By: Sen. Larry Walker (R – Perry)
With Day 38 complete, the 2021 Legislative Session is nearly behind us and the work we have been able to accomplish in this week alone has been a remarkable reflection of our ability to work together in service to the great state of Georgia. One of our largest accomplishments has been the Senate’s passage of House Bill 81, the Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22) budget, which is in its final stages of deliberation. While the only required constitutional obligation of this body, we’ve sworn to represent the very best interests of our constituents and many of the bills we passed this week aim to improve your lives.
The uncertainty of the pandemic was in several ways debilitating, especially for our local businesses. However, through strong leadership and a persistent work ethic from you, Georgia got back on its feet. The FY22 budget is a reflection of those efforts and $27.2 billion in total funds goes towards reallocating and strengthening the programs that have helped keep our state running. Education, time and time again, is the area that sees the greatest percentage of state funds. We have reaffirmed that by restoring 60% of reductions to our Quality Basic Education Formula for grades K-12. Additional funds that will particularly benefit the students of Senate District 20 are: $1.6 million to fuel the Technical College System of Georgia’s high school diploma pilot program proposed through Senate Bill 48 and a combined roughly $1 million to fund rural coding initiatives through the Georgia Cyber Center and Department of Education.
Programs related to health experienced the second biggest allocation of funds and we’re continuing to try and alleviate some of the challenges COVID-19 brought. Investments in nursing homes, as well as mental and behavioral health services are large subsects of that, but we’ve also directed funds towards improving our resources in rural regions. This includes $5.3 million to address physician shortages and $300,000 to expand rural hospitals within the electronic Intensive Care Unit. Our agricultural industries, with such a huge economic impact on our state and local communities, have been some of the areas I have been focused most heavily on. The Georgia Hemp Program will receive $307,000 to facilitate regulatory oversight of this fledging industry. Additionally, the Georgia Agricultural Exposition Authority will benefit from the Senate’s addition of $157,000, paired with $342,000 in business interruption insurance, for a total of $500,000 in additional funding for our beloved home to the Georgia National Fair that is still reeling from the suspension of activities during the pandemic. These funds, coupled with a bond package of $630,000 for facility improvements in the Georgia Agricultural Exposition Authority, should help assist our region, and I’m looking forward to the reopening of the fair in October.
The FY22 budget offers a lot for Senate District 20 to be excited about, and many bills we passed this week, should have a positive impact on the lives of hard working Middle Georgians. I would like to detail a few here today.
House Bill 146 would provide up to three weeks of paid parental leave to state employees, during a rolling 12 month period, offering some much needed financial support to families trying to settle in with their newborn or newly adopted child.
House Bill 286 would prevent counties or cities from decreasing the annual budget of their police force by more than 5%. This ensures we are able to provide the appropriate funds to our brave officers who have been challenged by recruitment and retention issues.
House Bill 68 would allow professional licensing boards, aside from a few exceptions, to issue licenses by endorsement to individuals, such as military spouses, relocating from another state. The Senate provided an additional section in the bill that would allow the Georgia Board of Nursing to collect workforce data that should accelerate our healthcare services, particularly in rural areas.
Senate Bill 202 is the finalization of the General Assembly’s efforts to enact meaningful elections reform this legislative session. With influence from my Senate Bill 67, Senate Bill 241 and House Bill 531, SB 202 makes numerous changes to our election code in order to restore integrity and faith in the system. This includes measures offered by my bill, requiring a driver’s license number or other forms of identification to verify absentee ballots, as well as establishing limitations on drop boxes, portable polling places and much more. SB 202 is a comprehensive update of the various issues and concerns you have voiced to us over the months, and I’m confident that it adds ballot security while maintaining ease of voting.
The Senate only has two more legislative days left and with our committee work finalized for the session, our remaining few days will focus solely on reviewing and passing long calendars of bills. It’s been an honor to serve you under the Gold Dome and I promise to continue advocating for you and your needs till the very end. If I can be of any assistance, please don’t hesitate to reach out.
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 email@example.com.