Election reform, education and continuing healthcare issues during the pandemic will likely be the big issues on the minds and agendas of state lawmakers in the upcoming 2021 legislative session.
Representative Alan Powell and Senator Frank Ginn were on hand for this year’s annual sponsored “Eggs and Issues” legislative breakfast, sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce and Jackson EMC. Though some members were in attendance, the breakfast was broadcast via Zoom and Facebook Live in order to comply with COVID-related restrictions.
Representative Rob Leverett, who won the election to replace long-time representative Tom McCall, was in COVID quarantine and unable to attend. Both Powell and Ginn wished him a speedy recovery.
Powell, who spoke first, said the country was the most divided he had ever seen it, at least since the early 1970s.
“It’s all about the ‘haves and the have nots,’” Powell said. He said he feared the country under the new administration might be on the road to socialism, with all the talk about free college, healthcare, etc.
“There is a price tag to be paid for all of that,” he said.
He said he fears that new policymakers in Washington in 2021 will have a “California philosophy” mentality.
In Georgia, Powell said he thinks lawmakers will take up some form of election reform given what the state has just been through.
“One point of contention is always absentee ballots,” he said, adding that he hopes the state will investigate if if there was fraud and if so, how much fraud.
“There is always a push to make it more convenient (to vote) but that convenience opens it up to more problems,” he added.
Powell said reapportionment — redrawing district lines based on population — will also need to be done.
“And yes, there are two Georgias, the metro and the rural,” he said.
He pointed out that during the interrupted 2020 session due to the pandemic, lawmakers still managed to pass a budget with only a 10-percent cut.
Powell said he was pleased that there was no real downturn in the economy with an actual loss of state revenue less than five percent.
“We have to get over this virus, so we can get back to business,” Powell said. “I hope these new vaccines work.”
Finally, Powell encouraged everyone to get out and vote.
“Don’t take it for granted (that Republicans will win) and encourage others to vote,” he said. “Georgia will be the firewall. Some of the progressive policies I’m seeing scare the hell out of me.”
Senator Frank Ginn started off by saying that 2020 had been an amazing year in many ways.
He said that the district has lost something this year in Rep. McCall, who served in the state house of representatives for 26 years, but that at the same time he is excited that McCall has assumed the position of president of the Georgia Farm Bureau Association.
Ginn noted Leverette’s absence due to the coronavirus, and said that community numbers were continuing to tick upwards.
“I hope that you are doing all you can to protect you and your family and I ask that you do all you can,” Ginn said.
Ginn said the “wheels fell off the wagon” back in March with the pandemic lockdown and he commended Governor Brian Kemp for doing all that he could to get the state re-opened for business.
“His actions paid dividends for the taxpayers of this state,” he said.
He also spoke up for Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.
“Brad is a straight up guy and I hated to see him get thrown under the bus,” Ginn said, speaking of recent attacks from President Donald Trump, Senate candidates Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue and others.
He said he had received thousands of calls asking him to support a special session of the legislature, as requested repeatedly by the president. He explained that legislators, as lawmakers make laws going forward, not from behind. “We cannot make a law and then reverse it after the fact,” he said. “As to the Nov. 3 election, we can’t change anything retroactively.”
Ginn also said he had a part in selecting the voting equipment and expressed confidence that the votes were counted accurately and that “you had a piece of paper in hand” to show how the votes were tallied.
“All those machines were accurate, I am not concerned about them,” he said.
He noted that the problems that existed were human errors that were made, such as not counting some of the votes.
“The potential to do something nefarious (with absentee votes) is there,” he stated.
To that point he said he hopes lawmakers do address election law pertaining to absentee ballots.
He said the state and this area continues to see a growth in residents and in business. He also said he has no problem with approving the medical use of cannabis, saying he believes there is enough antidotal evidence to support its effectiveness in that role, but that he is not a fan of approving it for recreational use.
He noted that this year’s legislative session would continue to be restrictive due to the pandemic. He said that the normal population in the state capitol during the session is 2,500, but there would be a maximum of 800 allowed in at one time now.
The lawmakers also discussed education, school vouchers and the farm bill, which passed the house but not the senate.
Ginn noted that two-thirds of residents’ property tax bill goes to education.
Powell said education funding is one of the most complicated things they deal with but that he fully approves of supporting education through taxes because someone funded each previous generation’s education.
He also said that administrators need to “learn how to do things more expeditiously (with the funds they have) and stop trying new ways to spend money.”
Powell said the reason the farm bill passed the house but not the senate is part of the problem of “the two Georgias.”
He and Ginn said they fully support its passage.