Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp's 2023 State of the State address, annotated

Gov. Brian Kemp with several Georgia Supreme Court justices at his 2023 State of the State address on Jan. 25 at the Georgia state Capitol. (Matthew Pearson/WABE)

In his first State of the State address as a second-term governor, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp told lawmakers and other public officials gathered in the Georgia House chamber that the state is beginning a “new era” and the upcoming legislative session will be “one of consequence.”

Kemp is fresh off a decisive re-election victory and has signaled he intends to focus his second term less on the divisive social issues that defined his first four years in office. Instead, his speech focuses on education, housing, economic development and health. Absent are mentions of guns, abortion, election law and school curriculum that animated the last session.

WABE reporters and editors have annotated Kemp’s address, as prepared for delivery, with context and fact checks. 

Lt. Governor Jones, Speaker Burns, President Pro Tem Kennedy, Speaker Pro Tem Jones, members of the General Assembly, Constitutional Officers, Mayor Dickens, members of the judiciary, members of the consular corps, and my fellow Georgians: 

When I delivered my first State of the State address in this chamber four years ago, little did we know the unprecedented challenges that were before us. Now, on the other side of my first term, we have overcome each of those challenges, together, and we have risen to the occasion each time change has come. Speaking of change, each chamber has new leadership than when I began my first term, and I want to congratulate Lt. Governor Jones and Speaker Burns again on their elections, along with the newly elected leaders and appointed committee chairs in both the Senate and House. I also want to congratulate my fellow Constitutional Officers on their recent victories. 

This session marks a moment of leadership transition under the Gold Dome, with the departure of former Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan, who did not seek re-election, and former Speaker David Ralston, who died last year. Sam Gringlas, Politics Reporter

Gov. Brian Kemp flanked by Lt. Gov. Burt Jones (left) and House Speaker Jon Burns (right) at the 2023 State of the State address. (Matthew Pearson/WABE)

Over the last four years, our greatest achievements were accomplished when both chambers worked hand-in-hand with my office to put the people of our state first – ahead of the status quo. Our future as a state relies on that partnership… to do the right thing for our citizens, even when it may not be easy. Each of you has my commitment to continue that work, together. That’s good for our entire state… because I believe this session will be one of consequence. I’m proud to report that because of the foundation we have built, together, over the past four years, because of the resilience shown by the people of Georgia, because of the resolve they continue to show, the state of our state has never been stronger and more resilient! 

During his first term, Kemp signed into law bills that restricted abortion, loosened gun rules and added new regulations about how race is taught in classrooms. This session seems to be far more focused on kitchen table issues like pay raises, tuition scholarships and health insurance. Sam Gringlas, Politics Reporter

This session, we will not only build on the monumental achievements of the past four years, we will set Georgia on a path of greatness for generations to come. This past year in particular was unprecedented for economic success in the Peach State. In less than 365 days, we announced four of the largest economic development projects in state history. Just those four projects alone will bring over 20,000 new jobs and over $17 billion in investment to rural communities across Georgia. Those good-paying jobs are in fields that will define the next generation of manufacturing, and that future will be made right here in Georgia

-In his second inaugural address, Kemp declared that he wants to make Georgia the electric mobility capital of the country. Kemp’s economic development team has competed aggressively for new investments to make batteries, build electric cars and solar panels. Sam Gringlas, Politics Reporter

These clean energy announcements are popular both with Republicans and Democrats, who are all eager to take credit. Federal incentives from the Democrats’ big health and climate bill that passed last year help companies like solar panel manufacturers, while Republicans tout Georgia’s business-friendly environment. When it comes to the actual environment, the state of Georgia does not have any climate mandates or goals. Molly Samuel, Environment Editor

And we aren’t slowing down. Just last week, we learned that in the first half of this fiscal year, our top-ranked Department of Economic Development helped to announce 17,500 new jobs and more than $13 billion in investment coming to Georgia. I’m especially proud that, once again, 85% of those jobs are coming to areas outside metro Atlanta! And the good news is our metro areas continue to thrive in this environment, with organic growth generated by good policies and a pro-business approach that we have all worked with partners in the private sector to create

