January 31, 2020

After being in recess last week for budget hearings, the House and Senate resumed on Monday and were in session five days.

Chief among topics dominating news at the Capitol this week was the looming U.S. Senate race between current Senator Kelly Loeffler, who was appointed by Gov. Kemp to serve the remainder of Sen. Johnny Isakson’s term, and Congressman Doug Collins, who is highly supported by Speaker Ralston. A bill backed by Speaker Ralston, HB 757, would change the U.S. Senate race that currently calls for a November face-off with all candidates on one ballot, to a primary race in May with the two primary winners running against each other in the General Election.  It is speculated that this addition of a primary race would benefit Collins. Gov. Kemp has threatened to veto the bill if it passes.

Joe Campbell, chair of the Mitchell County Republican Party, won a three-person race with over 58% of the vote to fill the vacant seat in House District 171. This was Rep. Jay Powell’s seat that became vacant when he died unexpectedly in November. The House held a special ceremony this week to dedicate the House Ways and Means Committee room in Rep. Powell’s honor (HR 961).

There will be a special election on February 4 for Senate District 13, the seat held by Sen. Greg Kirk who died in December, with a run-off on March 3 if necessary.

House Appropriations subcommittees continued their work on the FY 2021 and the amended FY 2020 budgets with hearings this week.  Some departments have voiced concerns or protests about Governor Kemp’s call for a 4% reduction in their amended 2020 budgets and a 6% reduction in their 2121 budgets.

By a vote of 34-18, along party lines, the Senate passed changes to the dual-enrollment program that provides funding for high school students to take college courses (HB 444). This program has become so popular that costs to the state have increased 325% over the last 5 years.  This bill “grandfathers” current students but caps future students entering the program to a total of 30 college credit hours paid for by the state and confines students to core courses, like English, math, science, etc. It will also limit participation to 11th and 12th grader students for college courses and 10th 11th and 12th graders for technical colleges.

In committee action, the Senate Transportation committee revised and passed a bill calling for local governments to regulate scooters rather than have state regulation (SB 159).  The Senate Economic Development committee heard testimony on Sen. Brandon Beach’s pari-mutuel gambling and horse racing legislation (SB 45 and SR 84) but no vote was taken.  The House Judiciary committee approved a pay increase for Magistrate Court Judges (HB 765).

The House and Senate will reconvene February 3 for the 10th Legislative Day.  They will be in session Monday through Thursday next week.

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