We kicked off the fourth week of the 2021 legislative session on Monday, February 1, 2021. Members of the Georgia House of Representatives returned to the Gold Dome, and convened for four days in the House Chamber.  

As the pace picked up last week, we met in our committees to review bills. Many House bills passed out of their respective committees and have been sent to the Rules Committee, where they are now eligible to be voted out, then sent to the full House and can be called for a vote on the House floor.  

Also, last week, Gov. Brian Kemp rolled out more of his legislative initiatives for this session. One of the more notable bills that was sent to the Rules Committee this week was House Bill 86, or the “Georgia Lottery Mobile Sports Wagering Integrity Act,” which passed out of the House Economic Development & Tourism Committee and seeks to legalize and regulate certain sports betting in Georgia. 

Specifically, HB 86 would allow the Georgia Lottery Corporation to regulate sports wagering. These wagering activities are already being done, but done online. It will only be allowed for individuals who are 21 years of age and older and would only be allowed for specific professional and Olympic sporting events through an interactive-sports wagering platform. The bill includes certain restrictions for sports betting, including prohibiting the use of credit cards, as well as prohibiting league and team insider betting. 

Additionally, HB 80 would provide resources for individuals with gambling problems or addictions, enhance fan engagement and strengthen partnerships with Georgia sports teams. During the committee hearing this week, it was estimated that sports betting could generate $433 million in gross revenue, and the taxable revenue could add $43 million into the HOPE Scholarship fund. 

Several of Georgia’s professional sports teams have expressed their desire for legalized sports betting since the industry’s revenue has plummeted due to the pandemic. As our stadiums continue to remain empty for the time being, legalized sports betting may be one way to keep the professional sports industry, and the jobs it provides, afloat during this unprecedented time. 

In other news last week, Gov. Kemp unveiled his major “teacher pipeline” legislative package to recruit, prepare, mentor and retain the best teachers for our classrooms. Through legislative measures, Gov. Kemp intends to boost the educator workforce by allowing retired teachers to return to work full-time service in communities with the greatest shortage of teachers. To further address teacher shortages, the governor’s legislative proposal would ease certification requirements for veterans to become teachers and give veterans first priority when enrolling for teacher preparation programs. This plan also seeks to increase the number of minority teachers in classrooms by partnering with historically black colleges and universities to recruit minority educators. 

Further, Gov. Kemp’s plan would ensure that future teachers are better prepared at the university level with more reading-based instruction, as well as prioritize mentorship in the classroom instead of spending too much time on reviews. Bills associated with this legislative package should be filed in the near future, and we will update you on this legislation as it makes its way through the House and Senate.

The governor also recently announced a legislative package to reform adoption and foster care in Georgia. The first bill, House Bill 114, would increase the state’s tax credit for families that adopt from foster care from $2,000 to $6,000 per year for five years. Gov. Kemp’s legislative package also includes House Bill 154 to make it easier for close relatives to adopt children out of foster care by lowering the age an individual may adopt from 25 to 21. 

Finally, Senate Bill 28 would increase training and resources for case workers that would allow our juvenile court system to better determine the safety needs of children, including those in foster care. SB 28 would also ensure that all reliable information is made available to the court in order to make decisions that are in a child’s best interest, such as whether placing a child in a new home is actually the best course of action. 

In recent years, the House has championed adoption reform legislation, and I look forward to building upon that work as we examine these bills.

Thursday was a special day for one of South Georgia’s own, Gerald Long of Bainbridge. He recently retired as the president of the Georgia Farm Bureau. Gerald Long was honored by Gov. Kemp with members of the General Assembly, including your legislators in attendance at the ceremony. 

Mr.  Long first got involved with the Georgia Farm Bureau in the 1970s and has served in a number of positions on the State Board, including being on the board of directors. He served during some very difficult times for our farmers and our state.  We are all grateful for his dedication and service to our state’s leading industry, agriculture. 

Now he will return to work on his farm in Bainbridge and will continue to work with the Georgia Farm Bureau and will serve on the Decatur County Farm Bureau board of directors. Thank you, Gerald for your lifetime service to our farmers and the people of Georgia.  

On Friday, Gov. Kemp rolled out House Bill 304, or the “Georgia Made Medical Manufacturing Act.” This key initiative for the 2021 legislative session seeks to incentivize the production of medicine and medical devices within our state to limit our dependency on other states or foreign countries for critical supplies that aid in the fight against COVID-19. The “Georgia Made Medical Manufacturing Act” is modeled after Georgia’s Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Tax Credit, which was passed by the House during the 2020 legislative session last June. 

HB 304 would increase the amount of credit available under the state’s Jobs Tax Credit to incentivize job creation and investment in the medical equipment and pharmaceutical manufacturing industries. This legislation is the next step to ensuring Georgia businesses can operate safely this next year, and we and our colleagues will review this legislation once it has been assigned to a House committee when we return for week five of the session.

While we are busy at work at your State Capitol, we are also closely monitoring the state’s high demand for COVID-19 vaccines. As of last week, Georgia has shipped all of its Moderna allocations and has administered nearly 70% of the state’s current vaccines (both Pfizer and Moderna). On Wednesday, Georgia hit a major milestone with its vaccination efforts as we surpassed the one million vaccination mark, and more than 500,000 Georgians who are 65 and older have received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. To ensure that the state’s supply of vaccines can be administered more efficiently, Gov. Kemp recently signed an executive order to allow more medically trained professionals to safely administer the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Gov. Kemp also announced that Georgia’s weekly vaccine allocation from the federal government will bump up to more than 154,000 starting this month. The governor reported this week that two million Georgians are eligible for the vaccine, including health care workers, public safety officers and residents who are 65 and older and their caregivers. To learn more about the 1A+ phase of Georgia’s vaccine distribution and other important COVID-19 facts, please visit https://dph.georgia.gov/covid-vaccine.  

Georgians are certainly facing challenging times, and we and our colleagues will continue to keep this in the forefront of our minds as we consider legislation throughout the session. As we begin to vote on more legislation in our committees and on the House floor, we encourage you to contact us with any questions or concerns you might have about bills that come before us.

Your comments are always very important to us, so we each hope to hear from you soon. You can reach us at state capitol offices or via email. Our contacts are: Rep. Darlene Taylor (404) 656-7857or through email at darlene.taylor@house.ga.gov. Rep. John LaHood (404) 656-0188 or by email at john.lahood@house.ga.gov.  Rep. Sam Watson (404) 463-2246 and his email is sam.watson@house.ga.gov .  

Thank you for allowing us to serve as your representatives.

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