-Immigrant and refugees advocates are calling for more policies that empower newcomers to work in Georgia. On the first day of the legislative session, all three of Georgia’s top chambers of commerce – the Metro Chamber, Georgia Chamber and Georgia Hispanic Chamber — joined advocacy organizations in discussing further policies that could empower foreign-born professionals to work in the state. Emily Wu Pearson, Immigration & Communities Reporter

I want to thank the hardworking men and women of the Georgia Department of Economic Development who helped us bring those unparalleled levels of opportunity to communities all across our state! One member of that team is here with us today. Yoonie Kim serves as Director of Korean Investment, and she’s been instrumental in bringing literally billions of dollars and thousands of jobs to Georgia communities. Yoonie, will you please stand and let us thank you for that good work?

I also want to thank the General Assembly for their contributions to this effort. I cannot overstate how critical your support is when it comes to winning in these competitive environments, while also providing a good return on investment. Thanks to the collective work of those in this chamber, those who came before us, and local leadership across Georgia, we’ve been named the No. 1 state for business for nine years in a row

-This claim is made widely by state officials, but always without context or attribution. The only publication that has named Georgia No. 1 for business is a trade publication called Area Development. Susanna Capelouto, Deputy Managing Editor

Lawmakers attending the 2023 State of the State address on Jan. 25. (Matthew Pearson/WABE)

But despite all we have achieved, there’s a growing risk to that No. 1 status — the need for more workers and quality homes where they can raise a family in the same community where they work. This year, the budgets I presented to you make significant steps in addressing both issues. 4 We are putting precious state dollars where our priorities are, including every level of education to grow a generation of highly skilled workers. In fact, between both budgets we will devote an additional $1.9 billion to education and fully fund the QBE Formula. We are expanding and reinforcing the workforce pipeline at every level, including where it begins — in our K-12 classrooms

-Education advocates and teachers groups will be pleased with this proposal. QBE underwent “austerity cuts” from 2002 to 2017. Some Democrats still complain that restoring the cuts is not enough. Lawmakers have considered adding a mechanism to the formula this year that would, among other things, provide additional funding for schools in high-poverty areas. Some advocates would also like to see the state allocate more money for transportation costs, which have been gradually passed on to districts through the years. Martha Dalton, Education Reporter

Hardworking teachers are the most impactful elements of this pipeline. We’re fortunate to have one of them here with us today. She’s a first-grade teacher at Hahira Elementary School in Lowndes County. During the pandemic, like so many others who serve in our classrooms, she went above and beyond for her students. Lauren Plair, will you please stand and let us thank you for your service? Lauren is now in her fifth year of teaching, a milestone when educators often feel burnt out and consider leaving the profession. 

To keep our best and brightest in the classroom, when I first ran for governor, I promised to raise teacher pay by $5,000. With your help, we fully delivered on that pledge.

-This is a tricky claim to make. The intent was there. The state was able to provide $5,000 for teachers the state pays for through QBE. Some districts hire additional teachers funded through their own revenue. It’s hard to say whether those teachers received raises. Districts could try to provide them on their own, but wouldn’t be required to do so. Martha Dalton, Education Reporter 

To reward those who continue to serve after the hardships of the pandemic, my FY 2024 budget proposes yet another $2,000 pay raise for teachers like Lauren. While some politicians have continued to grumble about teacher pay in Georgia, let me give you the facts: In total, we will have given hardworking educators a $7,000 pay raise in just five years. No other General Assembly or governor will have raised teacher pay by so much, so quickly, in state history! With the passage of this budget, the average teacher salary in Georgia will also now be over $7,000 higher than the Southeast regional average

-Again, the intent is here. Kemp is right that this is a historic raise for those teachers who receive it. The $5,000 raise is especially notable since it raised teachers’ base salaries. The $2,000, while most likely appreciated, is a one-time payment. It’s hard to say if all teachers receive the money. Martha Dalton, Education Reporter

Lawmakers attending the 2023 State of the State address on Jan. 25. (Matthew Pearson/WABE)

But we know that teachers don’t just need more pay and resources, they also need reinforcements. That’s why I’m furthering the teacher workforce pipeline measures we put into place during my first term through certification grants that will help paraprofessionals become teachers. With this one investment, we will add close to 5,000 new teachers to our education workforce! 

