Legislative Update Weeks 1, 2 and 3 of the 2021 Session (January 11 – 29)
By Jeff Jones, Former State Representative HD167
WEEK ONE – January 11th
On Monday, January 11, 2021, the 2021 session of the Georgia General Assembly convened for its first day at the State Capitol in Atlanta. As is the norm for the opening week of each session, much of the activities were ceremonial dealing with the official opening of the session.
Election of Speaker of the House for 2021-22
After the House member were officially sworn in, the most substantive procedural activity was the reelection of State Representative David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) as Speaker of the House of Representatives for 2021-22, a position he has held since 2010. A survey conducted in 2019-20 revealed Representative Ralston commands less than 15% support state-wide by his fellow Georgians. Despite his lack of popularity with voters and the grass-roots state-wide, the majority party House Republicans re-elected Representative Ralston as Speaker of the House for an additional two-year term.
Governor Kemp’s State of the State Address
The other annual session opening event that occurred in the first week was a joint convening of the Georgia House and Senate to hear Governor Brian Kemp’s 2021 State of the State address (click for video).
In his speech, Governor called on Georgians to unite by putting 2020 behind and focusing on 2021. The Governor highlighted the state’s virus pandemic response, that Georgia’s unemployment rate is 5.7% (lower than the national average), that he will focus on expanding rural broadband and other rural Georgia economic initiatives, while continuing to expand healthcare access statewide in a fiscally responsible manner.
Gov. Kemp highlighted some of his budget recommendations for the Amended Fiscal Year 2020 and Fiscal Year 2021 budgets. The governor’s budget recommendations do not include any new budget cuts for our state agencies and departments, as well as no furloughs or layoffs for state employees. These budget proposals are proposed without increasing state taxes.
2020 Election Problems – No Mention by Governor Kemp
Notably absent from Governor Kemp’s State of the State remarks was any discussion about the serious problems Georgia experienced with the 2020 election cycle or of the Governor’s plans for reforming and cleaning up the myriad problems that were so evident.
Georgia Election Law Reform
Georgia voters/citizens are not going to accept or be silent about the serious election problems we know exist. Further, we will be vocal regarding our expectations that Georgia’s elected officials take decisive action well before the 2022 election cycle.
I am actively working with two separate groups to craft and propose meaningful, substantive changes to Georgia’s election laws. Our goals are to:
- tighten and eliminate the massive problems that currently exist in absentee/mail-in balloting, i.e., stop or greatly scale back “no fault” absentee ballot issuance;
- provide law enforcement and strict security measures for the ballot handling/chain of custody process; consider security cameras in ballot handling areas;
- perform regular (quarterly) maintenance of voter roles ensuring the most accurate and clean voter roles possible;
- tighten up voter ID laws to be sure non-citizens are not allowed to vote; redesign Georgia IDs issued to non-citizens so they are distinctly different than citizen IDs
- ensure “poll watchers” have full and unrestricted access to watching the election process at each county poll and ballot counting location;
- require strict adherence to all Georgia voter integrity/security laws including legal prosecution as appropriate.
These are just a sampling of the election integrity laws these groups, and I, are working to enact. Please send me your suggestions and ideas on how we restore integrity to our vote to [email protected], SUBJECT: Election Law Reform. I will keep you posted via my newsletter and via my Facebook page: Jeff Jones Page (@jeffjonesga)
WEEK TWO – January 19th
Week two of the 2021 session convened on Tuesday, January 19. Traditionally, the second week of each session is set aside for intense budget work; in this case work on the Amended Fiscal Year 2020 (review and adjustment to the current budget based on actual revenue) and Fiscal Year 2021 budgets.
The House and Senate Appropriations committees held a series of joint budget hearings this week, during which Governor Brian Kemp delivered opening remarks and presented his formal recommendations for the amended FY 2020 budget and upcoming fiscal year 2021 budget.
As I have explained in previous newsletters, the ONLY function required by the Georgia Constitution of the Georgia General Assembly is to pass a balanced budget each legislative session.
Except for the absolute requirement that Georgia pass legislation in 2021 to clean up Georgia election laws, I often think our state might be better off if the General Assembly passed the budget, adjourned and sent everyone home.
Each year, the Governor sets a revenue projection, from which the Governor and the Legislature then produce/propose a balanced budget, which for Fiscal Year 2022 (July 1, 2021 ending June 30, 2022) has been set at $27.2 billion.
Governor’s FY 2022 Budget Priorities
- Education - Restore funding and resources to our K-12 and higher education systems for a total of $573; Georgia also anticipates receiving $3.5 billion from the federal Education Stabilization Funds.
- Transportation - $200 million to the Georgia Department of Transportation for roadways, including $38.8 million for the State Road and Tollway Authority (SRTA), leveraging more than $500,000 in future Guaranteed Revenue Bonds, the SRTA and $110 million in general obligation bonds ($100 million to repair and replace bridges and $10 million to upgrade our more than 1,000 miles of short-line rail);
- Rural Economic Development - $40 million for the OneGeorgia Authority to establish a Rural Innovation Fund, offering resources for public-private partnerships in rural communities; $20 million in the AFY 2021 budget and an additional $10 million each year going forward for the OneGeorgia Authority to establish a broadband infrastructure grant program.
- Health Care - $329 million for Medicaid and PeachCare; $76 million to implement the Patients First Act, for innovative health insurance coverage solutions increasing health insurance access for low-income Georgians
WEEK 3 – January 26th
During the third week, which began on Tuesday, January 26, the full House passed the Amended Fiscal Year 2021 (AFY 2021) (House Bill 80). The AFY 21 budget increased the budget from the previously approved $25.9 billion to $26.56 billion, an increase of $654.3 million, or 2.4 percent. This increase was due an improved economic outlook as Georgia businesses reopened and consumers began spending thus increasing sales tax revenue to the state, and as anticipated federal funds were received.
Highlights Where the $654.3 Million AFY 21 Increase Was Spent
Quality Basic Education (QBE) formula funding - $570 million restored (60% of previous $950 million cut)
University System of Georgia (USG) - $70.1 million restored
Technical College System of Georgia - $3.5 million in new funding for enrollment growth
Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) - $18 million to replace/modernize outdated epidemiologic surveillance system helping to track COVID-19 cases
Patients First Act and the state’s 1115 Medicaid Waiver - $1.8 million in start-up costs
AIDS Drug Assistance Program - $15.4 million to support the increased utilization
Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) - $451,000 for recruitment and retention of medical examiners, and $100,000 to expand the state’s gang database
OneGeorgia Authority - $20 million to launch its new broadband infrastructure grant program
Georgia Department of Labor (GDOL) - $60 million in federal funding for the state Unemployment Insurance (UI) Program, the Short-Term Compensation Program and the Dislocated Worker Program. The federal funding will hopefully allow the GDOL to better process and pay claims.
Even though I lost my June 2020 primary reelection bid by less than 300 votes, 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/jeffjonesga and by phone at (912) 386-0428.
As always, thank you for your support.
With kind regards,