By: Sen. Larry Walker (R – Perry)
Our time here in Atlanta, serving you for the 2021 legislative session, is quickly going by and with Crossover Day right around the corner, we have been working diligently to try and represent you well. With that, committees met early in the mornings and for long hours to ensure we have met our necessary deadlines and covered each piece of legislation that matters to you. We have made great progress this week towards achieving many of our legislative goals, but we are still working hard to try and better this great state. We want to be efficient with the rest of our time and make sure that your needs are met.
Education has always served as one of the main priorities of the state, as exemplified by the over 50% of our budget that is allocated towards it each year. Our work this week in passing legislation mirrored this commitment to bettering the opportunities available to our children. The first bill, Senate Bill 204, supports the endeavors of the Technical College System of Georgia by fueling innovation and crafting a pilot program for students aged 16 or older to receive a high school diploma. Under the proposed program, students would be eligible to receive a high school diploma, along with technical certification or a technical degree, if they complete secondary school coursework and the necessary requirements provided by the school. This bill, firstly, provides Georgians with the opportunity to go back to school without the stigma associated with being an older age. Additionally, SB 204 stimulates the all-important technical sector and the careers that keep our state running. In strengthening our workforce, it is providing the people of our state new opportunities.
Senate Bill 107 is another education bill that would provide added resources to our students, while Senate Bill 47 is an important bill that recognizes variances in student learning needs. SB 107 also relates to the Technical College System and would waive the tuition and all fees associated with the schooling units for certain foster and adopted children that meet the qualifications. Georgia’s emphasis on our foster care system and facilitating an environment in which individuals can continue to grow in a loving space goes beyond their initial foster years. SB 107 promotes added success for those who have had to experience a number of challenges throughout their lifetime. SB 47 subsequently relates to the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship Act and would extend eligibility for scholarship funds to children who meet accommodations under Section 504 of the Federal Rehabilitation Act. With these allocations, students would have the option to go to another public or private school that better addresses their learning styles and needs. This is an important step in limiting the obstacles associated with disabilities and guaranteeing our children are able to receive the education they need.
This week, the Senate also passed a number of initiatives emphasizing rural development and the continuation of our agricultural success. Senate Bill 255 concerns the “OneGeorgia Authority Act” and seeks to promote greater tourism and economic development in rural regions of the state. More specifically, SB 255 would create the Border Regional Retail Tourism Development Program to award grants that incentivize businesses to conduct their work here in Georgia. The goal is to increase the creation and retention of jobs, expand on regional infrastructure and generate greater investments. This bill builds on the strengths of our communities to ensure continued success in the future. Senate Bill 195 would revise the definition of processing for hemp plants to exclude common farming practices, such as drying, shucking, storing and curing. By revising the current definition, SB 195 would clarify that the steps taken once hemp is harvested does not qualify as “processing” and consequently, does not require a processing permit. This helps eliminate confusion in state law. The final related bill is Senate Bill 222, which may sound familiar to many of you as it is a piece of legislation I brought forward last year. It would designate the pecan as the official state nut of Georgia. SB 222 recognizes not only the uniqueness of the pecan, but it also acknowledges the astronomical impact it has had on our agricultural communities and Georgia’s rank as the top pecan producing state. With a total of 170,000 current acres, despite the damages from Hurricane Michael, the pecan is a great example of the resilience of Georgia farmers and ability to withstand storms. SB 222 is a testament to their hard work and the rising recognition of Georgia Grown products in our state and country.
The last area I would like to highlight is our business and labor industry, and the ways COVID-19 has caused us to alter our traditional structures. Two bills that I sponsored and passed this week relate to a growing reliance on virtual work. Senate Bill 169 would allow electronic signatures and electronic corporate seals to be accepted on bonds for certain public contracts, and Senate Bill 168 would allow annual and special shareholders’ meetings to be held remote either fully or partially. These two bills are intended to facilitate our corporate practices during the pandemic and ensure that businesses are able to continue conducting their work. COVID-19 and its unintended consequences on our economy illustrated the areas that need improvement in order to ensure our state is able to support the people that live here. We want to guarantee we remain the number one state in which to do business, and that Georgians are able to continue caring for themselves and their families.
With Monday set as Crossover Day, we will spend the majority of our day in the Senate Chamber addressing and voting on legislation that affects you. From there, we will continue to meet until Thursday and our attention will shift to House bills. If you have any questions about the legislation being considered, please don’t hesitate to reach out to my office. I am blessed to serve as your state Senator.
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.