Legislative Update Weeks 4-5 of the 2021 Session (Feb 1 - 12)
By Jeff Jones, Former State Representative HD167
WEEK FOUR – February 1
On Monday, February 1st, the fourth week the 2021 session of the Georgia General Assembly reconvened at the State Capitol in Atlanta.
Impact of COVID-19 on General Assembly and Capitol Proceedings
Just as the daily lives of all Georgia citizens have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, CV-19 has had a direct impact on the routine proceedings of the General Assembly.
House and Senate members, who used to gather under one roof in their respective chambers, are now spread out in order to achieve “social distancing”. House members are spread out on the House floor, are scattered throughout the House Gallery, and are seated in remote meeting rooms. The logistics of being spread out has made even the routine task of daily roll call (checking in for the day’s proceedings) very slow as everything is conducted by verbal roll call. Voting on measures – bills and motions - is now performed via a verbal roll call of all 180 members, again dragging out even simple parliamentary processes. But proper procedures must be followed to be sure any official actions taken by the House (or Senate) are proper and legal.
As House and Senate members gather in the Capitol for each day’s proceedings, and in fact everyone working in or visiting the Capitol, must be medically screened for COVID-19 prior to entry. The medical screening is in addition to the security screening that all members, staff, and visitors undergo prior to entering the Capitol.
Committee hearings this session will have in-person and virtual attendance options. Fortunately, the public can remotely watch live streams of all official House and Senate sessions and meetings via the General Assembly website.
Key Legislative Initiatives Moving During Week 4
As I have done over the six years I actively served as your District 167 State Representative, I will continue to report on and share insights about legislation and legislative initiative that come before or are being considered by the House of Representatives and our state government. My goal is that you be informed about the good and bad things circulating in our state government. A fully informed and educated electorate is key to making sure our state government acts in the best interest of ALL of it citizens.
HB 290 “Right to Visit” – During this COVID-19 pandemic, as Georgia citizens are keenly aware, family members are currently prohibited from visiting loved ones and family members who are confined to nursing homes or who are in the hospital.
The “Right to Visit Act”, which I strongly support, would require hospitals and nursing homes to allow patients to visit with family members for a minimum of two hours each day - even during public health emergencies - at the very time, these citizens are struggling with their health. Visitation by family members and loved ones are proven a key to the mental and physical well-being of these vulnerable citizens. Obviously, safety and health protocols would need to be in place including making sure that all parties have tested negative for COVID-19.
Rep. Setzler, the bill sponsor, explained, “In June 2020, the General Assembly provided unprecedented COVID-19 legal protections to all health care providers with the intent they would allow patients to visit their family members. Sadly, many providers accepted the legal protections, but continued to stonewall families from basic visitation.”
HB 276 “Save Girls Sports” – This bill, which I strongly support, will stop state public schools and universities from allowing “biological males to participate in girl-only sports.” This is a common-sense measure that protects the rights of female athletes to compete athletically against other athletes who are biological females. Representative Phillip Singleton, the bill sponsor explained, “No one here is concerned with how any person chooses to identify their gender. This bill is about biology and physiology, not psychology or sociology.”
Sports Betting, is this a Path to Casino Gambling in Georgia?
As many Georgian’s have been following for the past several, years, Representative Ron Stephens, HD164, continues to advocate expanding gambling in Georgia. This year, Rep. Stephens has introduced HB 86, the “Georgia Lottery Mobile Sports Wagering Integrity Act”, which seeks to legalize and regulate sports betting in Georgia.
One strategy for passage of a Sports Betting bill, which Governor Kemp has generally stated he does not support and has threatened to veto, is to attach the Sports Betting bill to a Constitutional Amendment to legalize Casino Gambling. This strategy bypasses the Governor’s desk and Governor Kemp’s possible veto.
The simple argument in favor of passage is that sports betting is happening in Georgia via the internet regardless of whether Georgia passes this measure. Another strong argument in favor of passage that Georgia would receive a $43 million injection into the HOPE Scholarship fund from the $433 million in gross revenue sports betting will generate.
According to the bill sponsor and information that came out in testimony during the committee hearings, HB 86 would:
- allow the Georgia Lottery Corporation to regulate sports wagering such that individuals who are 21 years of age and older would be able to place bets on specific professional and Olympic sporting events through an interactive sports wagering platform;
- includes certain restrictions for sports betting, including prohibiting the use of credit cards, as well as prohibiting league and team insider betting;
- would provide resources for individuals with gambling problems or addictions;
- enhance fan engagement and strengthen partnerships with Georgia sports teams.
Statistics and studies consistently prove year after year that the promised revenue from expanding gambling never materializes, and the negative consequences to a community far out way any promised financial benefit. Businesses, including local restaurants and entertainment venues, suffer as expendable cash is sucked up by the gambling operations, particularly around casinos.
The passage of legal sports betting is an incremental step toward ultimately pushing for legalizing casino gambling. The Jekyll Island governing body has voted to oppose a casino being located on Jekyll Island.
