The Georgia General Assembly returned to the State Capitol on Monday, January 11, 2021 for the first day of the 156th Legislative Session. Both seasoned legislators and newly elected members of from across the state gathered and marked the first day of the 2021-2022 term. Each member of the Georgia House of Representatives took the oath of office and was formally sworn in by Superior Court Chief Judge Brenda Weaver. It was an honor to take the oath and be sworn in to represent the citizens of our each of our great districts and the entire State of Georgia.  

The way we conduct our legislative business changed in many ways due COVID-19. Many safety procedures have been implemented at the State Capitol to allow us to meet in-person during the next several months, including a bi-weekly, asymptomatic COVID-19 testing program for House members and staff, as well as guidelines for social distancing and wearing masks. Things certainly looked a lot different, but we are committed to serving the citizens of Georgia while keeping the health and well-being of members and staff at the forefront of our minds. 

Once we were safely sworn in, we promptly got to work to cast our first vote of the legislative session to re-elect our leaders who will guide the House through our next two years of public service. After hearing the nominations, Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) and Speaker Pro-Tempore Jan Jones (R-Milton) were both re-elected to their respective positions. We also convened in the House Chamber to hear Governor Brian Kemp’s annual State of the State address during this busy and exciting week. 

Additional information was shared this week from a bipartisan committee, which was previously appointed by Speaker Ralston.  They met last fall to further explore solutions to keep House members and staff safe at the Capitol. To that end, many of our committee meetings this session will have in-person and virtual attendance options, and the public can watch live streams of all official House meetings on our website from the safety of their homes. 

As is customary during the first week of session, Governor Kemp came before the joint legislature and judicial branch to deliver his State of the State address on Thursday, January 14. This annual speech gives our governor an opportunity to convey his assessment of the current condition of our state and our shared goals for continued progress and success over the next year. A video of Legislative Day 4, which includes Gov. Kemp’s address, can be found here: https://bit.ly/3snKHU9

During his address, Gov. Kemp reflected on the many storms our state has weathered since the start of the pandemic. He also reminded us of the steps that were taken this last year to combat the deadly virus in Georgia, including opening mobile hospital units, implementing a widely available COVID-19 testing infrastructure and deploying the Georgia National Guard to assist in response operations. Our state also prioritized personal protective equipment (PPE) procurement and additional health care personnel staffing. Furthermore, Georgia allocated a quarter of a million dollars in CARES Act funds to assist in the fight, and the governor plans to distribute additional federal funding through early March. 

Through Operation Warp Speed, the state has administered more than 283,000 COVID-19 vaccinations as of Jan. 13. The governor thanked the legislature for passing a PPE tax credit for businesses that manufacture PPE in our state, but implored us to continue to find solutions to allow businesses to operate safely. Together, we observed a moment of silence for the thousands of Georgians that succumbed to the virus and commended our health care heroes who have been on the frontlines saving lives every day. Dr. Kathleen Toomey, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health, was in attendance for the annual address, and we applauded her for her unparalleled leadership that has guided our state’s carefully measured response to COVID-19.

To further protect lives and livelihoods against the virus in the coming months, the governor also laid out some of his top legislative priorities for this year, which include expanding the new PPE tax credit to include pharmaceutical and medical equipment manufacturers. Gov. Kemp also announced his intentions to build upon ongoing efforts to support our schools by restoring funding to school systems across our state, fully funding enrollment growth and holding schools harmless for enrollment reductions. The governor went on to discuss several funding initiatives to support teachers, families with special needs children and institutions that serve minority students.

Of great importance to us in South Georgia, the Governor then revealed his plans to boost access to rural broadband grants to help improve broadband access across Georgia; this effort is especially critical for new remote learning environments. In addition, he outlined a funding proposal to implement the Georgia Pathways and Access program in order to drive down health care costs and increase access to quality health care. 

This session, Gov. Kemp will back legislation to reform Georgia’s citizen’s arrest statute, which was misused in the death of Ahmaud Arbery in Glynn County last year. Finally, Gov. Kemp stated that he will push for legislation to protect human trafficking survivors who seek to change their names and allow victims to seek court action against their traffickers or those who knowingly aided in trafficking. As the session progresses, we will update you on any related legislation as it makes it through the legislative process. 

Before Gov. Kemp closed his address, he highlighted some of his budget recommendations for the Amended Fiscal Year 2020 and Fiscal Year 2021 budgets. The governor’s budget recommendations do not include any new budget cuts for our state agencies and departments, as well as no furloughs or layoffs for state employees, without increasing state taxes. We and our colleagues will be busy next week reviewing Gov. Kemp’s budget proposals and beginning the state budget process through a series of Joint House and Senate Appropriations Committee hearings, which is commonly referred to as “budget week.” 

Now that the 2021 session is underway, we will be working diligently on behalf of our entire district while we are at the Capitol. We hope you will take the opportunity to review updates like this to stay informed on legislative matters that affect our district and state. The House recently launched its new public House website, www.legis.ga.gov/house, where you can track our progress throughout the session. It features a new intuitive layout with a number of tools for you stay up-to-date on what’s going on at the Capitol, such as archived committee meetings and an easy to use legislative search function. You can also find links to the official House social media accounts and live streams budget hearings on the new homepage. 

We welcome you to reach out to us and share your thoughts and opinions as we move throughout the legislative session this year. We can each be reached as follows: Rep. Darlene Taylor, Capitol Suite 401-H., telephone number (404) 656-7857, or email at darlene.taylor@house.ga.gov; Rep. Sam Watson Capitol Office Suite 245, telephone number (404) 463-2246 or email at sam.watson@house.ga.gov.; Rep. John LaHood 504-B in the CLOB, telephone number (404) 656-0188 and he may be emailed at john.lahood@house.ga.gov.

Thank you for allowing us to serve as your representatives.

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