By: Sen. Larry Walker (R – Perry)
On Monday, January 23, 2023 the Senate reconvened for week three of the 2023 Legislative Session. After budget proposals were presented last week by the heads of Georgia’s state agencies, the Senate returned to its routine. New bills were introduced and assigned to the appropriate standing committee, and several standing committees met for the first time this session to adopt their committee rules for the biennium. After Monday’s adjournment, we held a Senate Republican Caucus meeting, where I was elected to serve as Senate Majority Caucus Secretary. I am honored to follow former Sen. Dean Burke in this caucus leadership role.
On Wednesday, the General Assembly had the pleasure of hearing from Governor Brian Kemp as he delivered his annual State of the State Address from the House Chamber. Each year, the Governor addresses the members of the General Assembly to outline his legislative and budgetary priorities for the legislative session. The past few years have not come without their set of unique challenges due to the state-wide economic impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic. However, despite those trying times, under Governor Kemp’s leadership, Georgia continues to remain a force to be reckoned with economically. Below I have outlined a few highlights from the Governor’s address:
The education system and the teacher workforce in Georgia remains a constant priority for Governor Kemp and the General Assembly. The Governor’s proposed budget recommends providing an additional $1.9 billion in funds to fully fund the Quality Basic Education formula, a formula that accounts for a large percentage of the state’s budget. You may remember that when Governor Kemp first ran for office, he made a promise to raise teacher pay by $5,000. Last year, that pledge was fulfilled. This year, Governor Kemp intends to go further by requesting an appropriation for an additional $2,000 teacher and state employee cost of living increase. If we are going to continue to prosper as a state, we must have an educated workforce and a well-run state government. Recruiting and retaining talented teachers is essential to the preparation of our children for a productive future, and their pay should reflect their importance. Without dedicated teachers, our children will miss out on the education they deserve and the life changing opportunities an education provides. We also must attract and retain quality state employees in order to deliver high level of service from state offices that our citizens deserve. Therefore, I support these pay raises.
With regards to our healthcare system, the Governor made a strong point in his address to shed light on the lack of healthcare resources and facilities in rural parts of the state. Currently, there are 67 counties in Georgia with less than 10 physicians in the area. The need for more healthcare professionals is unprecedented. Because of this, Governor Kemp is proposing a $4.5 million increase to fund loan repayment programs to grow the number of healthcare workers in our state. In addition, the Governor is calling for 102 residency slots through an additional investment of $1.7 million, increasing the initial goal of this program. I am fully supportive of these proposals made by Governor Kemp. The need to provide adequate healthcare resources to Georgians should be a top priority and I intend to do all that is necessary to ensure my constituents are receiving the best care.
Perhaps the most significant event of this week for me occurred on Thursday, when the Senate Majority Caucus held a press conference at the State Capitol to roll out our legislative priorities for the 2023 legislative session. Lt. Governor Burt Jones, President Pro Tempore Sen John F. Kennedy (R – Macon), Senate Majority Leader Sen. Steve Gooch (R – Dahlonega), and my fellow caucus colleagues gathered to unveil our plans to continue to improve the lives and livelihoods of all Georgians.
During the press conference, the Senate Majority Caucus highlighted four main themes we intend to prioritize. These areas include bolstering opportunity and innovation in Georgia’s economy, cultivating an educated workforce, creating safer communities, and supporting the health and well-being of families and at-risk youth. Through an in-depth analysis of Georgia’s approximately 200 special tax credit and tax deduction allowances, currently on the books, we want to eliminate those not proven beneficial. This will allow us to provide broader income tax relief to ease the financial burden on all hardworking Georgians. Improving literacy rates across the state will benefit our workforce and ensure success for generations to come. Tightening bonding requirements for violent offenders will make our communities safer, and efforts to expand telehealth services for rural and underserved communities will improve healthcare access and outcomes across Georgia. The Senate Majority Caucus is unified in our determination to advance carefully crafted legislation this session to move Georgia forward in each of the four areas we’ve identified. We’ve heard from you, our constituents, and know that these are issues of utmost importance to you and your community, and we are committed to delivering smart public policy that will make for a more prosperous, better educated, safer and healthier Georgia.
While bills related to Senate Majority Caucus priorities have yet to be introduced, we have been working for some time on the policy concepts and draft legislation. I expect some of these bills to be dropped in the Senate Hopper next week, and I look forward to working with bill sponsors to perfect and advance the priority legislation and as it moves through the various committees. Next week, we will reconvene in the Senate Chamber Monday through Thursday for legislative days 9-12, and our committee work will really get cranking. If you have any questions or concerns related to any potential legislation that may come up this year, please do not hesitate to contact my office. I am here to serve you.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.