As the 2015 year came to a close, many of us took the opportunity to reflect over the last year and began planning for the new. As we head into 2016,I ask myself, what can I do this year that will make a positive impact on those around me? As your Representative, I always strive to resolve any issues affecting our great state and district. The New Year brings hope and excitement! It also brings a new session, new issues and new debate. Here is a forecast of some of the major issues we will discuss during the 2016 legislative session.
With a number of Georgians without healthcare insurance, some members of the General Assembly are pushing for the expansion of Medicaid for people who fall into the no coverage gap. Governor Deal estimates that expansion would cost the state nearly 4 billion dollars over the next 10 years. Opponents of Medicaid expansion believe it is a temporary fix to a larger problem, our flawed healthcare system. Supporters of expansion believe that this measure is necessary to combat future increases in healthcare costs as a result of those that are uninsured. Other states, such as Arkansas, have expanded with the condition that the states use additional funding to provide private insurance for citizens through the public marketplace. Healthcare is always a top priority as we continue to search for solutions.
Religious measures brought before the General Assembly always generate heated debate. During the 2014 session, we saw the introduction of The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The Supreme Court Ruling of Obergefell vs. Hodges, which allows same sex marriages nationwide, will inevitably lead to more discussion on religious liberties. We expect to see the “First Amendment Defense Act” (FADA) and the “Pastor Protection Act”. Each piece of legislation is intended to protect religious liberties for Georgia citizens; however, all proposals are different, offering separate protections. RFRA is intended to protect individuals from Government intrusion on people of faith. FADA is intended to protect individuals and businesses from forced participation of activities that are against their religious beliefs, such a florist or baker that does not wish to service same-sex weddings. The Pastor Protection Act would ensure that Pastors/Rabbis are protected from being forced to perform same sex marriages. Supporters of religious liberty bills believe that legislation is needed to protect Georgians against the interference of religious expression and personal beliefs. Opponents claim that the proposals open the door for discrimination.
Gambling in Georgia?
The allowance of pari-mutuel wagering on horse racing has been discussed in recent years and now, gambling advocates are supporting proposed legislation to allow for casino gambling. Currently, the Lottery system, which funds Georgia’s HOPE scholarship program, is the only legal “betting” in the state. Unfortunately, in recent years we have a seen a shortfall of adequate program funding. While we have been working diligently to restructure the HOPE program, some members of the General Assembly are pushing for additional revenue streams. This year, we will consider House Bill 677 and House Resolution 807. If passed, HB 677, paired with HR 807 would allow Georgia citizens to vote on casino gambling. Those in support of casino gambling believe these measures will ensure the continuance of Georgia’s HOPE scholarship program. Those opposed say that legalized gambling will lead to an increase in crime and gambling addiction rates. Governor Deal has stated he is not currently in favor of casino gaming and warns that he will work against the legislation
Any legislator that wants their bills to be considered before the General Assembly are required to file proposed legislation with the Clerk of the House or Secretary of the Senate. Some legislators begin filing bills as early as November 15th which is the first day Georgia pre-files are allowed. Pre-filed bills are also a great way to track what issues will be up for discussion during the upcoming session. If you are interested in researching Senate pre-filed or House pre-filed legislation, you can do so at the General Assembly website.
I am honored to continue my service on a number of great committees. This session, I will continue to serve as the Chairman of the House Intragovernmental Coordination Committee, working to ensure that city and county local legislation moves through the process in a manner that is clear, open and in the best interest of the citizens of Georgia. In addition I will also continue to serve as a member of the Appropriations, Agriculture & Consumer Affairs and Natural Resources & Environment Committees. These committees are very important to our area of the state and I am grateful for the opportunity to serve our district citizens through my committee work.
Study Committee Work
Prior to the end of the 2015 session, I was honored to be appointed by Speaker Ralston as the Chairman of the Annexation, Deannexation and Incorporation House Study Committee. My Committee had three meetings in the fall of this year and was abolished on December 1st with a final report. We engaged experts from ACCG, GMA, the Carl Vinson Institute, Legislative Counsel and others. Concerned citizens were provided with time before the close of each meeting for public comments. Recommendations made by the committee may be met through committee rule changes or legislation. I was also pleased to be appointed by Speaker Ralston to serve as a member of the Short Term Rentals Committee, chaired by Representative Terry Rogers. This committee was tasked with determining the best methods to ensure the safety of the public, prevent illegal practices, collect taxes on business activities, and otherwise properly regulate short-term rental providers. The Committees findings and recommendations can be found in our final report. If you are interested in learning more about House Study Committees, please click here.
As a Representative, I have the privilege of appointing up to ten young people to serve as pages to the Georgia House of Representatives. The Page Program provides a first-hand opportunity for students to gain knowledge about state government. Pages must be at least 12 years old and can volunteer for one legislative day at the State Capitol. If you know of any students that would like to participate in this great program, please contact me immediately, as spaces generally fill-up rather quickly.
Today marks day one of forty, as we gather in Atlanta to begin the 2016 legislative session! As always, there will be no shortage of debate. I encourage you to contact me throughout session with questions, concerns or ideas regarding proposed legislation. I look forward to representing you Under the Gold Dome and it is an honor that you allow me to do so. As far as 2016 and what it holds, no one knows. I can tell you as your elected Representative,I will work hard for you; represent you; and when needed, protect you. May the New Year bring you hope, excitement and of course- Health, Wealth and Happiness.
Representative of the 160th
Georgia House of Representatives