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This week was an odd one for me at the legislature. I told you last week of my abnormal COVID-19 test. Due to that test, I was not allowed to come to the Senate for committee meetings or votes this week. Fortunately, any symptom I had was mild, a huge blessing since I live with and take daily medication for asthma. Technology allowed me to keep up with the Senate’s actions and stay engaged under the Gold Dome. I followed the live stream of session votes and committee meetings and participated in over 60 video or conference call meetings with colleagues, constituents, or others with state budget concerns. While technology kept me engaged, I’m ready to be back in person.

With one more week behind us, momentum has been building here under the Gold Dome and our sights are set on Monday, Crossover Day. As you may remember, this is the deadline for all bills originating here in the Senate to make it out. That means we’ll be busy in chamber discussing a list of bills that will impact you. From what I’ve seen, a few of these will be elections related. But first, here’s an overview of some of the legislation that made it across the Senate floor this week:  

One of the big themes this week was Education. Senate Bill 204 creates a 5-year pilot program that would allow students 16 or older to get a high school diploma through eligible schools within the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG). By meeting certain coursework requirements, this “Dual Achievement Program” would help Georgians not only get a technical degree or certificate, but would also allow them to finish their high school education. Schooling isn’t a one size fits all model by any means and the typical high school route isn’t best for everyone. SB 204 allows these students to go back and finish what they started in a way that works for them. 

Senate Bill 187, Senate Bill 47 and Senate Bill 107 are some other bills that take a look at the different types of students in our state and the resources they need to succeed. SB 187 would allow students with a disability to apply for a waiver that would extend their eligibility under HOPE Scholarship and provide them more time post high school graduation. SB 47 would expand the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship to children eligible for accommodations under Section 504 of the Federal Rehabilitation Act. This would allow them to enroll in another public or private school that best accommodates their needs. SB 107 is part of our state’s longstanding commitment to the foster care system and would waive tuition and associated fees in TCSG, such as housing and meal plans, for certain foster and adopted children. All of these measures passed the Senate and work to provide each Georgian with the opportunity to achieve a quality education. 

We also passed several bills addressing new realities due to the pandemic. Senate Bills 168 and 195 directly relate to the transition to working from home – SB 168 would allow shareholders of companies to conduct their meetings virtually and SB 95 would allow state agencies to conduct teleconference meetings as long as they participate as if they were physically there. Senate Bill 200 focuses on our local communities and would put into law that businesses and religious institutions are allowed to continue operations during a state of emergency.

Senate Bill 142 was one of the more debated topics of the week. This bill and its supporting Constitutional amendment would allow the people of Georgia to vote on whether sports betting should be legal in Georgia. I did not support this measure, but it passed the Senate and if it passes the House, it will be on your ballot in 2022. If the Senate version is passed by the voters, the proceeds raised from wagering will go to the HOPE Scholarship, Pre-K, rural broadband and rural healthcare.

The House of Representatives also passed their version of the 2022 Fiscal Year budget (House Bill 81) on Friday. This proposal encompasses $27 billion in total state funds and continues to provide added allocations to the areas you would expect– education, healthcare and public safety. The House also placed a large focus on mental health. We’ve already started conducting budget meetings on the Senate side and I will keep you updated on our work. 

This week, the Senate Ethics Committee met for the final time before Crossover Day and passed out three more election bills on top of the ones we’ve discussed in previous weeks. These are expected to be heard by the full Senate on Monday: 

  • Senate Bill 241, a comprehensive reform package, would establish provisions for absentee ballots, portable polling places, the suspension of a superintendent and more. 
  • Senate Bill 232 would require each individual absentee ballot to contain a unique bar code and tracking number to make sure they are easily identifiable. 
  • Senate Bill 202 would restrict the unsolicited mailing of absentee ballot applications and impose a penalty for doing so. 

On a somber note, our area lost an amazing person, educator and servant this week with the passing of Mrs. Dianne (Branch) Clark. Mrs. Dianne grew up in Glennville, but moved to Telfair County not long after retiring from the Wayne County School System. In Wayne County, Mrs. Dianne wore many hats including curriculum director, Title-I director and Pre-K director – all at the same time! She wrote the original grant to start Pre-K program in the Wayne County. If Mrs. Dianne saw a need, she didn’t form a committee to fill it – she just jumped in an did it herself. She challenged my thinking on state finances and education. Her comments were always firm, well-reasoned and kind. Her love for her grandchildren was unmeasurable. Our hearts go out to her husband, Mr. Ralph, and her sons, Chris and Jared. Mrs. Dianne simply made our region and our world a better place. 

Monday will be one of the busier days of the session and we’ll start hearing House bills immediately Tuesday morning. From there, we’ll be meeting regularly till Sine Die on March 31. If you have any questions about the legislation we covered this week or ones that are up ahead, please don’t hesitate to reach out to my office. Thank you for letting me serve you and let me know if I can ever be of help. 

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