Capitol Recap: Reconvening of the 2020 Session
By: Sen. Larry Walker (R - Perry)
As Monday marked the return of the Georgia General Assembly for the remainder of the 2020 legislative session, elected officials have stepped right back into our daily routines of vigorously working around the clock to support the people of Georgia. Albeit, the Gold Dome may look slightly different this time around, compared to March.
Throughout the month, members and staffers have been working to ensure the return of the legislative session will be safe amidst the prevalence of COVID-19. The numerous initiatives and protocols we have established will undoubtedly help prevent the transmission of the virus and keep the health of legislators, staffers and members of the public as a consistent priority. With that, the Georgia Building Authority has set up infrared body temperature scanners at each security entrance, in order to screen each individual that enters the building. Additionally, there are now increased sanitation stations and social distancing has been implemented throughout the Capitol Hill complex. This includes in the Senate Chamber and Senate committee rooms. I would like to thank everyone involved for their hard work in ensuring we are able to continue the session safely and smoothly, as we work to serve those around us.
With our return, the budget remains the most important aspect of our legislative work. Not only is passing a balanced budget the sole constitutional obligation of the General Assembly, but we are also looking at some increased complexities given the impact of COVID-19 on the economy. As you are aware, many small businesses have been unable to financially support their employees and places of establishment after closing down for public health reasons. Our state’s unemployment levels in the month of April, alone, coupled with a decrease in overall state revenue amounts have caused us to take a deep dive into the ways we must allocate our state’s budget. Previously, 14% cuts were proposed to all state agencies, but with the reopening of the economy, I believe, based on revenue estimates from the Governor, that we will only need to assume 11% cuts. While this remains a difficult task, I am confident that we will be able to enact reductions in a way that does not negatively affect the efficiency of our state agencies and will allow them to continue their work serving the people of Georgia to the best of their ability. As the legislative session progresses, we will have a clearer look at what the Fiscal Year 2021 budget will entail, and I intend to keep you updated on any and all developments.
Related to Georgia’s overall fiscal environment, one of the major bills currently on the table is House Bill 888, the “Surprise Billing Consumer Protection Act,” which was heard and passed out of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on Sunday. This is nearly identical to the Senate bill and will help create a system of arbitration between health insurers and providers, which will ultimately remove the consumer from the middle of a difficult, and heartbreaking process. Large, and unexpected, out-of-pocket medical bills have been a problem plaguing the people of Georgia for years. However, given the current public health crisis, now more than ever we need legislation that allows individuals to prioritize their health and safety above all else. No individual, especially in the face of COVID-19, should fear seeking treatment because of the unexpected monetary consequences, and this bill will go a long way in giving consumers the added confidence they need when making health decisions.
With a limited number of days remaining in the 2020 session, we will be working around the clock to make sure we are doing all that we can to support the people of Georgia during this time. If you ever have any questions or concerns about the legislation being discussed, or the procedures of the General Assembly, please reach out to my office. It is a pleasure to be back under the Gold Dome, serving you.
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Sen. Larry Walker serves as Caucus Vice Chairman for the Majority Party. He represents the 20th Senate District, which includes Bleckley, Houston, Laurens and Pulaski counties. He may be reached by phone at (404) 656-0095 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org