Kemp signs bills to cut red tape for Georgia adoptions, protect foster kids

Gov. Brian Kemp signed several bills Monday to lower the age requirement for Georgia parents to adopt children from 25 to 21, create tuition waivers for foster kids to attend in-state universities and bolster legal protections for adopted children against abuse.

The six-bill package marked the latest move by Kemp and his allies in the General Assembly to cut red tape for Georgia families who wish to adopt children and help give older foster kids a leg up as they enter the working world.

During a bill-signing ceremony, Kemp highlighted improvements Georgia’s foster-care system has seen in recent years through an increase in adoptions that have reduced the number of foster kids in state care from about 15,000 children in March 2018 to roughly 12,000 as of this past January.

“By making it more affordable to adopt, reducing bureaucratic red tape and championing the safety of children across our state, we can ensure that Georgia’s children are placed in those homes in a secure and safer future for generations to come,” Kemp said Monday.

Legislative leaders including Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan backed legislation to lower the age for parents to adopt children to 21 and allow foster and homeless children to obtain tuition waivers from the University System of Georgia and the Technical College System of Georgia.

Kemp also signed legislation Monday to add more training for juvenile court officers, expand rules for parents under court-ordered alternatives care and require officials to report on a range of child-abuse treatment including abandonment, neglect, emotional abuse and exposure to chronic alcohol or drug use.

Additionally, Kemp signed bills to allow judges to issue arrest warrants for state foster-care workers, give courts more data on children in foster care and include a former foster child and current or former foster parents on the state Child Advocate Advisory Committee tasked with evaluating Georgia’s child-protective services.

Former state Rep. Burt Reeves, R-Marietta, one of Kemp’s floor leaders in the General Assembly who has pushed for adoption and foster-care legislation since 2015, said the newly signed bills add to other recent measures aimed at overhauling the foster-care system.

“Lives are being changed,” said Reeves, who resigned his seat in the state House of Representatives recently to take a job at Georgia Tech. “Forever homes are being created for children who have had the roughest and the most difficult pathway imaginable, and families are growing.”

Kemp signed separate legislation last month sponsored by Reeves to boost the annual tax credit for new foster parents from $2,000 to $6,000 annually for the first five years after adoption. He also signed a bill last year that prohibits foster parents from engaging in improper sexual behavior with children in their care, closing a loophole in state law.

Georgia lawmakers who joined Reeves in sponsoring the bills Kemp signed Monday included Sens. Chuck Payne, R-Dalton; Brian Strickland, R-McDonough; and Bo Hatchett, R-Cornelia; and Reps. Kasey Carpenter, R-Dalton; and Katie Dempsey, R-Rome.

Kemp signs bills to cut Georgia income tax, boost foster-care credit

Gov. Brian Kemp signed two bills Monday that will hand Georgians a slight income-tax cut and let foster parents tap into a larger tax credit when adopting children.

The governor, who has helmed the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic for a year now, called the two tax measures a boon for struggling Georgians and foster parents that looked financially “unthinkable” last March as the virus spread.

“As we return to normal here in the Peach State and look to fully restore our economy, it is critical that Georgians keep as much of their hard-earned money as possible to revive small businesses and industries still struggling under the weight of [COVID-19],” Kemp said at a bill-signing ceremony.

The tax-cut bill, sponsored by Georgia Rep. Shaw Blackmon, R-Bonaire, allows Georgians to pay less income tax starting July 1 amid a rebound of the state economy during the pandemic.

The state’s standard deduction for married couples who file joint returns will increase by $1,100. Single taxpayers can deduct an extra $800, while Georgians ages 65 and older can deduct another $1,300. Married couples filing separately will be able to deduct an additional $550.

House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, who has pushed to continue cutting taxes after Georgia lowered its income-tax rate from 6% to 5.75% in 2019, said Monday the latest cut aims to benefit primarily lower- to middle-income families across the state.

“Today marks another chapter in Georgia’s continuing commitment to provide sustainable, meaningful tax relief to Georgians to let them keep more of their hard-earned money,” Ralston said.

Critics have warned the income-tax cut would be a drop in the bucket of less than $100 in savings annually for all categories of taxpayers, while potentially jeopardizing millions of federal dollars set to arrive in the recently passed $1.9 trillion COVID-19 aid package.

Since the aid package bars states from lowering taxes while using the emergency aid money, Georgia could stand to lose nearly $200 million over the next two years by putting the income-tax cut into effect, according to Danny Kanso, senior policy analyst with the nonprofit Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.

The tax cut passed last week out of the state Senate by 35-15 vote with nearly all Democratic lawmakers voting against it due to concerns over the federal COVID-19 aid restrictions.

Top state Republicans including Kemp and Ralston have slammed the Biden administration over the aid package’s tax-cut penalties as well as its funding formula, which they argue benefits larger Democratic-run states like New York and California at the expense of Georgia.

However, Ralston on Monday said U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen had signaled the federal officials “will dramatically curtail” the tax-cut restrictions in the relief package amid pushback from Republican leaders in several states.

Separately, the tax-credit bill sponsored by Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta, drew less controversy as it sped through both chambers of the General Assembly.

Reeves’ measure will boost the annual tax credit for new foster parents from $2,000 to $6,000 annually for the first five years after adoption, then drop back to $2,000 per year. The credit will end when the foster child turns 18.

