Andrew Allison, Director
Kessarin Horvath, Sr. Communications Associate
Week Three Highlights
By: Sen. Blake Tillery (R – Vidalia)
This week began the start of Senate committee meetings. This is a process that allows us to review each piece of legislation that is presented before us and ensure it is in the best possible state before it reaches the Senate floor and provide an opportunity to listen to expert testimony from those involved. While we have just started to ease into the “other items” part of this schedule, the House Appropriations Committee finalized their proposals for the Amended Fiscal Year 2021 budget and passed it out and over to the Senate on Thursday. The Senate held its first subcommittee meeting on this item at 6:30 a.m. Friday morning. I expect it will make it to the Senate floor by the second week of February.
The House made several key changes to the Governor’s recommendation to support the growing needs of our state. The biggest increases went toward funding to public health for COVID-19 response efforts, including:
- $18 million to modernize the Georgia Immunization Transactions and Services program. On the Senate side we may amend this slightly and use these funds to show Georgians where vaccines are available online and help them schedule vaccination appointments at the same place in real time. I’ve heard from many of you on your constant frustration at calling the current vaccine hotlines multiple times for hours just to try to schedule a vaccine appointment. We can do better and we would like to simplify and automate this process.
- $256,000 to bolster the Department of Public Health’s chief medical officer and Information Technology positions to assist with COVID-19 guidance
- $19 million total to nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities to help them fight COVID-19 in these facilities.
- $15.4 million to provide funds for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) to help them with their vaccination program
The House made other additions in the state’s largest budget category, education:
- $38.6 million to fund 500 extra school buses
- $2.6 million to increase the special needs scholarship fund
- Added funds across the board for the University System of Georgia to help universities across the state with their operations
The first elections bill was also filed this week. It would require photo identification with absentee ballot requests and the absentee ballot. But this bill is only the beginning. I am expecting at least a dozen elections bills to be filed on Monday and Tuesday of next week. They will work through the committee of Sen. Max Burns (R – Sylvania), who our area knows well as our former Congressman.
One highlight of the week was a visit at the Capitol from our former state Senator and my friend, Tommie Williams. Sen. Williams is fresh back from an appointment from the Trump Administration through the U.S. Department of Agriculture as the minister-counselor for agriculture at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture in Rome, Italy. He addressed the Senate concerning his recent tenure, as well as the issues we face. It will be a joy to have him back home again in our area.
Next week, we should conclude Senate subcommittees on the Amended Budget for Fiscal Year 2021 and will likely hold a vote on that matter before the full Appropriations Committee. We will also get the first look at many of the elections bills many of you have discussed with me individually. Again, I expect at least a dozen of these. I look forward to updating you on both those topics in more detail then. Until then, if you have any questions or concerns, please reach out – my office is always open. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to serve you here.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org.