Dear House District 78,
On January 11th, The Georgia General Assembly convened for the 2021-2022 Session. While many of us wish we could hug and celebrate like normal, we still maintained high spirits throughout all the COVID changes. First and foremost, we were allowed one guest to hold our Bible while the Oath of Office was administered. Veda, my wife, was my guest, as you can see. The swearing-ins were administered in 4 shifts so social distancing could be observed. The leadership has established standards and rules to keep everyone safe. Masks are required to be worn in public areas at all times, and legislators and staff are tested twice weekly. You might have seen where one of the Representatives chose not to get tested at all until last week when he was removed from the Chamber and not allowed to return until he tested negative. Our Administrative Assistants have to keep records of who visit our offices. All the House members are spread out throughout the building from the House Floor to the House Gallery (where I sit) and a large committee room. With all of these changes, business continues, and we will continue to do the people’s work with safety in mind.
For this Legislative Session, I will serve on the following committees: Banks & Banking, Health & Human Services, Insurance, Intragovernmental Coordination, Motor Vehicles, and the Special Committee on Election Integrity. I am especially excited to have been 1 of 4 democrats chosen to serve on the Election Integrity Special Committee. The special committee’s responsibility is to review and revise legislation relating to the security, reliability, accessibility, and efficiency of state elections. So far, we have been assigned 12 bills to review, some will be good, like making Election Day a state holiday or allowing military personnel stationed overseas to have ballots with ranked-choice voting (this style of voting allows for instant runoffs), and others will be bad, aimed at disenfranchising voters such as two types of ID for ballots or requiring specific excuses to apply for an absentee ballot. I promise you this; I will work diligently to make sure we make voting easier for citizens and not harder.
According to the Georgia Constitution, the only item the General Assembly must do is create and pass a balanced budget. The Governor creates a budget the year prior and sets the projected revenue based on our State Economist. This allows him to allocate state and federal resources. The House, being the bigger body, reviews this and make adjustments. The House Appropriations Committee is in charge of this process. Each year we receive two budgets. One is an amended budget to get us through the last half of the fiscal year (in this case, July-December 2021), often referred to as the Amended Budget. The second budget (aka, the big-budget) is allocating for the first half of the next fiscal year (in this case, January-June 2022). Next year, we will do this all over again, shifting to the next 6 month fiscal period.
In 2020, we were not sure how much COVID would affect us, so we adjourned, thinking we might be able to return after a month or two. This resulted in us not passing an Amended Budget until the last week of June. To prevent this situation from happening again, we have already passed the 2021 Amended Budget to get us through the year. It passed on Thursday, January 28th, 149-20. To read the version that passed the House, visit this LINK. Here are some highlights:
- $427,401 for GBI recruitment and retention of medical examiners
- $223,600 to expand the gang database to allow local law enforcement to contribute information to it
- $4 million for vehicle replacement to the GBI, 6 bomb squad vehicles, and refurbish crime scene response vehicles
Economic Development and Transportation
- $453,049 for hiring 3 new positions, a vehicle, and operational costs for the Hemp Program
- $748,448 for 32 new vehicles for the Department of Agriculture
- $1 million for advertising to boost tourism
- $38.61 million for 500 school buses
- $567 million returned to K-12 Quality Basic Education (QBE) — $950 million was originally cut.
- $70.1 million for the University System of Georgia to reflect a 1.8% enrollment increase
- $3.5 million for enrollment growth in the Technical College System
- $665,000 for Drivers services to replace 25 vehicles
- $3.5 million for 71 vehicles and lab equipment for the Department of Natural Resources
- $18 million for the replacement and modernization of the Georgia Registrations of Immunization Transactions and Services (GRITS)
- $15.4 million for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP)
- $4.86 million to the Department of Community Health (DCH) for contractors for the nursing home survey backlog. Including $478,303 to implement a hiring and retention plan to stabilizing staffing at nursing homes.
- $176,500 in restored funds for Child Welfare Services for the Multi-Agency Alliance for Children (MAAC)
- $150,000 to develop a new website for the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency.
HB 164. This requires all health insurers to pass along no less than 80 percent of all prescription drug rebates to enrollees that the insurer receives from third parties concerning their prescription drugs
HB 113. This bill allows for same-day voter registration as voting. If any Georgia resident goes to vote and finds that they are not registered, they can register AND vote that same day.
HB 148. Establish a due process for the removal of office for certain authority officeholders.
HR 20. Resolution 20 honors the life of Pastor Spencer T. O’Neal.
While our return to the Capitol seems normal, we must remain focused and aware of these challenging times. Healthcare professionals are still battling COVID, and our numbers are increasing every day. With newer variants, we need to continue to practice social distancing, hand washing, and wearing a mask or two. Please stay home as much as you can and be safe.
The Department of Public Health (DPH) is working hard to increase vaccinations for people. You can find a statewide list of vaccine providers at the Department of Public Health website HERE.
If you have questions about COVID-19 or the vaccine, please call DPH at (888) 357-0169. This is not a number to create an appointment; it is only if you have questions.
I remain dedicated to serving your interests as your State Representative. Feel free to contact me via email at email@example.com with any questions or concerns you may have regarding the 2021 legislative session or any proposals or recommendations for future legislation. If you’d like to keep up with legislation I have written or cosponsored; you can visit the House Website, HERE, and click on ‘Sponsored Legislation.’
I am honored to serve as your State Representative. I will continue to promote economic development, serve as a voice for our senior citizens, and fight for you and your family’s educational opportunities.