We have just completed our penultimate week of the 2021 legislative session. All committees have wrapped up their work and have passed out all legislation that will have the opportunity to become law this year. Our days this week were lengthy and included a considerable amount of time dedicated to finalizing legislation in committees and even more time spent on the Senate floor passing amended versions of House Bills and agreeing or disagreeing to changes the House made to Senate Bills. Our pace is likely to only increase, however, as we only have two legislative days remaining until Sine Die.
Of particular significance this week was the Senate’s passage of House Bill 81, the 2022 General Budget (FY22). The FY22 budget totals just over $27 billion, signifying the strength and resilience of our economy over the past year and how, under the leadership of Gov. Brian Kemp, our state’s economy has continued to grow during the pandemic. After passing the Senate on Tuesday, the bill was assigned to a conference committee where members of the House and Senate met in order to iron out any final remaining disparities between the two chamber’s versions of the budget. We expect the conference committee reports to be placed on our desks early next week when we will finally send the FY22 budget on to the governor for his signature.
On Thursday, the Senate agreed with the House on Senate Bill 202, a comprehensive update on Georgia’s elections laws and procedures. This legislation combines bi-partisan ideas to make our elections more secure and improve overall voter confidence in the election process. These changes include ensuring that ballot drop boxes are kept in secure indoor locations, expanding weekend voting hours to include at least two Saturdays, and additional security measures on ballots such as requiring the name and designation of the precinct printed at the top. Every legal vote cast in Georgia deserves to be counted and these new updates ensure that both the distribution and tabulation of ballots is as secure as possible.
Earlier this week, Gov. Kemp announced that starting March 25, any adult over the age of 16, regardless of their medical history or place of employment, will be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. This is an incredible step forward as our state continues to lead the way for the nation on how to safely reopen, while at the same time ensuring that all citizens have the ability to receive the vaccine in a timely manner. I encourage all Georgians to visit www.myvaccinegeorgia.com to make their plans to get vaccinated as quickly as possible. The faster we all become vaccinated, the faster we can return to normalcy.
On Friday, the Rules Committee met to outline the legislation we will take up for our final two legislative days. All told, we have placed 64 pieces of legislation on the calendar for Monday, signaling that our final days will be long. However, each bill we plan to hear represents an important priority for Georgians across the state and we will work well into the evening to ensure that those measures which pass scrutiny by the Senate body clear the final hurdle to be sent to the Governor for consideration. If you have any questions or concerns about any of the bills or resolutions we are poised to take up, I encourage you to reach out to me or my office.
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Sen. Steve Gooch serves as Majority Whip of the Senate Majority Caucus. He represents the 51st Senate District which includes Dawson, Fannin, Gilmer, Lumpkin, Union and White counties and portions of Forsyth and Pickens counties. He may be reached at 404.656.9221 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org