Legislation moved slowly last week as the Gold Dome deals with the foreign virus. Due to distancing requirements, the House is now spread out into three different chambers. This means that votes that normally take a minute now take about a quarter of an hour. Thus, we worked late Friday, and for the first time ever, came in on Saturday.

Our primary focus is to pass a balanced budget, which we must do by July 1. The budget the House passed a few months ago cut a whopping 6%. Unfortunately, the Senate needed to double that because of the horrible economy created by this foreign virus. On Friday the Senate passed a budget along party lines cutting $2.6 billion, including $1 billion in education. Pre-K, which is funded by the lottery, was spared, but 1,000 jobs throughout other agencies will be eliminated, and nearly all state employees will face furlough days. There is talk in the Senate about increasing the cigarette tax (Georgia is almost the lowest in the nation), but nothing about casino gambling. The budget will now go to conference where the House and Senate will negotiate their differences.

The Senate is also working on the Hate Crimes Bill that the House passed a year ago. They waited until Friday afternoon to get it out of committee, and they added the category of “first responders” to the previous “race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, mental disability or physical disability” list that is normally agreed to by the courts. The author of the bill, a Republican from Dacula, calls this a “poison pill” designed to “cause Democratic opposition to the bill” in what was previously a bipartisan measure. The Senate has yet to vote on it.

I am pleased one of my military-friendly bills for Physical Therapy and Psychiatry (that also increases telemedicine) passed the Senate. However, as they added yet more military-friendly language, it now needs to go back to the House. This is typical from my friends in the Senate, but it creates a real burden this year as each and every vote has become a challenge. I also passed another military-friendly bipartisan bill in the House (authored by Democrat Senator Seay from Riverdale) that helps speech pathologists and telemedicine. I also have a fiscal transparency bill for public Charter Schools that is still being worked on in the Senate.

I’m sure you’re aware of the nationwide increases in COVID cases. This is logical, as we are also increasing testing. The real goal the scientists told us (from the very beginning) is to keep our hospitals from being overwhelmed; which they are not. The initial models predicted millions of US deaths. Due to our historic actions, that number is now infinitesimally smaller. Of course, every death is a tragedy, but we are now beginning to realize the additional and sometimes worse tragedies that poverty and depression cause. Thus, I believe, we should get safely back to work. However, I strongly urge everyone to keep washing their hands, practice social distancing, and especially protect our elderly.

Finally, I feel compelled to state what should be obvious to every clear-thinking American: that many of our brothers and sisters are laboring with huge holes in their hearts. Many have tried – in so many ways – to fill that emptiness with things that are ultimately unsatisfying. This pessimism and dissatisfaction – in the middle of the most abundant and prosperous age our species has ever known –has sown sour fields of hatred and resentment. The modern notion that we don’t need God – our cynical belief that cold, heartless science – or even worse, politics – can make us happy, has resulted, instead, in the lonely realization that no matter how many facts we think we know, something important is missing.

I’ve been described (hopefully, as a compliment) as a “happy warrior.” I thus believe that this crisis, like so many other crises America has faced in the past, will eventually lead to spiritual revival. I truly pray, as Jesus instructed, that those who protest or who feel resented or who have been subjected to senseless hate, shall find peace and justice. But I also know they will not find peace, nor justice, until they, too, learn to pray.

John Adams once said our Constitution – the most tolerant and just system of government that man has ever created – “was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Thus, I truly believe, that the long-term solution to our national problems is for everyone – including you and me – to humble ourselves, love our neighbors instead of criticizing them, and gratefully return to our Savior.

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Dave Belton represents District 112 in the Georgia House of Representatives. District 112 includes Morgan County and the eastern portion of Newton County.

Editor

I have been editor of the Rockdale Citizen since 1996 and editor of the Newton Citizen since it began publication in 2004. I am also currently executive editor of the Clayton News Daily, Henry Daily Herald and Jackson Progress-Argus.

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