After the close of week eight of the Legislative session, I would like to update you on all the work we have accomplished during the past eight legislative days. These past two weeks were busy, passing numerous bills and holding lengthy committee meetings. As always, the work I do in the Senate is to represent the interests of my constituents, and I am always proud to do so.
Honoring Ahmaud Arbery
On Feb. 25, the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus met to honor the life of Ahmaud Arbery, one year after his senseless murder. We also announced our support for House Bill 45, which would end the practice of citizen’s arrest in Georgia. We believe that it is time to create a Georgia that reflects the true diversity of this great state and protects all of its citizens. These outdated laws only further serve to divide us, and we are ready to move towards a move progressive Georgia.
Election Legislation Update
The Georgia Legislative Black Caucus works hard to ensure our community is represented. Our caucus met again to speak against the election bills introduced this legislative session that are a clear attempt to restrict the right to vote for millions of citizens. I am vehemently against the four election bills passed including Senate Bill 67, Senate Bill 89, Senate Bill 184, Senate Bill 188 and Senate Bill 241, which all seek to “fix” a system that is not broken. In reality, these provisions make voting more difficult for essential workers, minimum wage workers and those in the Black and Hispanic community. They seek to do this by limiting who can vote by absentee, requiring identification when requesting absentee ballots and shortening hours for voting locations. This is textbook voter suppression, and we will continue to fight against these bills and ensure that every Georgian has access to voting.
In addition to fighting against these bills, I have been proud to support legislation that aims to do the opposite and increase people’s ability to vote in this state. Last week, Senate Bill 40 passed, which would allow registrars and absentee ballot clerks to begin opening and processing absentee ballots ten days before an election. This bill passed unanimously, as it would enable election offices to provide election results faster. We should be passing legislation that makes it easier for people to vote and more manageable for our election offices to conduct elections. I will continue to support legislation that does this.
Over the past two weeks, we have also seen the passage of numerous Education and Youth bills to provide Georgia children with access to quality education. The first set of bills, Senate Bill 28 and Senate Bill 107, offers greater protection and education opportunities for our children in the foster care system. SB 28 aims to improve the foster care system by redefining the term “child abuse,” revising code regarding mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse, adjusting training requirements for juvenile court intake officers and allowing the use of hearsay evidence in court cases regarding the foster care system. We also passed Senate Bill 107 which would waive tuition and fees, including mandatory rooming and board fees, for qualifying foster and adopted students attending schools in the Technical College System of Georgia. These bills allow us to protect and uplift some of the most vulnerable children in our state.
Last week, the House of Representatives successfully passed its version on the full 2022 fiscal year budget. Also known as, House Bill 81, this comprehensive budget covers July 1, 2021 through June 30, 2022, and is set at $27.2 billion. Nearly 90% of new funding will go towards education and health and human services agencies.
Like past years, education is the largest single expenditure in the state’s budget, totaling $10.2 billion. Fortunately, we were able restore 60 percent of the reductions made to K-12 education funding formulas in the Fiscal Year 2021 budget. Budget allocations also consider the need for expanded mental health core and crisis intervention services within our healthcare sector. Therefore, $58.5 million will go towards the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities Funding which is as follows:
$2.7 million to provide addictive disease services to an additional 2,100 people.
$6.5 million to provide mental health services to an additional 5,200 people.
$12.3 million for a rate increase for intellectual and developmental disability providers.
$7 million for a first-in-the-nation behavioral health crisis center for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
$2 million to expand the Georgia Apex Program and suicide prevention training in schools.
This budget also recognizes:
$39.5 million for the new Rural Innovation Fund
$10 million to establish a broadband infrastructure grant program for rural communities.
$7.63 million in new revenue for transit projects across the state.
The full fiscal year budget is now under consideration in our Senate chamber, where we will either agree to the House budget or make our own recommendations. Like any given year, we don’t expect to see full passage of the budget until the final days of session.
As always, I am proud to serve as your senator from the 43rd District. As we approach Sine Die, I am committed to ensuring the legislation we pass is in your best interest. If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to reach out to my office. Thank you for your trust in me