Your legislature has completed the twelfth of 40 days established to pass law and, most importantly, to pass the state’s balanced budget, as required by the Georgia Constitution. And it is typical that the first half of the session is devoted to introducing, hearing and perfecting legislation, after which time the Appropriations Committee works to finalize the proposed budget. The big change this year? Governor Kemp’s proposed budget — dictated by revenue shortfalls, spending increases in some areas and cuts in others — triggered both the House and Senate to adjourn from Feb. 5 until Feb. 18 to allow members of the Appropriations Committee extra time to dig into the governor’s proposed financial plan for Fiscal Year 2020.

This is certainly an unprecedented move. But I disagree with what some news pundits declare is a “toxic fight” in Atlanta, comparing the process to “running off the tracks.” The governor’s duty is to recommend a budget. And the House and Senate are constitutionally required to investigate, scrutinize, and balance said budget based on the best interests of all Georgians. This has always been the process, no matter who sits in the governor’s office or serves in the state legislature.

I am as prouder today than ever that House members and leadership take their independence seriously as the Appropriations Committee, and its varied subs. dig into these complicated budget matters. Given cuts in areas of public safety, forensic lab technicians, accountability courts, county extension services, mental health programs, food safety programs — along with the issue of promised pay raises and income tax cuts which are high priorities — you can see why this year is a bit contentious.

Among the bills we are debating in committee over the next several days is HB 523, which addresses short-term housing rentals. Some cities and counties have moved to ban short-term rentals, even though they can deal with any problems through ordinances (i.e. noise, nuisance, occupancy). This legislation aims to protect the basic property rights of citizens by defining that local governments must treat short-term rentals the same as long-term rentals, while also recognizing homeowners’ associations and protective covenants.

Pending Administration legislation would also reduce “high stakes testing” for Georgia students. Removing these high stakes tests is intended to lessen the classroom burdens on teachers and students. We need to let teachers do what they do best: Educate our students to learn, not just to pass a special test, to support the students successful advance academically. This proposal will: 1) remove several state assessments that exceed federal requirements, 2) allow flexibility on timing of a required high school written assessment, and 3) shorten the length of the ‘Georgia Milestones’. This bill will help reduce local assessments and maximize instruction time by creating a testing window within the last 25 days of the school year.

I continue to receive inquires on Second Amendment legislation related to Constitutional Carry and/or expansion of rights for law-abiding citizens to be included under Georgia Code 16-11-130, equal treatment for all background checked non-criminal citizens. Not unlike last year’s ‘Heartbeat Bill’, legislators have mixed feelings. I expect the Governor to weight in by having the proposal legislation introduced as an Administration Bill, owing to his election year position of support.

I’m pleased to report to the citizens of Franklin and Madison counties that HB 857, the ban on creosote burning in biomass power plants, has been assigned to the House Natural Resources Committee. I expect hearings to start as soon as my colleagues and I reconvene on Feb. 18, and I will keep you informed of this bill’s movement.

I am honored to serve you and, as always, appreciate your thoughts and interest. Please feel free to contact me via phone at 404-656-0276 (Legislative Office) or 706-206-6500 (Cell) or email at alan.powell@house.ga.gov or alanpowell23@hotmail.com.

Alan Powell represents the 32nd District, which includes Franklin, Hart and a portion of Madison counties, in the Georgia House of Representatives.

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