spiritual values in public affairs, and provides an agency for corporate Catholic service to the statewide community. Under the direction of the Catholic bishops of Georgia, the Conference promotes public policy positions related to Georgia governmental programs, legislation and policies which affect the common good and interest of the Catholic Church.

The Georgia General Assembly ended is 2024 legislative session as scheduled late on the evening of March 28.

The following are the results of the principal bills that the Conference followed, including several bills that passed earlier in the session. Since 2024 is the second year of the two-year legislative cycle, bills that did not pass both houses must be restarted next January if any legislator chooses to introduce it.

School Choice
The General Assembly passed and the governor is expected to sign SB 233 the school voucher provisions of which are summarized below.

The bill authorizes “Promise Scholarships” in the amount of $6,500 (subject to austerity reductions from time to time). Scholarship funds may be used by participating students for expenses listed in the bill as qualified educations expenses. Those expenses include tuition, fees, textbooks needed for core courses at participating schools, as well tutoring, physician or therapist services and other related expenses.

To be eligible for the Promise Scholarship, parents must be resident in Georgia for at least one year (with the requirement waived for students whose parents are active military). The student must have been enrolled for two consecutive enrollment counts which are required by Georgia law and the student must live in an attendance zone where academic performance ranks in the lower 25 percent of public schools in the state. Additionally, the student’s family income cannot exceed 400 percent of the federal poverty level (i.e. approximately $120,000.00 per year for a family of four).

The parents who choose to obtain a voucher for their child must sign an agreement that they will provide the student with an education in reading, grammar, mathematics, social studies and science. The parents must also agree that the student will not register in any public school while receiving the scholarship. The parents assume full responsibility for the education of the child.

Participating schools may be nonpublic schools, sectarian or nonsectarian, which are accredited. To receive scholarship funds, a participating school must demonstrate financial soundness and provide detailed reports necessary to provide evidence of soundness. The school must comply with federal anti-discrimination laws, health and safety laws and other laws applicable to private schools.

The bill establishes the Education Savings Authority as an instrumentality of the state of Georgia with board members and an executive director to administer the voucher program.  The Authority is given detailed authority for necessary management functions including rulemaking authority.

The vouchers will be first available for the 2025-2026 school year.

The Georgia Catholic Conference supported this bill. In addition, we are continuing to follow legislation to increase the cap for Student Scholarship Organizations (SSO), such as G.R.A.C.E. Scholars, to $150 million.

Death Penalty and Intellectual Disability
HB 1041 would have set a procedure for determining whether a person accused of a capital crime is intellectually disabled and, thus, should not be eligible for the death penalty. On February 15, the subcommittee was expected to give further consideration to the bill with some helpful amendments; however, negotiations over the language of the bill broke down and, with opposition from the prosecutors and attorney general’s office, there was no action on the bill.

HB 30 was introduced in 2023 and proposed a standard definition of “antisemitism” to facilitate clarification of the word’s meaning for use in proving discrimination against Jewish people. The definition adopts the definition of antisemitism drafted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) and adopted in 37 states as well as by a 2019 federal executive order and now used by every federal agency. HB 30 passed the house of representatives in 2023 but stalled in the Senate. After diligent work since the last legislative session, Senator John Kennedy (R. Macon) negotiated a revision for presentation to the senate. On January 25, the full senate considered and passed the revised bill, and the governor signed it into law. Archbishop Hartmayer and the three Atlanta auxiliary bishops signed a letter in support of HB 30 as revised.

HB  1105 (Petrea R-166) proposed increased penalties for sheriffs who do not report non-citizens in their custody to federal immigration officers and sets forth procedures for detaining individuals who are believed to be undocumented foreign nationals. The bill also requires publication of information on the number of non-citizen state and local inmates. Under current law, sheriffs and jailers were instructed to make reports of suspected undocumented immigrants but HB 1105 provides that anyone violating these requirements may be convicted of a high and aggravated misdemeanor.

Georgia Religious Freedom Restoration Act
SB 180 (Setzler R-37) proposed to provide that the government cannot substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, except as provided in specified limited circumstances. The bill passed the senate but was not taken up by the house.

Human Trafficking
SR 616 (Still R) and SB 512 were companion pieces which would have proposed a Georgia constitutional amendment to establish the Victims of Human Trafficking Fund. The proposed constitutional amendment would have allocated additional penalties for perpetrators and rehabilitation services for victims. If the constitutional amendment were adopted by the voters, SB 512 would have established a Victims of Human Trafficking Fund Commission to study the issues related to trafficking and make recommendations to the general assembly and State agencies.

SB 514 would have required training for hotel employees in ways to identify trafficking in the hospitality industry so they can report those activities. These bills had merit in the fight against human trafficking but did not pass.

Pro-life Rally
The Conference and the archdiocesan Office of Respect Life joined Georgia Life Alliance, Georgia Home Mission Board, National March for Life and others on March 22 for a rally and march in support of life legislation. Bishop Shlesinger gave the invocation at the rally.

Post expires at 6:57pm on Sunday April 12th, 2026