Greetings dear friends! Friday, June 26, brought the official close to our 2020 legislative session as the General Assembly adjourned “Sine Die,” which is Latin for “without assigning a day for further meeting.” Sine Die traditionally fills the capitol with guests as we celebrate the conclusion of our 40 legislative days on Capitol Hill. However, this annual celebratory event looked quite different due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the change in atmosphere, we did manage to push forward many measures that represent the best interests of Georgians.
2021 FY Budget
We successfully completed our only constitutional obligation: to pass a balanced budget. There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted our state’s economic health, thus forcing us to rework our projected budget.
Despite the circumstances, we worked tirelessly to prevent state agencies from furloughing state employees and teachers. While the initial outlook had cuts as high as 14%, our state’s ever-improving economic outlook reduced the projected cuts to almost all areas in the budget. In the end, we were able to reduce cuts and restore about $400 million in funding from a previous budget proposal. We will further understand the full impact of budget cuts once regulatory agencies begin the process of evaluating their respective departments.
In recognition of how these cuts will impact our state, the last days of session brought the passage of Senate Bill 416. SB 416 cuts our legislative salaries by 10%, the same percentage as state reductions to the budget, which began July 1. This vote was very meaningful, as our General Assembly took action to recognize the sacrifice made by all citizens during this unprecedented time. I am also proud to say that our House Republican caucus stood in solidarity as we voted overwhelmingly in support of this measure, which was split among party lines within our chamber.
The final days brought the passage of various healthcare initiatives which included Senate Bill 321 and House Bill 1114.
SB 321 works to increase the number of medical workers in hospitals across the state, especially in rural Georgia. This bill assists our ongoing efforts to expand access to quality healthcare through the following:
♦ Increases the number of physician’s assistants and Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (ARPN) who work underneath a doctor
♦ Improve the scope of practice for APRNs by authorizing them to order radiographic imaging tests in non-life-threatening situations if directed to do so by a physician.
Sadly, Georgia has consistently ranked too high nationally where maternal mortality rates are concerned. To combat this, we passed the final version of House Bill 1114. This measure will extend the duration of postpartum Medicaid coverage for new mothers from two months to six months. Included in this legislation is a provision for lactation care and services for expectant and new mothers, as well as children who are nursing. Furthermore, the FY 2021 budget added $19.7 million for this postpartum Medicaid coverage and $125,000 to provide lactation care and services for new mothers.
Our final week under the gold dome also gave final passage to Senate Bill 367 which would lower the number of mandatory assessments required of our students. This is a critical piece of legislation that allows our teachers to focus less on mandated testing and more on promoting the educational growth of our youth. This bill passed the Senate unanimously.
The House and Senate passed a revised version of HB 838, also known as The Police Protection Act. This bill works to protect police and other first responders from bias-motivated crimes. This also would allow officers to sue individuals who make false complaints against them. The measure shows our support for our first responders — the people who risk their lives for our protection.
Business Protection Measure
To protect our small businesses from frivolous lawsuits, we passed Senate Bill 359. This bill will protect businesses against COVID-19 related lawsuits except for cases of gross negligence. The Georgia Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Businesses were both appreciative of these efforts.
While we have officially finished the legislative session, our work is far from over as we will continue our efforts to rebuild and keep our citizens safe while combatting COVID-19. As always, I will continue to update you monthly for the remainder of the year. In the meantime, if you have questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me. Thank you for allowing me the great honor and privilege of serving you under the gold dome.