Georgia Senate Majority Leader Steve Gooch

ATLANTA – Georgia Senate Republicans announced an agenda for this year’s legislative session Thursday that combines proposals recommended by GOP Gov. Brian Kemp with some of the Senate’s own initiatives.

Like the governor, the Senate Republican Caucus will focus on the economy, education, health care and public safety, Senate Majority Leader Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, told reporters at a news conference inside the Georgia Capitol.

The caucus endorsed Kemp’s push for additional tax rebates to state income tax and local property taxpayers, with the added twist of a thorough review of the more than 200 tax credits on the books.

“Every tax credit should be looked at, its effectiveness … has it created jobs,” Gooch said. “I’m sure some will have higher [returns on investment] than others.”

Indeed, state audits released during the last two months gave Georgia’s film tax credit, the most expensive in terms of revenue impact, a mixed review. Auditors concluded the state’s tax credit for video game developers is having a positive effect on the economy, while the research and development tax credit has yielded a poor return on investment.

Another Senate Republican initiative will focus on improving literacy in Georgia. Not a single school district in Georgia has an acceptable percentage of third-grade students reading on level, said Sen. Billy Hickman, R-Statesboro, who will spearhead the effort.

The Senate GOP caucus also is backing Kemp’s proposal to earmark $25 million for “learning loss” grants to help schools overcome the impact of students being forced to take online instruction during the pandemic.

Republican senators are lining up behind the governor’s public safety plans, including $50,000 school safety grants for every school in the state and legislation stiffening penalties for recruiting minors to gangs.

The GOP caucus’ health agenda includes expanding telehealth services for rural and underserved communities across Georgia.

“Access to quality health care should not be diminished by your zip code,” Gooch said.

The senators also endorsed Kemp’s call for allowing income-eligible pregnant women in Georgia to receive cash assistance through the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program. Currently, TANF aid is limited to women who have given birth.

Gooch said individual Republican senators are free to introduce legislation legalizing sports betting in Georgia if they choose. But he said it’s not a caucus priority.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.