HB 114 – Increasing Adoption Tax Credit; this bill increases the state’s tax credit for families that adopt from foster care from $2,000 to $6,000 per year for five years.
HB 154 – Easing Adoption Rules for Children in Foster Care; this bill will ease the process for close relatives to adopt children out of foster care by lowering the age an individual may adopt from 25 to 21.
HB 304 - “Georgia Made Medical Manufacturing Act” is an effort to incentivize the production of medicine and medical devices within Georgia, thus reducing our dependency on other states or foreign countries for these supplies. This is similar to President Trump’s efforts to return all kinds of manufacturing to the United States, including the manufacture of drugs and medical devices. During the 2020 session, Governor Kemp signed the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Tax Credit into law; Georgia Made Medical Manufacturing Act is modeled after that legislation
WEEK FIVE – February 8th
The week of February 8 marked the start of the fifth week of the 2021 legislative session.
In week 3, I reported the House passed the Amended Fiscal Year 2021 (AFY 2021) budget HB 80. This week the AFY 2021 received final passage that included Senate revisions; the Senate revisions did not change the $654.3 million, or 2.5 percent, increase the House approved two weeks ago. The bill was sent to the governor to be signed into law.
State Leadership (Kemp, Duncan & Ralston) Announce $60 Million in Bonuses to State Employees
Governor Brian Kemp, Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan, House Speaker David Ralston announced that 57,159 state employees who earn less than $80,000 will receive a one-time bonus of $1,000 during the current fiscal year. This “special thank you bonus” will nearly $60 million.
To address a more than 90 percent turnover rate, state correctional officers will also receive this bonus in addition to a 10 percent salary increase that is included in this budget. Being a correctional officer is a very tough job!
Official Statement from the State of Georgia Regarding the $1,000 Bonus:
“Since the pandemic began almost a year ago, our state employees have worked tirelessly to continue to provide state services that every Georgian has benefited from this last year, and this bonus is a way to thank them for their dedication to our state.”
Key Legislative Initiatives Moving During Week 5
Expansion of Rural Broadband
Expanding critical broadband service across rural Georgia has been a state priority for the past several years. Towards that effort, Gov. Kemp and Lt. Gov. Duncan announced the expansion of rural broadband service across 18 counties in Middle Georgia this week through a new Electric Membership Cooperative (EMC) partnership with Central Georgia EMC (CGEMC) and Southern Rivers Energy (SRE) joining forces with Conexon, a full-service fiber broadband provider, to provide high-speed internet to 80,000 homes and businesses that are EMC members within the next four years.
During my service in the House of Representatives, as Vice-Chair of the House Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications Committee, the House spearheaded initiatives and legislation to support expanding rural broadband, and to remove the legal obstacles allowing expansion of rural broadband. Expanding opportunities for our rural Georgia neighbors, such as broadband expansion, is important for all Georgians.
HB 112 - COVID-19 Pandemic Business Safety Act passed the House with a July 2022 expiration date; renews original law that expires July 2021.
This legislation is necessary to protect Georgia health care facilities, health care providers, businesses, and individuals from litigation and liability for CV-19 exposure. In return, these facilities need to figure out how to let family members visit their loved ones in our medical facilities. See Comments above in Week Four about HB 290 “Right to Visit” bill.
HB 105 - authorize the Department of Defense to provide compensation to Georgia’s guardsmen who are called to active duty without the governor declaring a state of emergency;
HB 129 – increases the minimum salary to $83,750.51 for sheriffs serving in a county with a population of 39,000 to 49,999;
HB 134 - excludes cybersecurity contracting and planning meetings from the state’s open meeting requirements and exempts any document or plan for cybersecurity devices, programs, or systems from public inspection. This is important to maintain strict confidentiality and security in these sensitive areas of the Georgia government.
Tracking All Georgia General Assembly Legislation – If you want to more closely track legislation, check out the official Composite Tracking Sheet updated weekly by the House of Representatives.
Also, the website LEGISCAN is a great source to track and read more information about the full list of legislation moving through the Georgia General Assembly over the course of the 2021 session.
As your former District 167 State Representative, I continue to work on behalf of the citizens of House District 167 and the entire state on issues important to all of us. For example, I am working with a grass-roots group of citizens to push for much-needed election law reform. I am also working with a special committee sponsored by the GA GOP and the Glynn GOP also working for election reform.
I encourage you to read updates like this to stay informed on legislative matters that affect our district and state. The official House of Representatives website has a number of tools to help you stay up-to-date on what’s going on at the Capitol; you can watch a live stream of the House proceedings; view live and archived committee meetings and review legislation the Legislature is considering.
I welcome you to reach out to me and share your thoughts and opinions regarding 2021 legislative issues and concerns. I can be reached via email at [email protected], on Facebook at facebook.com/votejeffjones, and by phone at (912) 386-0428.
As always, thank you for your support.