After taking all of last week to consider budget proposals by the heads of Georgia’s state agencies, the Senate returned to its usual work refining legislation through the committee process and considering bills on the Senate floor. The most significant event of the week occurred on Tuesday, when I, along with other members of the Majority Caucus, outlined our legislative priorities for the 2022 session. The four concepts covered by these bills represent areas that in which all Georgians should have a vested interest, covering issues including workforce development, public safety, education and data security. As the Majority Caucus Vice Chairman, I believe these proposals are not only needed, but will only improve quality of life for all Georgians.
Even throughout the pandemic, Georgia has retained its title as the best state in the nation in which to do business for eight consecutive years. Our workforce has also enjoyed the benefits of our friendly business climate, with unemployment in our state dropping to a historic low of 2.8%. In order for Georgia to keep up and remain a top destination for businesses, we have to continue to find innovative ways to connect potential workers with high-demand careers. Senate Bill 379 does exactly this, by incentivizing businesses to create and expand apprenticeship programs to fill the job gap that currently exists within high-demand career fields. Georgia has already witnessed success of apprenticeship programs and by placing a greater emphasis on the programs and encouraging other business to participate, we are creating a win-win opportunity to both students and employers.
Career opportunities are only a piece of the puzzle, however, and in order to prepare students to be workforce-ready, it is vital that they receive a comprehensive education. The goal is Georgia’s schools and universities should be to teach students how to think, not what to think. Senate Bill 377 would address this by defining the kind of content that only seeks to divide our students and implementing protections to ensure this kind of content is not taught in our schools. To be clear, this bill will not prevent schools from discussing critically important social issues or promoting diversity and inclusiveness. Rather, it simply states that schools should not tell students what to think or how to feel based solely on the physical or moral attributes they possess.
Today, more than ever, we utilize and depend on technology to stay connected with the world. The internet, particularly social media, serves as a vital forum to share news and exchange ideas. However, in recent years we have seen a shift by some tech companies to censor certain individuals, simply for expressing an opinion. In an effort to end this practice, we have introduced Senate Bill 393 and Senate Bill 394 to work in conjunction to ensure greater digital freedom for all Georgians. SB 393 would prevent a common carrier from censoring or discriminating against any user based on that user’s viewpoint or background. SB 394 would require businesses to disclose what information they need to collect from a consumer and would allow a consumer to request that any business that collects their personal data to submit a request to the business to delete such data. Every person has the fundamental freedom to share and receive ideas, regardless of their religious, political or social beliefs. These bills will put more power in the hands of Georgians to engage in technology without fear of being censored or having their personal information collected surreptitiously.
While the last few years have been hard on so many of us, our public safety community has been consistently asked to go above and beyond in their service to this state. Our officers are often placed in difficult situations and asked to complete their duties flawlessly. In order to help support our law enforcement community, we are supporting Senate Bill 171, known as the “Safe Communities Act.” This bill helps define certain acts of recklessness that our officers have witnessed over the past few years as criminal behavior and provides additional safeguards so that Georgians can continue to exercise their right to peacefully assemble. Our Constitutional right to protest is sacred and must always be protected. SB 171 further protects this right, while maximizing the safety of law enforcement, businesses, and the general public.
Last week, I also had the opportunity to join Governor Kemp, Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan and other state and federal officials in Warne Robins for the Governor’s announcement to create a Career Military Retirement Income Tax Exclusion for Georgia’s veterans. This Career Military Retirement Income Tax Exclusion will help ease the financial burden on our military families and further Georgia’s reputation as one of the most pro-military states in the nation. On behalf of Middle Georgia, home to many current service members and military veterans, I thank Gov. Kemp for his commitment to these brave men and women. I look forward to supporting this legislation as it advances through the General Assembly.
With our final day of session being slated for April 4, we have just a few months to complete our work on the budget, as well as our caucus priorities. If you have ay questions or concerns about any of these bills, please don’t hesitate to reach out to my office.
Three more legislative days have come and gone and the pace here at the Capitol has increased substantially as momentum begins to pick up on bills making their way through the legislative process. All told, we passed three bills this week and continued our deliberations in committee hearings, vetting legislation before making their way to the Senate floor.
On Tuesday, the Senate passed Senate Bill 330 which would improve the organ transplant process in Georgia. Currently, if an individual wishes to donate an organ, such as a kidney or a liver, they stand at risk of being dropped from their life insurance policy, as well as potentially miss out on earned income from their jobs if they need to miss extensive time to recover. Senate Bill 330 would create a win-win situation which ensure living donors are protected from losing or being denied life insurance and would provide a tax credit for businesses to assist their employees with organ donation and to cover the financial loss during the time that employee is in recovery. This will hopefully lead to more individuals taking the step to serve as an organ donor without fear of losing their insurance policy or putting their employer in a difficult financial position.
The Senate also considered another measure that would help protect consumers from purchasing fraudulent goods through an online retailer. During the height of the pandemic, we witnessed a massive increase in online retail sales. Unfortunately, we also experienced a coinciding rise in the selling of stolen or fraudulent goods. While we want Georgia to continue to grow as leader in e-commerce, we also must ensure that online sellers and third party retailers can verify the legitimacy of their products before making their way to the consumer. Known as the “Inform Consumers Act”, SB 332 will continue Georgia’s efforts to crack down on organized retail crime by providing critical protections for consumers who are sometimes unknowingly buying stolen and counterfeit products from online marketplaces. SB 332 will require online marketplaces to verify its high-volume third-party sellers and provide either an email, phone number or direct electronic communication to consumers to contact the sellers if they have any questions or concerns about the products they are seeking to buy. This bill is designed to cut down on the illegitimate sales and protect consumers from unknowingly purchasing fraudulent products.
This week, I also had the privilege of presenting Senate Bill 361 in the Senate Finance Committee. This bill, called the LESS (Law Enforcement Strategic Support) Crimes Act, would create a dollar-for-dollar state tax credit for individuals or corporations who contribute to their local law enforcement office through an affiliated law enforcement foundation. These donations can be used for limited purposes, including to increase officer salaries, create additional training programs or purchase new equipment. This bill is a priority for Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan and I am honored to serve as its sponsor. I am pleased that this bill was successfully passed through committee with broad bipartisan support and I look forward to presenting it on the Senate floor soon.
With 11 days officially completed, the General Assembly has only 29 days remaining to complete our business. We still have several pieces of legislation to consider, including the budget, and time continues to pass quicker each day. If you have any questions or concerns about any of the bills currently before the General Assembly, or if my office can assist in any other way, please do not hesitate to reach out to my office.
Sen. Larry Walker serves as the Majority Caucus Vice Chairman and Chairman of the Senate Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee. He represents the 20th Senate District, which includes Bleckley, Houston, Laurens and Pulaski counties. He may be reached by phone at 404.656.0095 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.