By: Sen. Larry Walker (R – Perry)
As week 10 of the 2023 Legislative Session comes to a close, there are only five legislative days remaining before the Georgia General Assembly will adjourn Sine Die. This week, the Senate worked diligently, continuing to vet and deliberate on measures from across the hall. To date, the Senate has successfully passed over 60 House bills and resolutions since Crossover Day. I am eager to provide you with a brief update on a few key highlights from Legislative Days 32 through 35.
As we inch closer to the end of this legislative session, bills have begun to reach the Governor’s desk for signature. On Wednesday, Gov. Kemp signed a rather significant piece of legislation aimed at granting hard working Georgians much needed financial relief as we continue to struggle with 40-year high inflation. House Bill 162, sponsored by the Governor’s Floor Leader in the House, Representative Lauren McDonald (R – Cumming) and carried in the Senate by my colleague and Floor Leader, Senator Mike Hodges (R – Brunswick), provides a special state income tax refund to Georgians who filed returns in both the 2021 and 2022 taxable years and paid state income tax. This return of surplus was made possible with the passage of the Amended Budget for the remainder of the 2023 Fiscal Year, House Bill 18, which Gov. Kemp also signed into law on March 10. The Amended FY ’23 budget includes funding for this return of income taxes, with over $1 billion in taxpayer dollars now on the way back to the men and women that kept Georgia’s economy running during the pandemic, generating record state revenues. Thanks to conservative budgeting and the support of the members in both chambers, this is the second state income tax refund of its kind in recent years. I was proud to support this measure and see it pass both chambers overwhelmingly.
Keeping on the theme of addressing Gov. Kemp’s legislative priorities, House Bill 147 made its way to the Senate floor for a vote this week. As you well know, Gov. Kemp and First Lady Marty Kemp have dedicated much of their tenure to keeping Georgians safe and bolstering education and HB 147 works to do just that. Carried in the Senate by Floor Leader Hodges, HB 147 pursues the establishment of a school safety and anti-gang endorsement for certified professional personnel. Known as the “Safe Schools Act,” HB 147 addresses an area of grave concern that Georgians and communities across the nation are all too familiar with, safety amongst students and faculty in public schools. The nation is no stranger to public safety threats and intruder emergencies in schools. Under HB 147, the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency would require specific school safety plans be submitted to the agency on or before December 31, 2023. In addition, HB 147 would require Georgia’s public schools to participate and complete intruder alert drills by October 1 of each school year. By implementing these requirements to practice emergency preparedness, we can guarantee increased safety and security for students, teachers and staff in public schools. I was proud to support this measure and hope to see the bill arrive on Gov. Kemp’s desk in the near future.
One measure that’s particularly important to my district and Robins Air Force Base, Senate Bill 195, continues to move through the legislative process in the House. Last week, I was proud to announce the bill’s passage in the Senate. Known as the “Freedom to Work Act,” SB 195 is a product of the combined efforts of the Georgia Joint Defense Commission, the 21st Century Partnership and other service member advocates and seeks to address the ongoing concern of occupational licensing for military spouses and those exiting the military. This week, I had the chance to bring the legislation before the House Committee on Regulated Industries. I am pleased to report SB 195 was favorably reported out of its respective committee and also now awaits selection for consideration by the House Rules Committee. I look forward to bringing you additional updates on the progress of this and other bills I’ve sponsored in subsequent columns.
With each passing week, we have the pleasure of welcoming more guests into the Senate chamber. This week, I had the very special honor of recognizing a distinguished group of individuals, the University of Georgia Archway Partnership. Established in 2005, the University of Georgia Archway Partnership works to conduct outreach efforts to rural-underserved communities and supply its residents and community leaders with resources made available by the university. This program has proven to be widely successful and as a result, on November 6, 2022, the University of Georgia Archway Partnership was named the 2022 C. Peter Magrath Community Engagement Scholarship Award winner by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities. On Monday, it was my honor to welcome members of the organization to the Senate chamber and present the University of Georgia’s President, Jere Morehead with Senate Resolution 218, which congratulates and commends the Archway Partnership for their recent award. I was proud to host these reputable individuals and wish them continued success in their future endeavors.
Speaking of hosting guests in the Senate chamber, this week was extremely special for me as I was joined by two young members of my family who got an up close and personal view of the Senate at work. It was such an honor to have my niece, Sophie Walker and my second cousin, Ben Hulbert, serve as Senate Pages on Legislative Day 32. The Senate Page Program offers a unique opportunity for students to get a first-hand experience under the Gold Dome with our state legislature, gain insight into the legislative process, meet Senators from all over the state, and hopefully learn the importance of citizen engagement with elected officials. I love sharing this experience with the youth of Senate District 20, and I encourage those interested to contact my office toward the end of the year to apply for the 2024 Senate Page Program.
Next week, the Senate will convene for Legislative Day 36 on Monday, March 20. I anticipate these next two weeks to be extremely busy as we march towards Sine Die. As always, please do not hesitate to reach out to my office if you have any questions or concerns regarding proposed legislation. It is a pleasure to serve you in Atlanta.
Sen. Larry Walker serves as Secretary of the Senate Majority Caucus. He also serves as Chairman of the Insurance and Labor Committee. He represents the 20th Senate District, which includes Bleckley, Dodge, Dooly, Houston, Laurens, Pulaski, Treutlen and Wilcox counties. He may be reached by phone at 404.656.0095 or by email at email@example.com.