• Update from the Capitol: Week 6

    Update from the Capitol: Week 6
    By: Sen. Larry Walker (R – Perry)
    As we reach roughly the halfway point of the legislative session, our work is beginning to accelerate and the Senate has been efficient, yet also deliberate, in our efforts to pass legislation. Of the bills that have come before us, I believe we have passed several of value that will help improve the lives of Georgians. A reminder to you, that we are working to serve each corner of this great state. Several more are still up for consideration and as the weeks go on, we will continue to represent your needs here in Atlanta.  
    While only meeting for three legislative days, the Senate got to work immediately, vetting the bills presented before us and advocating on behalf of our constituents. As a result of this, we were able to address several issues related to our veterans, healthcare industry, educators and more. Senate Bills 27 and 87 are two that I want to highlight, given District 20’s prominent military community. SB 27 would extend the period in which a current or former service member can apply for a license within the State Construction Industry Licensing Board from 180 days to two years. This added transition time, would create a greater opportunity for much needed tradesmen including, Class I electrical contractors or conditioned air contractors, as well as journeymen plumbers and utility foremen that are exiting the military to start a second career here in Georgia. In making licensing easier for veterans, SB 27 supports the future endeavors of our state’s military members and allows us to attract and retain the skilled workforce necessary to grow Georgia’s economy.
    Senate Bill 87, another veterans bill considered by the Senate this week, is aptly named the “Senator Jack Hill Veterans’ Act,” in honor of the late Sen. Jack Hill, our former colleague and friend. SB 87 is a reflection of the long hours of work Sen. Hill put in to aiding our state’s service disabled veterans, and would provide Georgia taxpayers with the option to make a contribution or donation on their annual income tax return to go towards an affiliated organization. Sen. Hill was the epitome of a true public servant, working tirelessly in all avenues to ensure every community in this great state is heard. While his presence is greatly missed, SB 87 allows his memory to continue on in a way that best honors him – by giving back to those who have made sacrifices as well.
    Two other noteworthy pieces of workforce related legislation, Senate Bill 88 and Senate Bill 46, passed out of the Senate Chamber this week. SB 88 is an initiative by Gov. Kemp that demonstrates his creative leadership and continued focus on strengthening Georgia’s economy, despite the workforce disruptions throughout the state caused by COVID-19. This piece of legislation, a bill to address teacher shortages in certain fields, demonstrates our commitment to and appreciation of Georgia’s educators who have made extraordinary personal sacrifices in order to continue educating our children during a pandemic. SB 88 presents a number of measures to provide teachers with the resources they need, which include inviting the Georgia Teacher of the Year to serve as an ex officio member of State Board of Education and permitting local school systems to approve nontraditional teacher certifications for members of our armed forces. Intending to strengthen our state’s education system in order to retain and hire more educators. SB 88 also provides more avenues for teachers to have a voice and shows much needed gratitude to our service men and women.
    SB 46 additionally serves as a response to the pandemic and works to meet many of the needs expressed by our healthcare workers. Directly related to the COVID-19 vaccine, SB 46 would permit additional, licensed medical personnel to administer a vaccine during a public health emergency and would allow such information to be shared with third party groups like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Georgia’s public health community has been working selflessly since the pandemic first began, and we hope SB 46 will help facilitate their response efforts and expand virus protections. 
    To close out the week, the Senate Ethics committee met to discuss various election reform bills that have been brought to the table over the past few weeks. One of which was my own, Senate Bill 67 addresses inconsistencies in voter identification requirements when requesting an absentee ballot. Eliminating the signature match process all together, SB 67 would use the same identification methods provided for the online absentee ballot request portal when requesting a ballot by mail. These added measures for identification verification would include the elector’s date of birth and their Georgia driver’s license number or state issued identification number, such as their voter identification card number. Alternatively, electors without a state issued ID number can submit a copy of other forms of identification as prescribed in Georgia Code along with their ballot request. Examples of alternative forms of identification allowed are a U.S. military ID or U.S. passport. SB 67 does not limit the option of registered voters to vote by absentee ballot and it does not unreasonably burden the electorate. Rather, it provides a simple, secure, uniform and easily verifiable method for confirming voter identification that should increase election office efficiency by eliminating the inherently subjective signature match process currently in place. I am happy to say SB 67 was reported favorably out of Senate Ethics and is now before the Senate Rules Committee.
    Other bills that were passed out of the Ethics Committee include Senate Bills 40, 184 and 188. The first would require clerks to begin processing absentee ballots starting on the second Monday prior to the election. SB 184 would adjust the time in which voting data must be inputted and SB 188 would establish a voting reporting system within the Secretary of State’s office. The Senate is expected to vote on them, in full, soon and I will provide a more detailed update on our elections reform process as it comes about.
    The General Assembly will meet again next week for five legislative days, demonstrating increased momentum to review legislation that we believe is most pertinent to you. With Crossover Day nearing, our days will undoubtedly get much longer, but I always want to hear from you on your questions, concerns and ideas. If I can be of any help to you, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Thank you for affording me this opportunity to serve.

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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 larry.walker@senate.ga.gov.