By State Rep. Ron Stephens.
As most of you now know, the 2021 Georgia General Assembly session ended three weeks ago. This is a recap of some of the more significant items we accomplished, and we had much success. With Georgia as the leader in the country for states where businesses our welcome, our revenues coming off a pandemic year, were very robust which allowed us a bigger share of revenues to fix some of the cutbacks we faced in the 2020 General Assembly. We also restored trust to our state elections that brought fairness, security and transparency to the process and highlighted our mantra of “one person, one vote.”
The budget for the next fiscal year begins July 1, 2021, and is set by a revenue estimate $27.2 billion, which is an increase of $1.34 billion, or 5.2 percent, over the original Fiscal Year 2021 budget that was passed last June. The state’s fiscal position has exceeded expectations since last year, and as a result, we were able to allocate approximately 90 percent of the new revenue for the FY 2022 budget to Georgia’s education and health and human services agencies.
The upcoming fiscal year budget also restores 60 percent of the reductions made to K-12 education, as well as preserves and increases funding for our other top priorities, such as expanded mental health core and crisis intervention services, rate increases for health and human service providers, access to health care and salary increases for critical state workforce positions. Governor Brian Kemp will now review the budget bill before signing it into law.
One highlight of the budget process was the success we legislators in the Coastal Empire accomplished had in the securing of bonds to pay for the Savannah Trade Center expansion on Hutchinson Island. We received $70 million in the2020 bond package and will get $90 million in the 2021 budget. This first-rate epicenter for business conventions and sporting competitions in the greater Savannah area is expected to cost $210 million.
When the 2020 election cycle finally concluded, there were many concerns about whether our ballots were secure, the voting was fair, and the counting accurate. The House of Representatives and the Senate heard testimony, introduced legislation, and settled on a package of changes that were fair and comprehensive in reforming and securing our sacred right of voting. We passed Senate Bill 202, a comprehensive update on Georgia’s elections laws and procedures and the Governor signed the legislation into law.
The new law combines bipartisan ideas to make our elections more secure and improve overall voter confidence in the election process. they 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. Photo identification, or other approved ID, will be required for all voters.
Every legal vote cast in Georgia deserves to be accurately counted, and these new updates ensure that both the distribution and tabulation of ballots is as secure as possible.
I am in 226-A of the State Capitol. My office phone number is (404) 656-5115 and my email is ron.stephens@ house.ga.gov.