Clearing hurdles for foster care in Georgia has been a legislative priority for many state leaders including Kemp and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, who on Monday called the increased tax credit a “real and substantial” incentive for families to adopt some of the state’s most vulnerable children.

“It’s going to remove barriers and hurdles for families that are just sitting on the precipice of being able to make the decision to bring on those kids,” Duncan said.

The number of Georgia children in foster care has declined over the past three years but remains high, according to state Division of Family and Children Services data. The state currently has about 11,200 children in foster care, down from 15,000 in March 2018.

Tax credit boost for Georgia foster parents clears General Assembly

State lawmakers passed a tax credit increase Thursday for foster parents in Georgia to incentivize more adoptions, advancing a key plank in Gov. Brian Kemp’s legislative priorities this year.

The tax-credit bill, sponsored by Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta, would boost the annual tax credit for new foster parents from $2,000 to $6,000 annually for the first five years after adoption, then drop back to $2,000 per year. The credit would end when the foster child turns 18.

Sen. Bo Hatchett, who carried Reeves’ bill in the Senate and is one of the governor’s floor leaders, said the credit increase aims to encourage more adoptions in Georgia.

“This bill saves the state money, and at the same time this bill offers much-needed support to those families who open their hearts and their homes to children,” Hatchett, R-Cornelia, said from the Senate floor on Thursday.

Hatchett’s bill passed unanimously in the Senate after also passing unanimously in the House earlier this month, and now heads to Kemp’s desk for his signature.

The number of Georgia children in foster care has declined over the past three years but remains high, according to state Division of Family and Children Services data. The state currently has about 11,200 children in foster care, down from 15,000 in March 2018.

Kemp has made foster care a legislative priority for his administration along with cracking down on human trafficking and gang activities.

Along with Hatchett’s measure, Kemp has backed other bills currently moving through the legislature, including one that would lower the minimum age adults are allowed to adopt children from 25 to 21.

third bill would add more training for juvenile court officers, expand rules for parents under court-ordered alternatives care and require officials to report on a range of child-abuse treatment including abandonment, neglect, emotional abuse and exposure to chronic alcohol or drug use.

Those measures follow Kemp’s signing of a bill last year that prohibits foster parents from engaging in improper sexual behavior with children in their care, closing a loophole in current state law.

Kemp outlines bills foster-care package in General Assembly session

Gov. Brian Kemp has rolled out his administration’s bill package for foster care and adoption in Georgia that would boost tax credits for foster parents and tighten reporting requirements on child abuse.

The bills would revive Kemp’s push to raise the tax credit for foster parents from $2,000 to $6,000 and lower the minimum age adults are allowed to adopt children from 25 to 21. Those proposals were shelved when the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted last year’s legislative session.

A third bill would add more training for juvenile court officers, expand rules for parents under court-ordered alternatives care and require officials to report on a range of child-abuse treatment including abandonment, neglect, emotional abuse and exposure to chronic alcohol or drug use.

The number of Georgia children in foster care has declined over the past three years but remains high, according to state Division of Children and Family Services data. The state currently has about 11,200 children in foster care, down from 15,000 in March 2018.

Kemp has made foster care a legislative priority for his administration along with cracking down on human trafficking and gang activities.

“The most fundamental need for any child is a safe, loving home,” Kemp said Thursday in a statement.

“By making it more affordable to adopt, reducing bureaucratic red tape that stands in the way of loved ones adopting kids, and championing the safety of children across our state, we can ensure Georgia’s children are placed in those homes and secure a safer, brighter future for generations to come.”

The three bills are being sponsored by state Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta, and state Sen. Bo Hatchett, R-Cornelia, both of whom Kemp appointed as floor leaders in their respective chambers.

The measures follow Kemp’s signing of a bill last year that prohibits foster parents from engaging in improper sexual behavior with children in their care, closing a loophole in current state law.

Kemp signs human trafficking, foster care bills

Gov. Brian Kemp and First Lady Marty Kemp (Photo by Beau Evans)

ATLANTA – Gov. Brian Kemp signed bills Tuesday aimed at cracking down on human trafficking in Georgia and improving the state’s foster care system.

The governor made both issues top priorities of his agenda for the 2020 General Assembly session that ended late last month.

“Today is an important step forward to ensure a brighter, safer future for Georgia’s children in foster care and bring an end to human trafficking in our state,” Kemp said in a prepared statement.

“As these bills take the force of law, we are fulfilling an ongoing commitment to enhance our foster care system, achieve positive outcomes for our children and hold the perpetrators of human trafficking accountable.”

House Bill 823 and House Bill 911 were part of Georgia First Lady Marty Kemp’s initiative to target human trafficking and better protect foster children.

Under House Bill 823, anyone who knowingly uses a commercial motor vehicle to transport victims of sexual or labor trafficking will lose their commercial drivers license for life.

House Bill 911 prohibits foster parents from engaging in improper sexual behavior with children in their care, closing a loophole in current state law.

“I want to thank the sponsors of [the two bills] for working alongside Governor Kemp and I to put Georgia’s children first, hold bad actors accountable, and ultimately bring an end to the evil of human trafficking in our state,” Marty Kemp said.

Both bills took effect upon the governor’s signature.