By State Rep. Ron Stephens.
The Georgia General Assembly’s 156th Legislative Session was sworn in on Monday, January 11th. In the House of Representatives, 180 representatives took their seats as the first of no more than 40 days of the 2021 legislative session convened. I am honored to be elected again by the voters of District 164 to serve as their representative to the People’s body of the Georgia General Assembly.
To arrange 180 newly elected members into committees and take in member’s request what committee’s they would like takes time. To that end, next week will be devoted to committee selections and for freshman elected, office and seat assignments.
One issue of paramount concern for those of us working in the General Assembly is safety. As a Covid-19 virus survivor, the safety of the Legislature to fulfill its constitutionally mandated responsibility, must be taken seriously. All members of the General Assembly and staff are tested twice weekly as a step to prevent a spread of the virus. In addition, masking, and social distancing of the members during a session or committee meetings requires more room. This year, members are using three areas to vote on legislation to ensure that social distancing requirements are adhered. In addition, after last week’s riots at our nation’s capital, many states are preparing for similar disruptions. We, as employees in the Capitol, are given regular safety briefings and we have seen upgrades and improvements to maintain the security of all who enter our government institutions. If you plan to visit us at the state capital, please allow for extra time and follow all security protocols that have been set in place. One issue I quickly introduced was the legalization of sports betting in the state to help fund the successful HOPE scholarship program. By legalizing sports betting through the Georgia Lottery Commission, we can add additional revenues to a program that has been extraordinarily successful yet has become woefully underfunded. Many states have implemented some form of legalized sports betting and have seen many advantages to keep those dollars in the state versus being sent outside the state. The bill number is House Bill 86 and as a strong proponent of HOPE I will be pushing this bill with the utmost effort.
This week in the Georgia General Assembly, we celebrated the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., by observing the federal holiday. It also is the traditional time that the House and Senate Appropriations Committees meet jointly, to hear testimony from state agencies on what their budget needs are for the coming year. Testimony in the joint appropriations hearings included the FY2021 amended budget which allows us to make up emergency needs and budget shortfalls for the remainder of the fiscal years which ends June 30, 221.
We also were given broad numbers regarding the FY 2022 general budget which begins July 1, 2021.
As I promised, I introduced House Bill 86 called the Georgia Lottery Mobile Sports Wagering Integrity Act. By legalizing sports betting through the Georgia Lottery Commission, we can add additional revenues to a program that has been extraordinarily successful yet has become woefully underfunded.
Many states have implemented some form of legalized sports betting and have seen many advantages to keep those dollars in the state versus being sent outside the state. The bill number is House Bill 86 and as a strong proponent of HOPE I will be pushing this bill with the utmost effort. HOPE scholarships are especially important to our children in allowing them access to state colleges and universities at reduced costs.
One of the governor’s top budgetary priorities is to restore funding and resources to our K-12 and higher education systems to provide Georgia students with high-quality educational opportunities and the essential skills needed to enter the workforce. Consequently, Gov. Kemp’s proposal includes more than $647 million in the AFY 2021 budget and $573 million in the FY 2022 budget for K-12 education. These appropriations would fully fund enrollment growth, regardless of any reductions in enrollment this fiscal year due to COVID-19. Under the governor’s proposal, our higher education systems would also see restored and additional funding to account for enrollment growth during the current and upcoming school years. Gov. Kemp also announced that Georgia’s education system is estimated to receive more than $3.5 billion from the federal Education Stabilization Fund to ensure that our teachers and school systems are equipped with the necessary resources to provide the best education possible to Georgia students throughout the pandemic. The governor’s budget also seeks to promote growth and prosperity across our state, particularly in rural areas that have faced unique challenges during the pandemic.
To that end, the FY 2022 budget proposal includes nearly $40 million for the OneGeorgia Authority to establish a Rural Innovation Fund, which would offer resources for public- private partnerships tailored to meet the specific needs of every rural community. Additionally, Gov.
Kemp recommends an appropriation of $20 million in the AFY 2021 budget and an additional $10 million each year going forward for the OneGeorgia Authority to establish a broadband infrastructure grant program. Many of us have been able to adapt to working from home using virtual apps and programs during the pandemic, yet rural communities with limited broadband access have struggled with remote learning and work-from home environments.
This appropriation would provide rural communities with access to funding that would enable them to leverage federal, local, and private resources to implement much needed broadband expansion.
We will return to the State Capitol on Tuesday, Jan. 26 for Legislative Day 5. I encourage you to contact me. I am in 226-A of the State Capitol. My office phone number is (404) 656-5115 and my email is email@example.com. I look forward to this session and serving all of you.
Rep. Stephens represents South Bryan in the Georgia General Assembly.