Capitol Recap: A Welcome Back to the Gold Dome
Tuesday, January 19th, 2021
With a full legislature back under the Gold Dome, the start of the first session of the 156th Georgia General Assembly has, in many ways, served as a balance between the old versus the new. The 2021 Legislative Session has marked the start of a new biennium and following the results of our local elections on November 3rd, that means we’ve welcomed a new cohort of senators who bring expertise in a variety of sectors, from farming to public health, and anywhere in between. With that, many of us have tried to continue the policy-focused dialogues we left off on in June, working to find the best ways we can support the businesses and families of this great state. I would like to thank you for your trust in me. I promise to serve you faithfully and to fight for your greatest needs in all that I do.
As a precursor to the legislative session, a heavy look was taken to analyze the current state of COVID-19 and how it is affecting our great state. To help protect members of the public, media, legislators and staffers at the Gold Dome, we have enacted a number of new procedures to help lessen the risk of a large outbreak. This includes mandatory testing twice a week, with those testing positive required to undergo contact tracing and work from home, as well as mask requirements throughout the building, temperature scanners at every entrance and increased social distancing. The state, as a whole, is still finding ways to combat the pandemic and although the road ahead is not smooth yet, I am optimistic of the work I have done with Gov. Brian Kemp to help increase vaccine distribution and make it more accessible to our state’s more vulnerable communities. If you have any questions about COVID-19 or the vaccine, I encourage you to visit the Department of Public Health’s website: https://dph.georgia.gov/.
To start the new legislative session, we welcomed a freshmen class of ten newly elected state senators, from both sides of the aisle, to join us in the official swearing in procedures of this office. Administering the oath was Georgia Supreme Court Justice Charlie Bethel, a former state Senator I had the privilege of serving with briefly during my first term. I feel blessed to be given the opportunity to represent District 20 for another term at the state Capitol and I am eager to get started on enacting meaningful legislation that will help our state, and community, become fiscally stronger and healthier.
As part of that, I received my committee assignments for the 156th Georgia General Assembly and I am honored to announce I will now serve as Chairman of the Senate Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee. Georgia’s agribusiness cements much of the foundation of our state’s economy, with a roughly $76 billion contribution annually, employment totaling nearly 400,000 jobs, and leading production in goods like cotton, poultry, dairy and much more. Senate District 20 serves as an epicenter for much of that, with family-owned farms and larger production centers supplying many of our state’s consumer needs. I am grateful for Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan’s trust in me to lead such a critical committee and I look forward to working with my esteemed colleagues on legislative ways to support our booming industries. The other capacities I have been appointed to serve in are: Vice Chair of Insurance and Labor, Member of Appropriations, Member of Rules, Ex Officio of Health and Human Services, and Ex Officio of Retirement.
On Thursday, the final session day for the first week, we were provided a preview of many of the priorities of the Governor during his annual State of the State address, albeit under slightly different circumstances. Alluding to the resilience of Georgia farmers in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael, Georgia has undergone immeasurable challenges over the course of the last year – with an ongoing public health crisis, social injustice and economic slowdown – but, we remain stronger than ever. At just a glimpse, this year we don’t anticipate the need for any additional budget cuts and instead, can reallocate funds to education, nearly $40 million for a Rural Innovation Fund to spur business growth, $30 million to boost rural broadband, and hundreds of millions to support our public health communities as they tirelessly work to combat the pandemic. The future is undoubtedly bright for our state.
While we continue to find legislative ways to make our state even stronger, we will not convene for any legislative days next week in order to conduct a week of budget hearings. Commonly referred to as “Budget Week,” this will provide a full outlook of Georgia’s fiscal state now and in the future. In the meantime, I encourage you to reach out to my office if you have any questions. I have been elected by you and I vow to serve you dutifully here in Georgia.