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Another five legislative days have come and gone, and the Senate is now up to Legislative Day 24. This places us four days away from Crossover Day (Day 28), which is when all bills must pass out of at least one chamber in order to have enough time to be heard by the other side. As committees begin to wrap up their work on Senate Bills, we’ll start to consider even more legislation. Our time here is going by quickly, but we’re working to make sure we address all of the areas that are important to you. Election reform has, and continues to be, one area I hear about from you most. Last week, I had mentioned a multitude of election related bills that passed out of the Senate Ethics Committee. This week, we took them up on the Senate Chamber and these now been sent to the House.

  • Senate Bill 40 –authorizes election registrars and absentee ballot clerks to begin opening and processing absentee ballots before election day. It also prohibits them from talking with the media until the polls close. Processing ballots earlier will help decrease delayed reporting times and make sure you get the results faster, but accurately. SB 40 passed by a vote of 53 to zero.
  • Senate Bill 67 –replaces the signature match process and an absentee ballot request would need some kind of identity verification, like a driver’s license number or some other kind of state-issued ID. This was passed by a vote of 35 to 18.
  • Senate Bill 184 – requires local elections officials update your “My Voter” page within 30 days of the election instead of 60 days to give you greater confidence about your votes and help you know that it was counted. This passed by a vote of 37 to 15.
  • Senate Bill 188 – requires counties report the total number of ballots cast and the details for each type of ballot (in-person, absentee and provisional) to a public website before any vote totals could be reported. Basically, counting can’t begin until we know how many (and what type) ballots we’re counting. SB 188 passed 34 to 18.
  • Senate Bill 89 – sets up a process for suspending and replacing elections officers in chronically identifying low-performing counties. The most recent election showed that some counties functioned better than others, and some others had management issues that affected the reporting of results. SB 89 passed 35 to 18.

These bills began the vetting process in the Senate Ethics Committee this week including Senate Bill 241, a comprehensive package of election reforms.

  • Senate Bill 62 – would try to protect absentee ballots by including measures that print the name of the precinct, embed holographic security devices, maintain a list and chain of custody, and establish a process for necessary duplication.
  • Senate Bill 241 –would suggest roughly 12 changes to the current way we conduct our elections. Some of the areas it covers are limiting the use of portable polling centers, eliminating no-excuse absentee voting, forbidding ballot harvesting and establishing a hotline number where Georgians can make reports.
  • Senate Resolution 69 – would require an opt-in rather than an opt-out on motor-voter registration.
  • Senate Bill 71 – would eliminate no-excuse absentee voting.
  • Senate Bill 72 – would require county registrars to obtain and review death records from the previous month and remove deceased from the voting roles.
  • Senate Bill 74 – would allow poll watchers to observe vote counting. There are currently different applications for vote counting and poll watching.
  • Senate Bill 178 – would require electors to request being sent an absentee ballot application rather than applications being automatically sent.
  • Senate Bill 253 – would specify that notice be posted when polling places are relocated.

A couple more are waiting to be heard:

  • Senate Bill 232 – would provide each absentee ballot with a unique bar code and require officials who open the outer envelope to sign an oath. It would also require ballots to include a photocopy of some kind of personal identification.
  • Senate Bill 233 – would establish a new voting system that uses hand-marked paper ballots or electronic ballot marking devices.

Aside from elections, the Senate passed a number of other bills that help improve the livelihoods of Georgians. All of these bills passed the Senate this week:

Senate Bill 148 would create two groups that will be tasked with analyzing our state’s finances: the 2021 Special Council on Tax Reform and Fairness for Georgia and the Special Joint Committee on Georgia Revenue Structure. These are part of a long-term study to help look at where Georgia is now and where we might be in the future. This will help make sure our state is as economically competitive as possible and we remain the number one state to do business.

Senate Bill 105, a criminal justice reform initiative, would create a pathway to reduce probation time for defendants who meet certain qualifications. Research shows a probated offender will overwhelming reoffend within the first three years if they reoffend at all.  Georgia’s probation terms sometimes reach a decade. This causes Georgia to have the largest population of people on probation per capita and our systems are stressed. This bill saves taxpayer money by targeting probation where its most effective.

Senate Bill 28 revises the reporting process for suspected child abuse and would add measures in foster care that will help protect our kids and provide much needed stability during the possible placement process into temporary care. We’re working hard to make sure every child has a loving home.

Senate Bill 215 would allow aides certified through the Department of Community Health to work in nursing homes to help administer certain types of medications. With COVID-19, our nursing homes have been more vulnerable. This bill helps the staff members who have been working around the clock to care for our loved ones.

Senate Resolution 28 would call for a convention to set term limits on the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate.  It passed 34 to 20. We also have a bill that passed committee setting term limits of 12 years on the state House and state Senate.

Senate Bill 119 would allow for controlled burning of leaves, yard debris, or hand-piled vegetation without first having to call the forestry department for a permit, provided the burning is done at daytime, and safe distances from residences and woodlands.

We also passed the very important House Bill 265.  This bill, the annual Internal Revenue Code update, makes it such that Georgia will not tax certain loans received from the federal government under the CARES Act. We know many of you needed this bill to correctly file your 2020 taxes. It has already been sent to the Governor.

The legislation covered here in Atlanta has served as a reminder of our current circumstances and the impact of the pandemic in our rural communities. While Georgia has received more COVID-19 vaccines and several more vaccination locations have opened up, our area has seen fewer vaccines than other areas of the state. We’re currently working with the Department of Public Health to remedy this situation and help those who want vaccines get them. Sometimes, the issue has been as simple as a provider not being identified correctly. These allowed for a quick fix. Other times, the issues have been larger and we’re taking a deeper look to make sure we’re distributing the vaccines to as many people as we can. Many providers have jumped in to help assist with this problem and I can’t thank them enough for all the work they’ve done, not only now but since the very beginning stages of the pandemic. The approval of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will help our area as its storage requirements are less stringent as well.

Speaking of COVID-19, at the end of this week I experienced what many of you experienced long ago. While my wife, a physician, tested positive this summer, I never had an abnormal COVID-19 test. This week, I had an abnormal result during our routine asymptomatic testing at the Capitol.  I immediately had a follow-up nasal PCR test, purported to be the gold-standard, which showed me negative for the virus.  I know many of you have endured these irregularities as well. Out of prudence and respect for my colleagues, I will repeat the PCR test before returning to the Capitol this next week. I feel fine and have been conducting budget calls and Zoom meetings all weekend. These will continue regardless of the test results. If I can be of any assistance to you, don’t hesitate to reach out and thank you for allowing me to represent you in Atlanta.

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