During the third week of the legislative session (Jan. 26-29), the Senate took an important first step in fulfilling our constitutional obligation of passing a balanced budget. The House, after holding a series of Appropriations Committee meetings, passed out their version of the Amended Fiscal Year 2021 Budget. Now, the budget has been sent over to the Senate for review.
The budget process is lengthy and provides lawmakers with numerous opportunities to examine the budgetary needs of our state departments and programs and evaluate which areas need more funding and where some funds can be reallocated. Thankfully, Georgia’s economy has remained resilient through the COVID-19 pandemic and we are now in a position where we can begin restoring funds to areas that experienced cuts during our last budget cycle. Our Appropriations Subcommittees convened for a long day on Friday to begin fine-tuning the bill that passed the House on Thursday. These hearings will continue on next week and, when the Appropriations Committee is satisfied with the final product, the budget will be heard in the Senate for a vote.
While discussions around the budget continued, I also had the opportunity to chair my first meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Some of the most important bills of the session will likely come before our committee to be vetted and receive feedback from our members. This is an important task, but our committee contains combined decades of legal expertise, along with other subject matter experts in their fields. I am thoroughly looking forward to working with my committee members to ensure every bill that passes out of our committee.
Last Wednesday, Gov. Brian Kemp held a press conference to provide an update on the work of the GRACE Commission. The work of the commission is critically important, as they are tasked with combatting the vile practice of human trafficking in our state. While the GRACE Commission is tasked with bringing to justice those who exploit others for servitude, it is also compelled to bring much needed aid and assistance to the victims who have suffered under this heinous crime. For this year’s priorities, the Commission laid out three priorities: legislation allowing victims of human trafficking to legally change their names, creating a mechanism which would allow victims to sue anyone who knowingly benefitted from their trafficking, as well as requiring renewal applicants for Commercial Driver’s Licenses to participate in an anti-human trafficking course in order to receive their license. As a legislator honored to have carried legislation emanating from the GRACE commission last year, I fully support their goals for the session and look forward to using my position on the Judiciary Committee to advance these bills.
Next week we will continue to hold Appropriations Subcommittee meetings in order to ensure this budget strikes the correct balance of fiscal responsibility, while still ensuring vital state services and agencies receive the funding they need to operate efficiently.
Brian Strickland is a Republican from District 17, serving in the Georgia Senate.