But we also know the workforce pipeline extends into our world-class universities and technical colleges. That is why, for the first time in over a decade – and in the 30th year of both this program and the Georgia Lottery – we are once again fulfilling Governor Zell Miller’s vision and returning HOPE Scholarship and Grant awards to 100% of tuition! Today, we are joined by one of the students and future workers who has benefited from Governor Miller’s legacy and the support of this General Assembly. “Oba” Samaye is a HOPE Scholarship student at our National Championship-winning University of Georgia. He is a first-generation college student and the oldest of five children. His father is a retired Navy 6 veteran and pastor and his mother is also currently in school working to become a doctor. 

-This is critical to the HOPE program and both parties have to be happy about this. Gov. Kemp is restoring cuts made to HOPE in 2011. The key test will be to see if this is more than a one-year budget allocation. With lottery revenues surging, the restoration of cuts may be sustainable. Martha Dalton, Education Reporter

By covering 100% of tuition – a policy long worked on by members of both sides of the aisle – a student like Oba will receive roughly $1,000 in additional financial assistance in the coming school year. Oba, will you rise as we wish you continued success? We look forward to your bright future and hope that you choose a profession here in Georgia. We will also continue to focus on apprenticeships, Dual Enrollment pathways, and degrees aligned with the needs of job creators to grow our talent pipeline. 

Gov. Brian Kemp and House Speaker Jon Burns at the 2023 State of the State address on Jan. 25. (Matthew Pearson/WABE)

But where will students like Oba and those Lauren teaches live when they get into the workforce? Because of our efforts, there is greater opportunity in every zip code in Georgia, but many of those communities struggle to provide adequate workforce housing. But transformational projects, good-paying jobs, and new investment are worth little if there aren’t options for hardworking Georgians to live where they work. We’re talking about the people who are teaching your children, keeping your community safe, who provide life-saving support in times of trouble, and those who make the goods and provide the services that make a community such a great place to call home. 

That is why I am creating the Rural Workforce Housing Fund, enabling the state to partner directly with local governments to develop sites across the state for workforce housing.

-This is significant because most funding for housing needs in Georgia has come from the federal government in the form of grants and tax credits. While we await the specifics of this Rural Workforce Housing Fund, Gov. Kemp says in his proposed budget that this funding will be offered to local governments in Georgia to help prepare land for development. Last year, Kemp allocated more than $90 million in federal American Rescue Plan funding to support projects that would alleviate homelessness in the state. Stephannie Stokes, Housing Reporter

I am also eager to see solutions that will come from others in the next few months.

-Those solutions could come from local governments on how to create more housing for workers, especially those that are part of new economic development projects and expansion. Local and state lawmakers are looking at the increasing number of single-family homes being bought by corporate entities to be rented, along with whole neighborhoods of single-family homes for rent. Rahul Bali, Politics Reporter

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens attends the 2023 State of the State address on Jan. 25. (Matthew Pearson/WABE)

And as hardworking Georgians find opportunity and the quality housing that comes with it, they also deserve to live, work, and worship in safety. This is something everyone in this chamber can agree on, and no issue of public safety has received more bipartisan support than the legislation championed by the nation’s best first lady – Marty Kemp – and our three girls. Working alongside partners on the GRACE Commission, like Speaker ProTem Jones, Attorney General Chris Carr, the GBI, and others, they have helped to make Georgia a hostile place for traffickers and a safe haven for victims. 

