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We’ve almost reached the halfway point of the 2021 legislative session. Day 20 of the 40-day session will be next week. With the Amended Fiscal Year budget now signed by the Governor, much of my focus will redirect to the General Fiscal Year 2022 budget and continuing to find ways to be the best stewards of your hard-earned tax dollars. The budget is not the only issue we tackle, as you know. We’ve also been working on a number of legislative issues that try to address the concerns you’ve voiced from healthcare to election reform and several others in between. Here’s a summary of some of the bills that passed the Senate this week that I believe you’d take interest in:

Senate Bill 87, the “Senator Jack Hill Veterans’ Act,” continues the work Sen. Hill started during his time in the legislature to serve our military communities and specifically, would allow Georgians to make a voluntary contribution on their income tax return to go towards organizations that assist disabled veterans. It passed the Senate 50 to zero. Another measure, Senate Bill 27, would assist those who obtained professional licenses in the military for things like HVAC and electrical contracting to qualify for a Georgia professional license for the same by extending the time they may apply to do so. It passed the Senate 49 to zero.

Senate Bill 46, authored by Sen. Dr. Dean Burke, (R -- Bainbridge), would allow certain medical professionals, like pharmacists and EMTs, to administer vaccines during a declared public health emergency and should help address some of the problems you’ve had with obtaining the COVID-19 vaccine. The Governor has already permitted this through an executive order in January, but codifying it in legislation makes us better equipped moving forward. It passed the Senate 47 to three.

Senate Bill 88 aims to address our statewide teacher shortage by providing a pathway for armed force veterans to become certified teachers, revise tiered evaluation systems, and adjust some of the duties of the Professional Standards Commission. It passed the Senate 50 to zero.

Senate Bill 52 tries to protect small businesses and promote increased safety from cybersecurity data breaches by providing a safe harbor from cyber security breach litigation if a company establishes and maintains a certain level of cybersecurity standards. It passed the Senate 31 to 18.

Since the beginning of the legislative session, I’ve discussed our work on elections reform matters. We’ve seen numerous election related bills that try to address concerns I’ve heard from you. Almost three dozen such bills have now been filed. They began moving through the legislative process two weeks ago and we discussed them then. Several were heard by Senate Ethics subcommittees this week and five were passed by the full committee (Senate Bills 67, 89, 40, 184 and 188). The others are still moving, but these five are now waiting to be taken up by the full Senate:

  • Senate Bill 89 – would create a Chief Elections Assistance Officer within the Secretary of State’s office to provide oversight on our state’s elections process. This person would need at least five years of experience working in elections and would be responsible for things like helping to train poll workers, monitoring superintendents and identifying low performing counties (areas with election violations, poor administration, etc.). The bill also authorizes the State Election Board to remove elections officials in consistently poor performing counties.
  • Senate Bill 67 – would require any elector that requests to vote by absentee ballot to include either their Driver’s License number or personal identification card number with that request. If someone doesn’t have one of those, the bill outlines other methods of verifying identity. This ID requirement would replace the current signature match process, which should increase security and help verify the identity of those requesting an absentee ballot.
  • Senate Bill 40 – would speed up election night reporting times by requiring election officials to begin scanning (but not tabulating) absentee ballots before election night. This change is expected to help get election results out on election night instead of days later.
  • Senate Bill 184 – would establish a new deadline for local elections boards to update voting information in the statewide voter registration system, revising the time the board of registrars must input credit for voting data from 60 days to 30. We’ve heard voters say they didn’t’ know whether their vote counted. This change aims to answer that question quicker. Those counties that go beyond the 30 days, would be subject to a fine.
  • Senate Bill 188 – would require the Secretary of State’s office to establish and maintain an election results reporting system that counts the number of ballots cast for each type and what the results were. This information would be available on a public website, to try and provide you with some transparency. This bill would also require counties to post the total number of ballots cast in that county – all in-person, absentee and provisional ballots received – at the time the polls close before they can upload any vote total into the statewide system. The goal here is to have an immediate count of the total ballots available immediately after the close of the polls.

Other election-related bills that have also been introduced include:

  • Senate Bill 175 – would require each absentee ballot to include a photocopy of one form of identification. This provision appears in several other bills already discussed above.
  • Senate Bill 176 – would establish increased penalties for individuals that illegally tamper with, alter, destroy, modify or falsify election data and voting machines.
  • Senate Bill 177 – would limit absentee voting to those out of town, with a disability, observing a religious holiday, that cannot leave their job, or 65 or older.
  • Senate Bill 178 – would codify into law that the Secretary of State’s office or a county election official cannot send out an absentee ballot application without first receiving a request from the elector. 
  • Senate Bill 192 – would provide electors with the opportunity for a hearing when their right to register to vote or remain on the list of electors is being challenged. 
  • Senate Bill 202 – would prohibit parties outside of the Secretary of State’s Office from sending absentee ballot applications to people who are not registered or who have already received their ballot.

The House has its own set of elections bills moving too and I look forward to addressing them if and when they move into the Senate.

The highlight of this week was welcoming Mr. Harold Quarterman, the Lead Custodian at Montgomery County Middle/High School to the Capitol. Mr. Quarterman won the first-ever Georgia RISE Award, which honors classified school employees. Superintendent Hugh Kight and Mayor Joey Fountain escorted him into the Governor’s office. Mr. Quarterman began working for the Montgomery County School System right when he graduated there some 43 years ago. He’s still there today. He and his family, especially his grandson Braylon, raised the spirits of everyone who had the opportunity to meet them at the Capitol. Mr. Quarterman is a great example of selfless service.

The Senate will be in session all five days next week. I expect a lot of committee work to be done and possible movement on some of the bills I just mentioned. If you have any questions about those, other bills we covered or more things affecting District 19, please reach out to my office. I want to thank you for letting me serve you here on these issues.

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