DUNWOODY, Ga. — There will be no shortage of issues when the 156th Georgia General Assembly convenes in the Gold Dome on Jan. 11 for its 40 day-legislative session.
Among the key matters legislators will address this session will be whether to restore $2.2 billion in cuts to the fiscal year 2021 budget.
The $25.9 billion budget signed by Gov. Brian Kemp in August represented the steepest cuts the state has imposed since the height of the Great Recession. About $1 billion in funding was cut from schools and the Georgia Department of Education.
Later this year, the Legislature is slated to take up redistricting — redrawing of state and federal legislative districts — once the 2020 Census data is available. By controlling both chambers in the assembly, Republicans will have the upper hand in how districts are redrawn. Democrats had hoped to cut into the Republican majority in the House but fell short in statewide races. Republicans gained one seat in rural Meriwether county, while Democrats picked up three seats in metro Atlanta.
Republicans hold a 12-seat lead in the Senate and a 26-seat lead in the House.
Democratic Sen. Sally Harrell, whose District 40 encompasses Dunwoody, says she plans to re-file two bills this year, one creating a plan for a Medicaid public option and the second requiring that part-time university students only pay partial fees.
Harrell also plans to address the state’s unemployment system.
“Last spring, I began receiving hundreds of emails with heartbreaking stories of people that qualified for assistance, tried to get the support they were promised, but couldn’t reach anyone at Georgia Department of Labor to fix administrative errors,” Harrell said. She said she worked closely with the agency to address the backlog of applications and attended a protest to call attention to the issue. She said the system hasn’t gotten much better.
Harrell said she also would like to see the Legislature review portions of state’s voting procedures, like the signature match system that requires too much subjectivity and disenfranchises elderly and disabled voters.
“Republicans have already put forward a very scary voter suppression agenda that eliminates voting options currently available to all Georgians, like no-excuse absentee voting and absentee ballot drop boxes,” she said. “Instead of working to help Georgians, I fear my colleagues will be more focused on helping themselves.”
Rep. Michael Wilensky (D-Dunwoody) said he is focused on voting access, redistricting, public school funding and helping communities and small businesses suffering from the pandemic. The safe return of students to schools is another pressing issue, he said.
“The social dynamics and lessons learned by being in-person is extremely important, and we must start to focus on that so our children grow up healthy and able to form good relationships,” Wilensky said.
Looking forward to the session, Wilensky said he is focused on several issues. Among these are amending a school zone statue to determine if speed cameras can be used to issue citations, preventing insurance companies from increasing rates for a person who tests positive for a genetic disease, and adding ulcerative colitis to the list of approved treatment for CBD cannabis oil.
His attention is also directed toward the state’s current bowhunting law.
Georgia law prohibits hunting in the city limits with a firearm, yet permits hunting with a bow, provided the hunter has a valid hunting license and permission from the property owner. The issue drew lengthy discussion at a Nov. 30 Dunwoody City Council meeting, where elected officials said they were powerless to act on the matter because of the state law.