-Gov. Kemp and First Lady Kemp launched the GRACE Commission in 2020. It includes an online training program to help people spot the signs of human trafficking. GRACE stands for Georgians for Refuge, Action, Compassion and Education. Patrick Saunders, Digital Editor

Marty and her partners have worked tirelessly to make Georgians throughout the state aware of this evil industry. Thanks to that good work, lives have been saved, children have been removed from dangerous situations, and offenders have been put behind bars where they can no longer make victims of the innocent. I’d like to ask Marty, the girls, and others representing the GRACE Commission to stand so that we can thank them. 

This year, we will build on their good work by increasing penalties for those organizations required to provide resources on how to spot human trafficking and what actions are needed to stop it, but who unfortunately fail to do so. Like Marty’s prior legislation, I’m sure it will receive overwhelming, bipartisan support! I also want to thank the General Assembly again for your support of the receiving centers where victims find help and hope. That is certainly a resource that was and is still critically needed. 

We will also continue to take violent offenders out of our communities. For far too many Georgians, the safety of their families and homes is put at risk by the unchecked crimes of street gangs. Early in my first term, we created the GBI’s Anti-Gang Task Force to take the fight to these criminals. And last year, you gave the state a new tool to ensure justice — the Gang Prosecution Unit in the Office of Attorney General Chris Carr. I’m grateful that the Attorney General and his team have already indicted over fifty gang members in just the first six months of standing up this Unit, with more on the way! 

-The Georgia legislature passed a bill in March 2022 that gives Attorney General Chris Carr the authority to work with local law enforcement and district attorneys to prosecute gang crimes statewide. Patrick Saunders, Digital Editor

Where local District Attorneys are unwilling to confront these violent offenders, the Gang Prosecution Unit is more than capable and willing to step in. Today, the Attorney General is joined by the head of his Prosecution Division, John Fowler; the head of the Gang Prosecution Unit, Cara Convery; and the head of the Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit, Hannah Palmquist. Would you four please stand and let us thank you? We have made great strides in curbing crime. 

Lawmakers attend the 2023 State of the State address on Jan. 25. (Matthew Pearson/WABE)

But now, this fight is entering a new phase, and law enforcement needs your help to continue to achieve success. In communities across our state, gangs are actively recruiting children as young as elementary school students into a life of crime. They are targeting the most innocent among us, pulling them down a dark path that too often leads to either a prison cell or the cemetery. That is why, along with the Attorney General, I’m proposing legislation that will increase penalties for those trying to recruit our children into a gang. 

Atlanta police arrested two teens in December and charged them with murder in the “gang-related” shooting deaths of 12-year-old Zion Charles and 15-year-old Cameron Jackson near Atlantic Station. Four others were also injured. The Atlanta Public Safety Committee is currently planning a community roundtable to discuss proposed changes to the youth curfew. But, Gov. Kemp says tougher legislation is needed to reduce youth violence. Chamian Cruz, Criminal Justice Reporter 

Let me be clear: come after our children, and we will come after you! I know Lt. Governor Burt Jones and his team are also actively working on the broader issue of gang violence… and we look forward to partnering with them on those efforts. My administration is thankful for his dedication to this urgent problem. I also know there is strong, bipartisan support for our state law enforcement, including the brave men and women of the state patrol under Colonel Chris Wright’s leadership. 

Just last week, we were reminded yet again of their steadfast courage and the dangers they face on a daily basis. While helping to clear the site of the future Atlanta Public Safety Training Facility of militant activists, a Trooper was shot without warning or just cause. He was rushed to the hospital and endured multiple surgeries and days of severe pain, but just like all Troopers, he has refused to quit. Just a few blocks from where you’re sitting, he continues to recover. He and his wife have both our thanks and our prayers. I had the chance to meet with them earlier this week, and his resolve continues to be strong, but he continues to need our prayers.

-A Georgia state trooper was shot and a protester against a controversial Atlanta public safety training center was killed on Jan. 18. The incident took place in Southeast Atlanta near the future site of the training center dubbed “Cop City.” Seven people were charged with domestic terrorism in the incident. Patrick Saunders, Digital Editor

Just this past weekend, when out-of-state rioters tried to bring violence to the streets of our capital city, State Patrol, Sheriff’s Deputies and the Atlanta Police quickly brought peace and order. That’s just the latest example of why here in Georgia, we’ll always back the blue! 

