Under the Gold Dome – Rep. Noel Williams
Published 12:58 pm Tuesday, January 11, 2022
The New Year is upon us and so is the 2022 legislative session which began Monday, January 10. We returned to the Gold Dome, marking the second year of the current term. Given the upcoming election cycle, with the primary elections taking place in May, we expect a quick but productive 40 legislative days. The two-year session cycle also means that any bills presented during the 2021 session are still available for passage during the 2022 year. The second year of any term is always busy as we will closely monitor newly introduced legislation, while tracking last year’s bills which did not receive a final floor vote before the day 40 deadline.
Although our General Assembly is considered a “part-time” legislature, we continued to work “full-time” throughout the off-session season by participating in numerous study committees, traveling our districts, and hearing constituent concerns. Not to mention, 2021 brought about our state redistricting duties, required by Federal Law every ten years.
All Study Committee reports were required to be submitted by the end of December. Study committee reports are a great indication of what is to come in any session. We expect the introduction of many bills related to healthcare, education, rural initiatives as well as ongoing discussions regarding our upcoming fiscal year budget. Georgia law also allows us to pre-file bills for the upcoming session the first week of November, meaning pre-session debate officially began over two months ago. If you are interested in checking out what bills have been pre-filed, I encourage you to do so at the Georgia General Assembly website. Below I have outlined a few areas that will most likely be up for debate.
Issue Watch 2022
There is no doubt that we can always count on core issues such as healthcare, education, public safety, and tax reform to make an appearance during any given session. In addition to these areas our legislative agenda will reflect what is going on in our ever-changing world from a policy standpoint. As Georgia remains a conservative state, we expect legislation intended to protect us from the overreach of our current federal government. Below I have outlined a few areas that will most likely be up for debate. As always, we encourage you to reach out with any questions, concerns, or ideas you may have for legislation.
Election integrity continues to be a hot topic as we work to ensure our election process is secure. The recent announcement from our Secretary of State, in regard to election fraud, will bring more bills which concentrate on ensuring we have sound policy to secure this sacred process. We have received numerous questions focused on the accuracy of our current voting machines, drop box security as well as our absentee ballot policy. While we will see an onslaught of election integrity legislation, it is also important to keep in mind that all bills from 2021 are still up for consideration.
Education is always a top issue under the Gold Dome as we work to ensure that our children are adequately prepared for the future. Subject matter and what is taught within our school systems has been a long-standing point of contention. This year we will concentrate on controversial areas such as critical race theory, mask mandates, district vaccination mandates, school choice, college affordability and teacher pay raises. While this does not cover all legislation coming forth, it does give you an idea of how contentious this session will be regarding education policy.
The Biden Administration has sharply turned away from the Trump position on maintaining border security, causing many states to have to deal with immigration and that will undoubtedly bring conversation regarding Georgia’s immigration policies such as the allowance of sanctuary cities within our state.
During the off session, many study committees tackled the issue of healthcare. Our largest concerns such as mental healthcare, rural healthcare access through telemedicine, as well as healthcare funding will be at the forefront of our discussions.
Further, we will be in discussions regarding broad Vaccination mandates which remain of concern. Look for bills regarding vaccination mandates, especially given the argument that company vaccine mandates violates individual freedom and infringes on personal liberty. These bills will also extend to include legislation regarding local government vaccine mandates.
Public safety has taken centerstage leading up to this year’s session as Governor Kemp recently introduced his intention to push the passage of Constitutional Carry initiatives. This announcement comes amid concerns of growing crime rates within our metropolitan areas, especially, the Atlanta area whose homicide rates are the highest they have been in 30 years. These crime rates are a direct result from public safety funding cuts in local areas. Therefore, we can expect to see an increased investment in public safety from the state across the board. Further, several measures to show our continued support for our Peace Officers will be up for discussion as we work to improve morale amongst our public safety officers.
As Georgia’s largest industry and economic driver which results in billions annually for our state’s economy, agriculture will always be at the forefront of discussion. In protection of our state’s largest industry, we will discuss farmers’ private property rights; access to and stewardship of natural resources; and tax programs. Further, we will see the reintroduction of legislation, discussed in previous years, aimed towards agricultural protection. As our population continues to grow, so have complaints against traditional farming communities. This bill would provide farmers with protection from nuisance lawsuits when they are farming the land in accordance with laws and regulations.
Casino Gaming / Horse Racing
We will continue discussions centered around the allowance of casino gaming and horse racing which has been an area of contention under the Gold Dome for a number of years. Proponents of the legislation state that the additional tax revenue will be a positive for Georgia as an additional resource for needed money to support our growing population. While opposition points out that while the state may gain revenue, we will also see an uptick in crime, human trafficking as well as gambling addiction which in turn cancel out revenue gained.
Transportation and Infrastructure
Always an area of concern, we will revisit suggested improvements to our state’s infrastructure. Our Georgia ports have experienced record growth and while that is good news for our state, it also puts transportation and infrastructure at the forefront of policy discussion. As the landscape of Georgia continues to change, so must our efforts to improve the condition of our roadways and infrastructure. Streamlining transportation systems throughout the state will be of great importance as we discuss budgeting and future projects which will yield the most benefit for all Georgians, urban and rural.
While the above is a broad indicator of session hot topics, we will not be made aware of the Governor’s top agenda items until his State of the State address which will take place the first week of the legislative session. If you are interested in a certain area of interest, I encourage you to visit state agency websites for more information. Agencies will often share their initiatives and legislative agenda for the upcoming session, also a great indicator of what we will be discussing.
As always, if you have questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me anytime. I also encourage you to reach out to me regarding local issues. While I may not have a vote on the city council or the county commission, it is important that I know what issues are important to you as many bills we pass do impact our local communities.
Please be on the lookout for my regular updates for the remainder of the legislative session! My priority is to ensure I am representing our district views appropriately and the only way to do so is by hearing directly from you. Thank you for allowing me the honor and pleasure of serving you under the Gold Dome! I look forward to another productive session in Atlanta and I wish each of you many blessings in the year to come.