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Georgia legislators begin new session

Georgia Lesislature

By Elaine Owen, Editor

Georgia legislators returned to Atlanta on last week (Jan. 14), to convene the new General Assembly, and for the first time in more than eight years, the state has a new governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state and other top elected and appointed leaders. Though Democrats gained 13 legislative seats in the 2018 elections, mainly due to GOP retirements, Republicans still hold large majorities in both the House and Senate. The GOP also controls every statewide elected office.
Several controversial issues will face newly elected Gov. Brian Kemp, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and other legislative leaders, not the least of which Georgia’s transition from electronic to paper ballots.
After an historically close gubernatorial election marred by Democrats’ allegations of voter suppression and fraud, Raffensperger will be charged with overseeing updates to the state’s 20-year-old voting system.
Kemp will introduce his first budget as governor in the session’s opening days. Adopting a budget is the legislature’s only real constitutional obligation, but that’s never stopped them from delving into other issues. Other issues on lawmakers’ agendas:
Religious liberty
One of outgoing Gov. Nathan Deal’s signature legacies was tax incentives for Georgia’s film and entertainment industry, which turned the state’s film and production business into a billion-dollar industry. On the campaign trail, Kemp touted his support for adopting religious freedom legislation that mirrors federal law.
Longer school summers

A state Senate committee is recommending longer summers for Georgia students. For several years, tourism and business interests under the Gold Dome have been trying to lengthen summers. Recently, a Senate committee recommended starting school a week to 10 days before the first Monday in September and end school around June 1, creating a three-month summer break. The recommendation comes among the never-ending debate among educational leaders about how to improve the state’s continuously poor overall education rankings. In 2018, a WalletHub ranking found Georgia in the bottom half of the nation’s most educated states.
Medical marijuana
Once a forbidden topic, legislators in recent sessions have loosened the restrictions on cannabis oil for medical purposes. In 2019, lawmakers could decide whether to allow medical marijuana to be grown in Georgia, thus licensing growers, manufacturers and dispensaries.
School safety
President Donald Trump’s school safety commission issued a report laying out suggestions to improve safety in American schools. The Georgia Senate School Safety Study Committee also released a set of recommendations in November.
On the campaign trail, Kemp mentioned a possible state income tax break for veterans. With just a few weeks as governor, veterans are waiting to see what Kemp will do.
Sex trafficking
Stopping sex trafficking is another initiative Kemp was passionate about. At a recent event in Atlanta, Kemp said, “Georgians need to know that I will be working every day on the law enforcement side of that. Public safety reform, this is all driven by greed and money and it’s being driven by criminal elements, illegal drug cartels, organized crime, and they’re getting street gangs to pedal their wares. Whether it’s our children they are selling for sex, drugs, opioids, Fentanyl, whatever it is. They need to know that it’s time for them to leave. Because if they don’t, we’re comin’ after ‘em. That is gonna absolutely be a priority of mine.”