-Following a peaceful protest at Underground Atlanta on Jan. 21, a group began lighting fireworks in front of the skyscraper that houses the Atlanta Police Foundation and shattering glass windows and spray painting the side of buildings with the words “Stop Cop City.” They also lit a police car on fire and damaged several others. No one was injured. Six people were arrested — all but one from out of state — and face domestic terrorism charges. Patrick Saunders, Digital Editor 

Gov. Brian Kemp delivers the 2023 State of the State address on Jan. 25. (Matthew Pearson/WABE)

This morning, we’re joined by another Trooper, one who serves from the skies. Last year, helicopter pilot Sergeant Brad Harrison — along with a Tactical Flight Officer and a spotter – received a call to assist with a search and rescue operation in Chattooga County. A little boy, no more than five years old, was lost, and like all of us would be, his family was frantic. Thanks to the skill and quick work of Sergeant Harrison and his crew, they were able to locate the boy in a field, guide Troopers to his location while circling above, and ensure that the child was safely returned to his parents. Sergeant Harrison, please stand and allow us to thank you for your great work and honored service. 

These and other public safety officers on both the state and local levels are the unsung heroes we don’t always hear about because their acts of service are given without expectation or reservation. 

In light of this past weekend’s events, when men and women in uniform are putting themselves in harm’s way and literally in the line of fire, you can imagine their frustration when one of these criminals ends up right back out on the street in a matter of hours just to terrorize those streets further. I appreciate that a Fulton County judge denied bond for four of the six rioters arrested last Saturday, and gave the other two bonds of over $355,000, along with a 24-hour curfew and ankle monitors. Unfortunately, this approach is not universal across the judicial system. While some may not take this issue seriously, I can assure I do. We can and we must do something about the revolving door of criminal justice! And I look forward to working with this legislature to get it done

-Republican State Sen. Randy Robertson of Cataula tells WABE that bail bond reform is one of the things state lawmakers could look at. He also wants lawmakers to take a closer look at the resources and responsibilities of state law enforcement agencies. Rahul Bali, Politics Reporter

In addition to our public safety officers, we’re also grateful for our healthcare heroes, and simply put, we need more of them. Right now, there are 67 counties with less than 10 physicians. And Georgia’s need for more nurses is well documented. That’s why I’m proposing over $4.5 million in loan repayment programs to grow the number of healthcare workers in Georgia. I’m also calling for an additional 102 residency slots through an investment of $1.7 million. With these additions, we will exceed the initial goal number of this program. 

-Hospitals and other healthcare facilities around the state — and the nation — continue to face a shortage of physicians, nurses, medical specialists and mental health providers. The governor’s proposed loan repayment program for health workers follows a loan forgiveness program for mental health and substance use professionals included in last year’s Mental Health Parity Act. Jess Mador, Health Reporter

And I’m proud to report that the innovative solutions we’ve brought to Georgia’s healthcare challenges continue to bring great results. When I first signed the bipartisan Patients First Act in 2019, no counties had more than 2 health insurance carriers. Today, 86% of Georgia counties have three or more carriers. And while others have called for expanding one-size-fits none, massive government health programs, thanks to our policies, enrollment in the individual market has more than doubled since 2019 to over 700,000 Georgians. 

Thanks to our reinsurance program, we’re also saving hardworking families more and more in their wallets. In all, we’ve reduced premiums by an average of 12.4% across the state. That represents an average annual premium reduction of almost $1,000 a year. In rural counties, where premium prices were the least affordable when I took office, the reinsurance program has reduced premiums from 25% to over 40%. 

