Andrew Allison, Director
Kessarin Horvath, Sr. Communications Associate
Week Twelve Highlights
By: Sen. Blake Tillery (R – Vidalia)
We gaveled out for the last time on Wednesday and the Senate has now completed the 2021 legislative session. In just this week alone – probably our busiest days of the session – we finalized just under 100 pieces of legislation but overall that cover a range of topics that are important to you. Some of the biggest ones have been the 2022 Fiscal Year budget (FY22) and elections reform, but there have been several others that resulted from concerns you’ve brought forward. I want to thank you for the opportunity to represent you here in Atlanta and I believe we’ve had many successes that should help our District grow.
As you know, our only required task is passing a balanced budget. This year, the FY22 budget totaled $27.2 billion in general state funds with expected allocations from the federal American Rescue Plan. The majority of the budget went towards education, which continues to be our largest budget piece, but the second largest portion went towards health services as we continue to navigate some of the challenges of the pandemic. The FY22 budget shows good signs – our state’s economy is stronger than it was a year ago and we’re well ahead of other states, but there’s still a lot of uncertainty. Changes in policy can affect income taxing, delayed filing and other areas that impact our budget. We’re optimistic, but cautiously so. You can view the full details of our budget at www.legis.ga.gov and searching for House Bill 81.
Elections reform, as you also know, has also been a main priority during our 40 days here. These reforms rolled into a massive bill passed as Senate Bill 202, the Election Integrity Act of 2021. This bill includes requiring a driver’s license number or other forms of I.D. to help verify identity in requesting an absentee ballot and its return, establishing early voting times, setting up security for drop boxes, limiting portable polling places, and ways to keep our elections officials accountable to counting and processing ballots on time. There are many talking now calling this bill “racist” and “Jim Crow 2.0.” They claim this bill bans giving water to folks in line and that requiring drop boxes be monitored and kept indoors suppresses votes. I wish they’d share the rest of the story: that certain outside groups set up food trucks and block parties to turn out voters – but only in precincts they felt would vote their way. This was clearly done to benefit candidates, but doesn’t get disclosed as a contribution to that candidate and allows dark money to skirt campaign finance laws – how is that fair? They also aren’t saying that certain billionaires funneled money to “support elections” in counties they thought would vote for their candidates, not all counties. These donations too were clearly done to help certain candidates and but aren’t required to be disclosed by campaign finance laws – how is that fair? The truth is the “ban” on “food and water” being spewed by the talking heads is a ban on giving anything to voters in exchange for a vote and a ban on campaigning within 150 feet of a precinct building. If a group wants to set up a water stand 151 feet from a precinct, they can do so – as long as they give the water to everyone, regardless of who they voted for or who’s campaign sticker they are wearing. What they can’t do is give a donation from Facebook to a particular county to put a bounce house and BBQ outside of a particular precinct that votes heavily for one party or the other. That’s not racist or Jim Crow. It’s fair.
Here’s a roundup of some of the other bills that passed and didn’t pass in this year’s session:
- Senate Bill 42 allows home-schooled students to participate in public school extracurricular activities.
- Senate Bill 107 waives tuition and fees at technical schools for certain foster and adopted students.
- House Bill 286 prohibits local governments from reducing funds to public safety by more than 5% to “defund the police.”
- House Bill 509 requires insurance companies to provide at least one reasonably priced comprehensive health insurance policy that doesn’t limit or deny coverage based on preexisting conditions.
- House Bill 307 lets health care providers provide telehealth services from their own homes, and would allow patients to still receive telehealth appointments out of state.
- House Bill 128 known as “Gracie’s Law” and makes sure that no Georgian is denied an organ transplant just because of a disability.
- House Bill 32 creates a program that provides a $3,000 tax credit for qualifying teachers in rural areas to support recruitment and retention.
Did Not Pass
- Gaming– various bills from sports betting to casinos were proposed. None made it all the way through the legislature.
- House Bill 218 expanded concealed carry license reciprocity and prevented any future governor from banning gun sales during an emergency. The Senate added a few more protections and clarified Probate Court matters, but they didn’t make it back through the House in time.
- House Bill 290 would have required hospitals and nursing homes allow a resident’s representative to have at least 1 hour of in-person contact a day, even during pandemics.
With the end of the legislative session, Sine Die, I cannot thank you enough for the opportunity to serve you here. While this past year has been difficult, Georgia remains a great state to do business and raise a family – and that’s all thanks to you at home. While we’re done for the session, we are always working on more ways to serve you. If you have any questions about legislation we’ve covered, concerns you still have or ways we can continue to improve Senate District 19, don’t hesitate to reach out. I wouldn’t be here without your support.
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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.