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Gold Dome Update: Week 5

On Friday, the Senate completed its the fifth week of the legislative session. As we wrapped up legislative day sixteen, I feel strongly that we have continued to tackle the issues of most importance to Georgians. Notably, this week brought a final vote on our supplemental budget, the filing of several election reform bills and discussions on expanding broadband access. Everything that I do here is in the best interests of my constituents and this week’s work was no different.

House Bill 80, the Amended Budget for the 2021 Fiscal Year (AFY21), was the most significant piece of legislation the Senate passed this week. In total, the AFY21 budget stands at $26.5 billion, an increase of roughly $654 million over the current budget. Like most budget cycles, education funding makes up the largest share of expenditures and this year was no different as $9.6 billion (over 36% of the entire budget) was directed to K-12 education. Due to our improved economic climate, we were able to restore $567 million for QBE that we were originally forced to reduce in the original FY21 budget. Also included was $40 million to purchase 520 school buses to replace those that are well past their recommended lifecycle. School buses are vital, not only to transport our students to and from school, but during the pandemic they have taken on a larger role and now deliver lunches to children in rural areas and help provide Wi-Fi hotspots where internet can be accessed for virtual learning or to complete homework assignments. As originally mentioned in Gov. Brian Kemp’s State of the State Address, this budget also reflects a $1,000 bonus for our educators who have worked hard to adjust to teaching in the midst of a pandemic.

Increased internet access continues to be a priority for the General Assembly, and this is reflected in our budget. The AFY21 budget provides $20 million to the OneGeorgia Authority to establish a broadband infrastructure grant program. This program will assist rural communities in leveraging the resources necessary to target broadband needs in their area. While we have made significant progress in ironing out the details of this project, there is still much to be done. In the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee meeting this week, we discussed how the state could fund an expansion of those services, particularly in rural areas. This is one of several significant steps we are taking this year to expand high-speed internet access in rural Georgia. While more investments will be needed, this grant program is an excellent starting point.

Aside from the budget, the Senate also took up several other bills addressing critical issues in our state. Senate Bill 33 would allow a victim of human trafficking to file a cause of action for civil charges against their perpetrator. On a similar note, Senate Bill 34 would allow victims of human trafficking to petition a court for a name change and for that change to be kept under seal. Usually name changes are available as public record, but we believe it is necessary to provide victims with these protections to better ensure their safety. Both Governor Kemp and First Lady Marty Kemp have been strong advocates for these issues and while more remains to be done, I am proud of the Senate’s efforts to support the victims of these crimes.

The Senate will return to session on Tuesday, February 16. We will convene for three legislative days this week, in addition to numerous committee meetings that are scheduled to take place. If I can be of assistance, please do not hesitate to reach out to my office here at the Capitol. I am happy to be of service to you and the other citizens of Georgia. I am proud to serve as your Senator and look forward to continuing to represent your interests in the Georgia Senate.

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Sen. John Albers serves as Chairman of the Public Safety Committee. He represents the 56th Senate District which includes portions of Cherokee and North Fulton counties. He may be reached at his office at 404.463.8055 or by email at john.albers@senate.ga.gov