In addition to these innovations, with your help we expanded Medicaid coverage to a full year after a mother gives birth. To support new mothers even more, my team is proposing legislation that will allow pregnant women who qualify to receive TANF benefits. Previously, they were unable to apply for such assistance until after the child was born. I know this measure is supported by many in this chamber, and I am grateful for your backing. Since 2018, our state has spent over $15.3 billion on Medicaid, with a 9% increase in spending over that time. But while the state spends more and more, Georgians aren’t seeing an improvement in care they receive. 

-The federal government’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program provides monthly cash assistance to some very low-income families with children under age 18, and to children under age 18 attending school full time. To qualify for the program in Georgia, a family must meet certain financial criteria. For example, a family of three is required to have an income that’s below $784 per month. Jess Mador, Health Reporter

Democratic state Rep. Pedro Marin attends the 2023 State of the State address. (Matthew Pearson/WABE)

Here in Georgia, we’re taking an innovative and sustainable approach. The Georgia Pathways to Coverage program was negotiated in good faith with the federal government so that we could expand access to health insurance for those who need it the most, while also sustaining the quality of coverage. But it was the Biden Administration that delayed its launch for over a year, until a judge threw out their biased objections to this innovative approach. Yes, those are the facts. When it comes to healthcare for hardworking Georgians, the Biden Administration would rather play partisan politics than get people insured and lower costs. Folks, we don’t have time to wait on Washington, and I don’t have much patience for D.C. posturing! We are moving forward, and we are on target for a launch date of July 1 of this year. To meet that goal, I am allocating $52 million to stand this program up and connect those in need to its benefits. Here’s another fact, upwards of 345,000 Georgians could qualify for the Pathways program and healthcare coverage for the first time, with no changes for those who qualify for regular Medicaid. And unlike Medicaid expansion, Georgia Pathways will not kick 200,000 Georgians off their private sector insurance

-Full Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act would cover another 450,000 uninsured Georgians with incomes up to 138% of the federal poverty level. Gov. Brian Kemp’s alternative Georgia Pathways program, which is expected to take effect in July, would require participants to complete a minimum of 80 hours per month of qualifying work or volunteer activities. A Kaiser Health News analysis of the program finds it would cover around 50,000 people. The governor’s office disputes that number. Officials have said that while more than 300,000 Georgians could qualify for the Pathways program, they expect around 90,000 people to actually participate in 2025. Jess Mador, Health Reporter

In our state, we want more people to be covered at a lower cost with more options for patients. And I’m proud to say that Georgia Pathways and Access accomplish that goal! During this legislative session, I want to encourage the men and women throughout this chamber to consider not just the Georgia of today, but the Georgia of generations from now. 

Gov. Brian Kemp at the 2023 State of the State address on Jan. 25. (Matthew Pearson/WABE)

Three years ago, at my State of the State just before the pandemic hit, I shared the words of Nehemiah who refused to slow down or stop his efforts to rebuild his hometown, despite heavy pressure to do so. He always delivered the same message: “I am doing a great work and can’t come down.” Throughout the pandemic and afterward, we have been reminded that our work continues. 

-This is a theme Kemp often refers back to, though not always directly. In the aftermath of the 2020 election, Kemp rebuffed pressure from then-President Trump to help overturn the election result. He’s also referring to blowback over his abortion and voting laws. In the end, Kemp vanquished a primary challenge from former U.S. Senator David Perdue and a challenge from Democrat Stacey Abrams. Sam Gringlas, Politics Reporter

And during this session, we should be too busy to come down into the mud of politics. We have much work to do, and we need to get it done for the people counting on us. Here at the start of a new session, a new term, and a new era for our state, we have an opportunity to make decisions that will impact our children’s grandchildren, if we do it right and together. The campaigns have all been run and the people have spoken. They have given us our marching orders, and it’s time to get back to work! So, for the Georgians of today and tomorrow… let’s get it done. Thank you, God bless you, and may God continue to bless the great State of Georgia.

-It will be interesting to watch how Kemp’s second term looks different from his first, as he looks to cement his legacy and does not need to worry about re-election. What issues does he prioritize? Does he moderate in any way? Sam Gringlas, Politics Reporter