The 2021 Legislative Session officially commenced on Monday, January 11. During the 40 days in session, passing a balanced budget is the only constitutional mandate for state legislators. Governor Brian Kemp, in his recent State of the State Address, shared his administration’s agenda that emphasizes public education, transportation, rural investment, and healthcare. Governor Kemp also highlighted his administration’s proposal to no budget cuts, furloughs, mass lay-offs at state employees due to adjusting and balancing last year’s budget.
Among the 236 members of the general assembly, 11 Senators and 26 Representatives are newly elected. The Gwinnett Delegation welcomes Rep. Marvin Lim (HD 99), Rep. Rebecca Mitchell (HD 106), Sen. Nikki Merritt (SD 9), Sen. Kim Jackson (SD 41), Sen. Clint Dixon (SD 45), and Sen. Michelle Au (SD 48). Rep. Sam Park was recently elected Chair of the Gwinnett House Delegation while Rep. Jasmine Clark was elected Vice Chair and Rep. Rebecca Mitchell elected Secretary. The Gwinnett Senate Delegation elected Senator Sheikh Rahman as Chair and Senator Nikki Merritt as Vice Chair.
Governor Kemp signed SB 359 into law last year that gives businesses liability protections against frivolous lawsuits concerning COVID-19. The protections end on July 14, 2021. As cases continue to rise and vaccines begin to the first phases of distribution, keep an eye on legislation to extend the sunset date. Governor Kemp stated in his State of the State Address that he will push for legislation to expand tax credits to pharmaceutical and medical equipment manufacturers for Personal Protective Equipment.
House Speaker David Ralston stated improving the state’s freight transportation network is a top priority for him this year. Due to the pandemic, a boost in e-commerce may accelerate the growth in freight movement throughout the state. Last year, the Georgia Commission of Freight and Logistics recommended doubling the state’s proportion of freight carried on rail to ease interstate traffic congestion. An increase in funding from $1 billion to 1.5 billion was recommended to pay for road and rail work. As many Gwinnett businesses rely on interstate 85, look out for legislation on how to meet the funding demands, whether through fees or taxes.
Governor Kemp called on lawmakers to provide additional support for the state’s public school systems, including $647 million in restored funding and a $1,000 bonus per teacher and other employees. Supporting our educators and school employees, especially during the ongoing pandemic, is essential to maintaining our reputation as a leader of excellence in public education.
Criminal Justice Reform
Last year, the general assembly came together in a bipartisan way to pass meaningful Hate Crimes legislation. Led by State Representative Chuck Efstration, HB 426 was signed into law. However, its passage was the first step as Governor Kemp promised to work with legislators to reform the state’s citizen’s arrest law.