A Georgia bill proposed by Governor Brian Kemp this month aims to repay the student loans of around 800 new police officers in the state to boost recruiting.
House Bills 130 and 136 aim to combat staffing shortages at law enforcement agencies in the state by paying off student loans for state and local officers, as well as Georgia Bureau of Investigation medical examiners.
The proposals aim to deliver on the governor’s promises to enhance public safety made during the reelection campaign.
According to the bill’s repayment plan, the state would spend a maximum of $3.25 million to provide each officer with $20,000 in student loan reimbursements at a pace of $4,000 over five years while officers continue to work full time in the state.
Eligible officers include those hired for the first time on or after January 1, 2023.
“Law enforcement officers are critical to protecting the citizens of our state, but they’re often faced with decisions between heeding the call of public service or seeking other opportunities to pay student loans,” Representative Matthew Gambill of Cartersville said.
Gambill spoke on the legislation during a House Higher Education Committee meeting.
The Georgia Student Finance Commission would administer the payments on a first-come, first-serve basis under the proposed legislation.
According to Commission President Lynne Riley, Georgia officers do not need to have a college degree to enter law enforcement. Full-time officers earning a degree while working full time are eligible under the plan.
Representative Clay Pirkle raised concerns about how the money would be distributed.
“It concerns me somewhat that there appears to be no guardrails on what you can have school debt for. And while I think we need well-rounded police officers, you know, I don’t know that art history or a theater major would make a better police officer than criminal justice or something.”
Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police Executive Director Butch Ayers supported the legislation to overcome the “acute workforce crisis” in the state.
“It’s incumbent that we try to do things, think outside of the box on different ways that we can recruit and retain police officers.”
Bill sponsor Representative Lauren McDonald told the committee that only nine of the state’s 19 medical examiner positions are currently filled.
This means that it takes longer to complete autopsies and affects the families of the deceased during investigations.
Examiners — who must be licensed medical doctors — would be eligible for loans of up to $100,000 in installments over five years, according to the bill.