January 29, 2021

The Georgia legislature met Tuesday through Friday this week and has completed eight legislative days.  They will reconvene on Monday, February 1, and be in session through Thursday next week.

The focus of the House this week has been passage of the supplemental budget, which makes adjustments to the current budget that runs through June 2021.  With the threat that COVID could possibly cause a suspension of this session, like last year, Speaker Ralston said they resolved early on to get the supplemental budget passed quickly.  By a vote of 149-20, the full House passed the amended FY ’21 budget before lunchtime yesterday then passed it on to the Senate.  Senate Appropriations subcommittees began meeting on the budget at 6:30 this morning, and a full Senate vote is expected next week.

Some items of interest in the amended budget include funding for 500 new school buses, $20M for a rural broadband grant program administered by One Georgia, $15M for the AIDS/HIV Drug Assistance program, $19M for nursing homes, and additions to the Department of Public Health that include a Chief Medical Officer, Deputy Commissioner and a Chief Data Officer as well as $18M for a new computer system to track immunizations.

COVID protocols were in the news earlier this week when Speaker Ralston asked a state trooper to escort a member out of the House chamber because he had not been tested and had refused to do so.  House Rules require members to be tested twice a week as well as wearing masks and maintaining a six-foot social distance.  In order to properly space members in the House chamber, they are currently occupying seats on the House floor, in the House balcony, and in a large meeting room.  Spacing requirements have also caused Senate members to spread into the Senate balcony.

Spacing in meeting rooms is as challenging as it is in the House and Senate chambers and some require almost all available space for committee members.  Therefore, lobbyists and members of the public are encouraged to watch on-line unless they need to be at the Capitol for a specific bill or meeting.  So far, most committee meetings have been introductory and organizational.

In a meeting on Wednesday, Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, Chair of Senate Finance Committee, said he would like to see a comprehensive study of the state’s current tax system, along with a review of the state’s current $9.5B in tax breaks.

Some bills of note that have been introduced include extending the limit on people’s ability to file lawsuits if they contract COVID to 2022 (HB 112), photo ID requirements for people voting by absentee ballots (SB 29), and a permanent switch to daylight saving time (HB 44).  Gambling bills that have been introduced include horse racing (SB 30), online sports betting (HB 86), and a constitutional amendment would allow casinos (HR 30).


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