It is hard to believe that we have already completed five weeks of this year’s legislative session. It was a busy week as we continued to review legislation in our respective committees as well as voting several bills out of the House chamber. Last week focused largely in part on the protection of our Georgia Businesses as well as our final passage of the 2021 Amended Fiscal Year Budget.
We are committed to supporting and protecting our Georgia businesses. We passed two measures last week to ensure our business owners are protected from frivolous lawsuits as well as fraudulent solicitations.
House Bill 112, also known as, The Georgia COVID-19 Pandemic Business Safety Act was enacted following the onset of the pandemic to provide certain immunities from liability claims regarding COVID-19. The original legislation, passed during 2020, was set to expire this July. If passed, this bill simply extends these protections.
We also passed legislation to curb fraudulent third-party solicitations through House Bill 153. This bill would require any person or entity who mails a solicitation for services related to corporate filings with the Secretary of State to include a disclaimer at the top of the document notating that the document is not a bill or official government document. These solicitations are known to look remarkably like government documents, thus misleading business owners to pay more for using a third-party service. We are confident HB 153 will help the business community, especially our small business owners, save money on their annual filings.
We have completed the first half of our constitutional budget duties through the passage of House Bill 80, also known as the Amended Fiscal Year 2021 (AFY 2021) budget. The final version of the AFY 2021 budget is based on a revenue estimate of $26.56 billion, which is an increase of $654.3 million, or 2.5 percent, over the original budget. Revenue increases allowed us to allocate funds to high priority needs like health and education. Notably, the bill restores 60 percent of funding for K-12 education. Further, the final AFY 2021 budget allows us to give Georgia teachers a $1,000 pay raise while providing funds to assist our state agencies and educational institutions respond to the pandemic. The bill now awaits Governor Kemp’s final signature.
STATE EMPLOYEE BENEFITS
House and Senate leadership gathered this week to announce that savings from Federal Assistance will allow our state employees, who earn less than $80,000, to receive a one-time bonus of $1,000 during the current fiscal year. Further, in order to address the high turnover rate of correctional officers, these individuals will receive the bonus, plus a 10 percent salary increase. State employees have tirelessly worked to ensure our citizens are served and this is a small way that we can say thank you for their efforts.
Last week brought exciting news as the expansion of rural broadband service was announced. Through a partnership with the Electric Membership Cooperation, 18 counties in the Middle Georgia area will benefit from more reliable broadband service.
Central Georgia EMC (CGEMC) and Southern Rivers Energy (SRE) will join forces with Conexon to bring high-speed internet to 80,000 homes and businesses within the next four years. Set to begin in June 2021, this partnership will build 6,890 miles of fiber network to provide broadband coverage, improve electric service and increase reliability through smart grid capabilities. This is great news as our House body has worked tirelessly to bring forth policy and legislation to support our rural communities over recent years.
The House also passed the following bills during week five:
•House Bill 67, which would extend the sunset from July 1, 2021, to July 1, 2026, for state agencies and departments to write off small amounts due to the state, as well as non-lapsing revenue collected by the University System of Georgia and the Technical College System of Georgia.
•House Bill 97, which would require that any person appointed as a chief clerk of a probate court, or any clerk designated by a probate judge to exercise such judge’s jurisdiction concerning uncontested matters, to take the oath provided in the bill.
•House Bill 105, which would update Georgia’s law to specifically authorize the Department of Defense to provide compensation to Georgia’s guardsmen who are called to active duty without the governor declaring a state of emergency.
•House Bill 106, which would add the Georgia State Defense Force to the state’s indemnification fund.
•House Bill 129, which would raise the minimum salary to $83,750.51 for sheriffs serving in a county with a population of 39,000 to 49,999.
•House Bill 134, which would exclude cybersecurity contracting and planning meetings from the state’s open meeting requirements and exempts any document or plan for cybersecurity devices, programs or systems from public inspection.
•House Bill 174, which would update the effective date of the Uniform Carriers Act from January 1, 2020, to January 1, 2021, to comply with federal law.
•House Bill 205, which would create new regulations for the travel insurance industry, including establishing uniform meanings of key terms and clarifying sales practices and application of Georgia’s unfair trade practice laws.
•House Bill 208, which would designate the second Wednesday of February as “National Swearing-in Commitment Day” to celebrate the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, which allows young men and women to experience a sample of military life.
•House Bill 246, which would increase the fee for a replacement permit or license from $5 to $10, as well as increase the cost of a limited driving permit from $25 to $32 and the replacement fee for this permit from $5 to $10.
•House Bill 265, which would make several annual updates to the state’s Internal Revenue Code, such as an increase in the deductibility of medical expenses, charitable contributions and business meals, as well as clarification of the tax treatment of loan forgiveness from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.
I promise to continue my work in representing our conservative values. If you have any questions or concerns, my door is always open. You can also email me directly with questions or concerns regarding legislation. Thank you for the tremendous honor of allowing me to serve our home. Until next time...