Andrew Allison, Director
Kessarin Horvath, Sr. Communications Associate
Week Four Highlights
By: Sen. Blake Tillery (R – Vidalia)
This week the Senate passed several bills of note. We also passed the Amended Fiscal Year 2021 (AFY21) budget out of the Appropriations Committee and I expect it reaches the Senate Floor next week. We also saw a flurry of elections bills for the first time. I told our readers last week to expect them soon. Let me go over each of these topics with you in a review of our week.
The Senate passed two bills of significance to many of our readers this week. Senate Bill 6, the Tax Credit Return on Investment Act of 2021, seeks to analyze the return our citizens see on various tax credits in our state. Georgia is home to a number of tax credits; some are well known – like the film tax credit. Others, like the tax break on manufacturing energy, are less known. Like their popularity, tax credits’ return on investment to our state is not equal either. SB 6 forces a closer look at our state’s tax credits to make sure each one has a positive financial impact on our state’s economy and that we’re maximizing on our return on your state dollars or proposing the credit for elimination. I support this idea and have heard from many of you who do so too. The bill passed the Senate 51 to zero and now goes to the House for consideration.
The Senate also passed Senate Bill 20, which would bolster the Child Advocate Advisory Committee, a key group in protection of Georgia’s most vulnerable foster children and those with family issues at home. The bill passed 48 to zero.
Thursday, Senate Appropriations members met as a full committee to pass out the AFY21 budget; a $26 billion budget with priorities that mirror those of the state – education and public health. In agreeance with the Governor and the House, the Senate adopted many of the proposals I have discussed with you before:
- $650 million additional funds into education.
- $38 million to purchase 500 school buses that not only transport our kids, but have also helped distribute lunches and served as a Wi-Fi hotspot when schools weren’t physically meeting.
- Fund a 10% pay raise for guards within the Department of Corrections and the Department of Juvenile Justice, where turnover has reached as high as 90%.
- $35 million towards the state’s Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) formula to match funds for private deemed and non-deemed hospitals within the indigent care trust fund.
The Senate, in our substitute, was also able to find savings in other sections to add back even more money into the areas that need them the most.
- A redirecting of bonds allowed us to add $11 million to the Department of Public Health to provide, with other funds, an integrated system for online vaccine scheduling, vaccine management and distribution, and an upgrade to our immunization tracking system. Public frustration with finding vaccine appointments has reached a fever pitch. Public health workers and medical providers are further stretched by a vaccine ordering and records system they’ve called “cumbersome.” Medical providers need to be able to order and track vaccine shipments online so they can better schedule patients for shots. Overall, the Governor and legislature are adding roughly $41 million total to remedy these frustrations and help Georgians wanting a vaccination to find one.
- $150,00 to the Georgia Board of Nursing to expedite the temporary licensing of nurses to help with COVID-19 vaccinations.
- Funding for two more additional positions within the Department of Public Health to assist with Information Technology and federal funding, respectively.
- $7.5 million to the Governor’s Emergency Fund to provide the flexibility to acquire and distribute more vaccines once more become available.
- The Senate budget also created a new position within the Department of Labor (GDOL) to oversee and assist with unemployment matters and financial audits. I’ve heard from many of you still waiting to hear answers since Spring on pending unemployment claims so you can buy food and pay rent. We want to provide the GDOL with the management and resources to answer your claims.
The AFY21 budget has shown that Georgia, despite the challenges of the pandemic, is resilient. However, this feat would not be possible without the hardworking taxpayers who have worked long days and even later nights to serve Georgia and our communities. Thank you for all that you do and the benefit you have given this state.
Since the start of the legislative session, I have discussed with you, both here and in the district, concerns about the recent election cycle. I told you last week I expected a dozen election related bills to be filed. There were exactly that many. Here’s a brief overview of a few and the different subject areas they touch:
- Senate Bill 29 – would require submission of identification with an absentee ballot request and again with an absentee ballot.
- Senate Bill 62 – would enact a wide range of absentee voting reform to strengthen security mechanisms and prevent fraud by adding holographic security devices, printing the name and precinct on top of each ballot, and maintaining a chain of custody.
- Senate Bill 67 – would require an elector requesting an absentee ballot by mail to include a driver’s license number or personal identification card number. This is already a requirement for online request forms.
- Senate Bill 68 – would eliminate the use of drop boxes but allow for personal delivery of a ballot to registrar or registrar staff.
- Senate Bill 69 – would require people applying for a driver’s license or identification card to affirmatively state their desire to register to vote. This no longer makes it an automatic process when applying for or renewing a license.
- Senate Bill 70 – would prohibit a person from voting in a U.S. Senate or House runoff election if they voted for that office in a different state during the same election cycle. This would stop non-Georgians from coming into the state just to cast a vote.
- Senate Bill 71 – would limit absentee voting to those absent from precinct, with a physical disability, with certain jobs they could not leave (military, hospitals), or over the age of 75.
- Senate Bill 72 – would require county registrars to review coroner and funeral home records to remove deceased voters.
- Senate Bill 73 – would stop outside 3rd party groups from mailing absentee ballots requests.
- Senate Bill 74 – would make clear each political party may appoint two poll watchers in tabulating centers who shall be given access to all areas where ballots and election results are received and processed.
- Senate Bill 89 – would create the position of a chief elections assistance officer to evaluate election management practices and identify “low-performing counties,” to address any issues that may come up on-site.
I expect we will see more election bills filed next week. Next week I also expect the entire Senate to vote on the AFY21 budget. Typically, after this vote, the House and the Senate appoint a conference committee to discuss our differences and reach a conclusion. Once that occurs, we’ll move on to the general FY22 budget. For any questions about that, election legislation, unemployment, COVID-19 vaccine questions or any other matters related to our area, don’t hesitate to reach out. Thank you for allowing me to serve you; I wouldn’t be here without you.
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Sen. Blake Tillery serves as Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. He represents the 19th Senate District, which includes Appling, Jeff Davis, Long, Montgomery, Telfair, Toombs, Treutlen, Wayne, and Wheeler counties and a portion of Liberty and Tattnall counties. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.