On Monday, June 15, my colleagues and I in the Georgia General Assembly returned to the State Capitol to resume the 2020 legislative session. We suspended the legislation session indefinitely on March 13 due to the growing threat of the Coronavirus (COVID-19). During this unprecedented time, Speaker David Ralston appointed a bipartisan House committee to develop protocols on how to safely conduct the remaining eleven legislative days of the session. When we returned to the Gold Dome this week, things were certainly different than when we were last in session. After a more than two month hiatus, we picked up where we left off, committees got back to work, and we voted on legislation in the House chamber six days this week.
The threat of COVID-19 reshaped how we conduct business in many ways, but it did not stop the House from working to serve Georgians across our state. The House conducted its first official virtual committee hearings while session was suspended, which allowed us to continue to discuss important issues from earlier in the session. Before we returned this week, additional safety guidelines were put in place, including measures to promote social distancing, at the State Capitol to allow us to meet in-person once again.
One of the most important topics of discussion during the remainder of the session is the Fiscal Year 2021 (FY 2021) budget, which begins July 1, 2020. Our state experienced a drop in tax revenue as a result of COVID-19, which includes a projected loss of more than $1 billion in April and $178 million in May compared to 2019. As a result, the House and Senate Appropriations committees held several virtual hearings ahead of our return to session to discuss how the additional loss of revenue will impact the FY 2021 budget. This week, the Senate passed its version of the FY 2021 budget, and a conference committee was appointed to work out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the budget.
A number of other House bills also passed in the Senate this week, some of which were sent to the Governor’s desk to be signed into law. Our Senate counterparts passed House Bill 849, which is one of three legislative measures proposed by Governor Brian Kemp to combat human trafficking in Georgia. If enacted into law, it would impose a lifetime commercial driver’s license ban in Georgia for those who have been convicted of a human trafficking crime. The Senate also gave final passage to House Bill 820, a recommendation of the Georgia Commission on Freight and Logistics, to establish the Department of Transportation’s Georgia Freight Railroad Program to enhance the state’s investment in our freight rail system. House Bill 888 was also sent to the Governor, which protects patients from unexpected medical bills if they unknowingly receive treatment by out-of-network doctors in emergency situations.
We also took time this week to honor the life and memory of the late State Senator Jack Hill, who served as the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee for a number of years. Sen. Hill was a selfless leader and was loved by many in the legislature. He exemplified his dedication to Georgians by the way he helped shepherd countless state budgets through the legislative process. My colleagues and I will continue to remember him as we work to finalize the FY 2021 budget without our dear colleague for the first time in many years.
During the tenth week of the 2020 legislative session, my colleagues and I also passed the following bills and resolutions in the House chamber:
- House Resolution 1507: Amend the Rules for the House to allow for official virtual or electronic meetings during emergency circumstances as authorized by the speaker of the House. In these instances, public meetings would be available virtually and electronically
- Senate Bill 38: Create a method for counties to abolish a county police department and transfer the law enforcement functions of that department to the sheriff of the county; if approved, the county police department would be abolished 180 days after a local referendum. This law would be repealed on January 1, 2022.
- Senate Bill 303: Require each insurer, except health maintenance organizations, to provide the following information to the public through interactive mechanisms on its website: comparisons of payment amounts accepted by in-network providers for health care services; obtain an estimate of the average amount accepted by in-network providers for the health care services; obtain an estimate of the out-of-pocket costs that a person would owe his or her provider for a health care service; and compare quality metrics applicable to in-network providers for major diagnostic categories
- Senate Bill 306: Establish the Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology Interstate Compact to allow Georgia to facilitate interstate practice of audiology and speech-language pathology
- Senate Bill 345: Allow non-profit organizations to prepare and provide food in accordance with Department of Public Health requirements
- Senate Bill 346: Authorize the State Board of Veterinary Medicine to operate a professional health program to provide monitoring and rehabilitation services to impaired veterinarians in the state. The bill would also add and set the terms for a seventh member, who would be a registered veterinary technician, to the board
- Senate Bill 430: Allow home school or private school students to enroll in a college and career academy in the student’s resident school system if space is available; the State Board of Education would oversee this new rule, and the local board of education would earn FTE funds for each student who participates in one or more courses at such college and career academy
- Senate Bill 431: Allow for an on-time graduation rate; the on-time graduation rate would be a parallel graduate rate that only includes the four-year cohort of students that attend a school continuously the previous four years
Each week, you can return to my blog to read updates on what the General Assembly is working on for the State of Georgia. You are always welcome to visit me at my capitol office located at 601-C Coverdell Legislative Office Bldg. Atlanta, GA 30334. You can view my committee assignments for the legislative term here. Please feel free to contact me by phone at 404.656.0254, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t hesitate to reach out throughout the legislative session with any opinions or questions you may have.
I look forward to hearing from you!
Below, I’ve listed out leaders from both chambers. You can click through each of their names to find more information about them.
Speaker of the House: David Ralston
Speaker Pro Tempore: Jan Jones
Majority Leader: Jon Burns
Majority Whip: Trey Kelley
Majority Caucus Chair: Matt Hatchett
Majority Caucus Vice-Chair: Micah Gravley
Minority Leader: Robert Trammell
Minority Whip: William Boddie
Minority Caucus Chair: James Beverly
Minority Caucus Vice-Chair: Erica Thomas
President Pro Tempore: Butch Miller
Majority Leader: Mike Dugan
Majority Whip: Steve Gooch
Majority Caucus Chair: John Kennedy
Majority Caucus Vice-Chair: Larry Walker
Minority Leader: Steve Henson
Minority Whip: Harold Jones
Minority Caucus Chair: Gloria Butler
Minority Caucus Vice-Chair: Emanuel Jones