On Jan. 11, the Georgia Senate convened to officially begin the 2021 legislative session.
While, for the most part, our first few weeks felt like business as usual, there is a great deal of work going on behind the scenes to protect members, staff and visitors from exposure to COVID-19. Specifically, all legislators and General Assembly staff members undergo testing twice a week, committee rooms are socially distanced and mask wearing is mandatory on the Senate floor. These protections are put in place for everyone’s safety, but in no way inhibit legislators from carrying out their work here under the Gold Dome.
During our first few weeks, members of the Senate also received their committee assignments. This year, I will serve as chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. Georgia’s roads and highways serve as vital engines of economic development, particularly in rural parts of the state. I am looking forward to working with members of the committee and stakeholders at the local, state and federal levels to ensure Georgia’s infrastructure is able to accommodate the growing need for expanded capacity. Additionally, I have been appointed to serve on the Appropriations, Economic Development and Tourism, and Regulated Industries and Utilities committees, and as an ex-officio of the Natural Resources and the Environment Committee. Each of these committees play an important role in shaping our state and I look forward to holding our first meetings of the year.
This past week, the Senate held some of its first committee meetings of the session. Of particular interest to our district, the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee heard an update from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs on their broadband mapping initiative. In 2018, the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 402, known as the Achieving Connectivity Everywhere (ACE) Act. An important component of this bill was for the Georgia Department of Community Affairs to construct a digital map to help identify discrepancies between perceived and actual broadband connectivity across the state. In Thursday’s meeting, we received a walkthrough of this new map in action and the new tools available to pinpoint exact locations where rural broadband access is lacking. This will be vital in gathering the data necessary to develop a plan to expand broadband into those hard to reach areas. While more work is necessary, particularly in the form of substantial capital investment from our partners, this map, paired with Gov. Kemp’s recommended total of $20 million to go towards rural broadband efforts, is a great first step towards achieving our goal.
Finally, I would like to provide a quick update on the COVID-19 vaccine rollout plan currently underway in Georgia. As of Friday, the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) has reported administering over 887,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. As part of Georgia’s COVID-19 vaccination plan, doses are being deployed in three different phases. We are currently in Phase 1A+, meaning that doses are being administered to health care workers, residents and staff of long-term care facilities, first responders, and adults aged 65 and above (as well as their caregivers). If you fall into any of these groups that make up Phase 1A+, I encourage you to find a COVID-19 Vaccination Site near you and follow additional guidance from the Georgia Department of Public Health’s website at https://dph.georgia.gov/covid-vaccine. After Phase 1A+ is complete, we will then move to the next phase (Phase 1B) which will include non-healthcare essential workers, followed by Phase 1C, which will include those between the ages of 16-64 with preexisting medical conditions.
The next major item the Senate is poised to take up is the amended Fiscal Year 2021 budget. Over the last week, this bill was heard and debated by the House in detail and, on Thursday, received passage on to the Senate. In the coming days, the Senate will hold Appropriations Subcommittee meetings to provide our input to the AFY22 budget. We expect to get this budget out quickly and then begin our work on the general budget for FY2022. As this process continues, I will be sure to keep you updated on the status of both budgets. If you have any questions about the budget, legislation, or about any other important work we’re addressing at the Capitol, please do not hesitate to reach out to my office.