Many good measures were passed during the last week of Session, and many more bad measures were thankfully stopped.
My four military bills passed easily, along with a few other military bills by other members. Overall, Georgia has passed an incredible 30 pro-military bills over the past few years, and is now “All Green” on the Pentagon’s Scorecard, making the Peach State the friendliest military state in the nation.
Along those lines, I was very honored this week to be a speaker at the inaugural Georgia Military Flagship School Award at Columbus High School near Fort Benning. State Superintendent Richard Woods and I created this award to encourage schools near military bases to focus on the needs of military children. I myself was raised as a “military brat,” moving halfway around the world every two years. While the unique opportunities of such an adventure are rewarding, having to grow a new crop of friends, again and again, is challenging, especially for teenagers.
The biggest winner this Session - by far - was Public Education. 89% or $694 million of new monies to the Budget went directly to Education, including the huge teacher pay increase – the largest in Georgia’s history. A few other pro-Education bills also passed, including the School Safety and Dyslexia Bills, and the private school voucher bill never received a vote in either chamber.
One of the biggest non-Education bills we passed this year was the Ballot Box Bill to modernize our election process. The Heart Beat Bill now makes Georgia one of the most pro-life states in the nation. We also took steps to expand Rural Broadband by allowing EMC’s to join the process. We also curtailed the 100-year-old privilege of legislative lawyers delaying court cases because of legislative duties. We also created a Medicaid Waiver program and passed the last part of the medical Cannabis Act, creating a very narrow and strictly regulated way for low THC oil to be legally produced within the state. There is zero chance that Georgia will legalize recreational use anytime soon.
There were also many bills that did not make it through. I was very happy to help kill the revamping of the CON (Certificate of Need) process that would hurt local hospitals. A large Transit Bill died because of yet another disagreement over the “Delta Jet Fuel Tax” which is now in place again. An important Turnaround School bill died, as well as the state takeover of the ATL airport. There was also an attempt to tax Uber and Lyft that failed.
Overall, the Session was very difficult for most members. I, personally, got a lot accomplished, but there is no question that the camaraderie amongst the members was very strained. We lost more than 30 legislators last year alone, and half of the House has left since I was elected. The average lifespan of a Georgia legislator today is only six years. I expect that trend to continue as politics becomes nastier and increasingly polarized.
Finally, I want to say a special farewell to Representative Andy Welch who represents Henry and Newton counties. Andy has been a stalwart friend and mentor, guiding me through many challenges with his wise counsel and Christian warmth. Like most of us, Andy has found it extremely difficult balancing the duties of being a Representative versus being a parent and a provider. He has therefore decided that his children need him more than the Gold Dome, a decision I frankly admire.
I hope you will continue to pray for me as I attempt to serve the peoples of Morgan and Newton counties.
Belton is a Republican from District 112, serving in the Georgia House of Representatives.