ATLANTA – Legislation offering significant pay raises to coroners in Georgia passed the state House of Representatives overwhelmingly this year but ran out of time to get through the Georgia. Senate.

But supporters say the need is urgent, and they’re planning to raise the issue again when the General Assembly convenes under the Gold Dome for the 2025 legislative session.

“The legislature has not addressed pay for coroners in over 30 years,” said Dawson County Coroner Ted Bearden, chairman of the Georgia Coroners Association’s Legislative Committee. “We’re working with an antiquated system. … It needs to be fixed.”

As the system has evolved over the years, coroners in counties with vastly different populations and, thus, a huge discrepancy in the number of cases they’re called on to handle, often are being paid the same, Bearden said.

The coroner system is pervasive in Georgia. Only four large counties – Fulton, Cobb, DeKalb, and Gwinnett – use significantly more expensive medical examiners.

“A lot of coroners who have been doing it for years are going to retire,” Bearden said. “You are not going to be able to find qualified people for the pay it currently pays.”

The House passed legislation this year aimed at replacing that current hodge-podge by upgrading coroner to a full-time position and setting a range of salaries depending on the population of the county they serve.

The minimum salary for coroners under the measure would be $35,000 per year. Minimum salaries would go much higher for coroners in the largest counties that use coroners. Under current law, coroners in counties with populations of fewer than 35,000 earn no more than $3,600 annually.

Deputy coroners would be paid $250 for each case they handle, up from the current $175.

“We’re trying to update the pay scale to minimum standards,” Rep. Will Wade, R-Dawsonville, told members of a Senate committee during a hearing on the bill in March. “The vast majority of counties I represent are already paying their coroners well above this minimum standard.”

But lawmakers heard an earful during this year’s legislative session from county officials and their advocates worried about how pay raises for coroners would affect their tight budgets.

“They tell me they’re not prepared, they can’t afford it, that it’s not in their budget,” said Sen. Mike Hodges, R-Brunswick, a member of the Senate committee that heard testimony on the bill.

Todd Edwards, deputy director of governmental affairs for the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, questioned giving big pay raises to coroners in small rural counties. He said coroners already get the same cost-of-living raises that go to state employees.

“How many death cases are there in rural counties?” Edwards said. “Is it really a full-time job? A lot of them are probably full-time funeral home directors.”

Edwards also argued that decisions on coroners’ salaries should be made through local legislation rather than a statewide bill.

But Bearden called that a “terrible” idea.

“If a county does local legislation, it takes another piece of local legislation to change it,” he said.

The Senate Economic Development and Tourism Committee ended up approving the House bill, including an amendment that moved its effective date back to the beginning of 2026 to give counties time to plan for the financial hit. But the bill never reached the Senate floor during the hectic final day of this year’s session.

Bearden said he and other supporters of raising coroners’ salaries are planning to reintroduce the legislation next year, probably with few changes.

“The state has two choices: Keep the coroner system or go to a statewide medical examiner system,” he said. “Everything would go to the GBI (Georgia Bureau of Investigation. They can’t keep the investigators they have now handling the caseload as it is.”