Update from the Capitol: Week 5
By: Sen. Larry Walker (R – Perry)
Our work in the General Assembly carried on this week and with 16 legislative days behind us and over 10 bills passed on the Senate Floor, I believe we are working efficiently to pass pieces of legislation that promote the good of this state. While Georgia has shown its strength and resilience throughout the pandemic, the conversations I have had with you make me well aware of the issues still affecting our district. As we continue to find ways we can better your lives, communities and businesses, know that I am working on behalf of you.
Since convening on the first day of the 2021 Legislative Session, we have been hard at work analyzing economic statements and looking at the ways in which we can balance our budgets. In the previous week, I had mentioned the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the Amended Fiscal Year 2021 (AFY21) budget. This week the AFY21 budget, House Bill 80, completed its final stages of review and after passage out of the Senate, it is now on its way to the Governor. Encompassing $26.5 billion total in state funds, the budget reflects astronomical economic growth since June. Over the summer, our state began to feel some of the hardships of COVID-19 and the General Assembly was forced to make a number of tough decisions regarding the general FY21 budget; one of these was a 10% budget cut. Since then, revenue numbers have increased above previous expectations and education, the area which has historically always contained the largest percentage of allocations, received a 60% restoration. Of that amount, $557 million will go back towards Georgia’s Quality Basic Education (QBE) formula to help fund grades K–12, $40 million will help fund 520 school buses and $3.5 million will go towards the Technical College System of Georgia to supplement an increase in enrollment. Our state educators have tirelessly worked to adjust their curriculums and adapt to the changing education needs of our state. These added resources show a commitment to their continued success, as well as that of our children.
Alluding to the impact of the pandemic, the legislature has been prioritizing our efforts towards attending to the health and economic needs of our state, and the budget is a reflection of that. With a significant allocation of funds towards our public health agencies, we hope a supplementation of federal funds will help facilitate the state’s COVID-19 response efforts. In an estimated $41 million total, more than half of that ($27 million) will be directed towards the area of epidemiology, modernizing Georgia’s public health surveillance system and creating a database that would simplify the process of registration and distribution. Additional funds will go towards nursing homes and creating positions within the Department of Public Health to navigate federal funds and provide guidance on programs. Another Department which will see an additional position is the Department of Labor; this Chief Labor Officer would facilitate unemployment claims to ensure the process of filing and receiving payments is as efficient as possible. Our state workers have shown tremendous dedication during the pandemic, sacrificing their own health in the process, and COVID-19 has displayed the areas where we can provide greater support to allow them to continue working to the best of their abilities.
More specific to our community, Georgia’s commitment to rural success has been demonstrated repeatedly through our legislative priorities and initiatives. Specific to the budget, $2.25 million will go towards the Georgia Agriculture and Exposition Authority, a leading driver of economic development right here in Middle Georgia that has defined our community, provided jobs, sustained revenue and created lasting memories for all. Other funds will be provided to the Department of Agriculture to help support their services and roughly half a million will go towards agriculture education and programs that help grow our next young farmers. Our agribusinesses are the backbone of the state and rural Georgia plays a pivotal role in supporting the infrastructures needed to keep our economy strong. Our state’s recent fiscal successes would not have been possible with the sacrifices many of you have made to assist the livelihood of others. The allocations listed above utilize your tax payer dollars to help you continue to surmount the obstacles presented before you.
As elected officials, our work is for the people and on my first day here, I promised to serve you however I can. Since then, your work and words have continued to guide my work each day. Senate Bill 86 is an example of that, spurring from dialogues I have had with you about recent concerns. Under the provisions of SB 86, any piece of written solicitation concerning corporate filings would require a notice, written in easily identifiable font, stating that the letter is a solicitation, not a bill, government document or material sent out from the Secretary of State (SOS). Georgia is home to approximately one million registered entities within the SOS’s office, many of which are small businesses and a percentage of that are local to District 20. In addressing a misleading trade practice, this provides Georgians everywhere with added consumer protections. Through your corporations, you have provided countless services to our state; we want to support your entrepreneurial spirits and ensure that Georgia remains the number one state in which to do business. I am happy to say this piece of legislation received favorable support from the Senate and is now awaiting a hearing in the House.
Next week, the legislature will meet again, continuing our work on a range of different legislative issues including those related to election reform. All assigned to the Senate Ethics Committee, our intent is to ensure the concerns you have voiced are not only adequately addressed, but that our proposals expand integrity and trust within the system. While my bill is expected to receive its first hearing in front of an assigned subcommittee next week, I expect a number of more bills to be taken up in the coming weeks. Our work here, in relation to elections, couples alongside the other ways we have vowed to serve you. If you have any questions about legislation passed or coming up, please reach out to my office. I am honored, and humbled, to serve as your state Senator.
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Sen. Larry Walker serves as the Majority Caucus Vice Chairman and Chairman of the Senate Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee. 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 email@example.com.