The 2021 Session of the Georgia General Assembly is finally over, and I can honestly say that most people on both sides of the aisle are glad. It was a very contentious session, far different from the happy collegiality we knew just a few years ago.
I am very blessed that it was a productive session for me. I had two military bills that passed, as well as another military bill that I co-sponsored. These are the State Compact Bills that allow people who are licensed in certain other participating states to practice their profession here in Georgia. Because these professionals hold the same degree of training and qualifications in these other states that we require in Georgia, they are free to practice here as well. I have done many Compact Bills like this before: Georgia is currently in State Compacts for doctors, nurses, physical therapists and psychologists. This year, we are adding speech therapists, occupational therapists and counselors. These Compacts are important to the military, as they allow their members and spouses to practice in Georgia immediately after they move here. They also help with rural health. All of these Compact Bills passed nearly unanimously.
I am especially pleased that my Teacher Tax Credit bill finally passed both chambers. Unbelievably, it went through four different committees and passed the House floor three different times and the Senate twice, over a three year span. It was the last bill to pass this year: Sen. Burt Jones got it over the finish line a minute past midnight. The measure will give $3,000 for five years to teachers who are willing to move to a very rural or lowest 5% performing school. Most states have programs like this, and they are usually very successful.
I was very pleased that we repealed the Citizens Arrest Bill this year. Along with the Hate Crimes Bill we passed last year, we have made great strides in making Georgia a more equitable and tolerant state. We also passed a “Porch Pirate” measure that will add penalties for thieves who prey on UPS and FedEx-type deliveries to your front door. We tackled Adoption Reform again, as well as “virtual” bills for notaries, E-commerce, shareholder meetings and telehealth. Also, we will permanently go to Daylight Savings Time – along with 11 other states – but only if Congress approves it.
Obviously, the most contentious bill was Election Reform. As I have stated before, we should have done this last year after Democrats were so unhappy with the 2018 results. Now that both sides have lost confidence in one (or both) of the last two elections, I believe this bill was necessary and fair. Most of the media characterizations of this measure are false: we are actually expanding hours, expanding weekend voting, and expanding drop boxes ... all while preserving no-excuse absentee balloting. Most of the upset is the fact we have strengthened the security of the vote by adding a driver’s license (or other means of ID) to a request for an absentee ballot; something you have to do in nearly every other transaction in our modern world, such as getting on an airplane, buying liquor, getting a passport, get a prescription, open a checking account, apply for welfare or food stamps, get a drivers license, get married, adopt a pet, get a hotel room, get a hunting license or buy a gun, buy or rent a house or a car or get a loan, as well as many other things. If voting is sacred, as nearly everyone on both sides of the aisle claims, than it should be secure. Actually, it is far easier to vote in Georgia – before and after the passage of this law – than in many north-eastern states that are hypocritically criticizing us.
The budget passed very late this year, after 10 p.m. on the last day. Overall, it increases $1.3 billion or 5% from last year to a total of $27.2 billion. The big winners are education and health care, which receive 90% of the new monies. Additionally, over $4.25 billion new federal dollars will be added to K12 Education, $3.8 billion of which will go directly to the local school systems. It is estimated that Morgan County (which has some $10.6 million in reserves) will receive an additional $7.7 million, and Newton County (which has some $48 million in the bank) will get another $90.5 million. More than $1 billion from the Feds is also being added to health care in Georgia.
The state will also receive $4.6 billion from the Feds, and local cities and counties in Georgia will get an additional $3.4 billion. This is in addition to the monies allocated to K12 Education. The governor plans to focus the state’s portion to rural broadband, water and sewer, and industries hit hard by COVID.
Rep. Dave Belton is a Republican from District 112, representing Morgan and Newton counties in the Georgia House of Representatives.