Notes from the Senate: Legislators busy as Sine Di draws near

As of March 25, Senator Max Burns was finishing up a long week of representing District 23 at the capitol. With only five days left in session, the pressure was on. In this legislative update, Burns details “big wins” in the senate as well as upcoming work in the Ethics Committee, which he heads, in the upcoming weeks.

Of the accomplishments in the senate, Burns is especially proud of plus-ups for education in the budget. K-12 education was fully funded through Quality Basic Education, which totals up to $338 million. The University System of Georgia received a substantial increase to the tune of about $230 million; this increase removes the burden of institutional fees from all university system students. The Technical College System of Georgia was awarded a restoration of austerity funds of another $35 million.

“Other areas of the budget that got plus-ups were workforce development, especially healthcare programs, nursing programs, quick-start programs, and expanded apprenticeship programs,” Burns explained. “Workforce development was a huge part of the budget.”

Health and human services were next in line as big senate budget wins. This includes allowances to support physical and mental health.

According to Burns, the main focus here is “the health of Georgians.”

Postpartum coverage was expanded to about $83 million, and Patients First Act funding went up by $140 million. Additional support was given to the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities.

In addition to keeping Georgians healthy, the senate is also focused on keeping Georgians safe. The senate passed enhanced budget resources for the GBI to include positions and responsibilities, especially for gangs and gang task force-type of work.

Burns is also working out some legislation on election law violations, which perhaps will include an allocation of funds.

As for the Ethics Committee, three meetings are scheduled to discuses several bills. Some of these include House Bill 1464, House Bill 1392, and House Bill 933, all of which deal with election law.

Burns has talked to all the elected individuals who were involved in those bills, and they’re working to get to the point where they can put it on the table, probably this week.

As for House Bill 842, a constitutional amendment that will set legislative compensation, legislators are looking at that a little closer. Some things about House Bill 842 senators like, while some things they don’t. This week will likely result in some form of action in regard to HB 842; Burns reported no action last week.

House Bill 923 deals with the development authority, a very scaled-down version. This has some potential uses in some of Georgia’s counties, but none in District 23. Senators are steadily working on this bill, though.

The senate has just had Crossover, which means that all senate bills that moved to the house have been done.

“We’re now dealing with house bills here. We’re past Crossover, so we’re only talking about House Bill actions this week in the senate. We have already talked about House Bill 911, which is the only constitutionally required thing we have to do. Also remember that all appropriations bills have to start in the house so House Bill 911, the budget, has to be balanced.

There are several bills Senator Burns wants Georgians to keep an eye on. These include House Bill 1064, which provides income tax exemption for retired military. Burns describes this bill as “really way overdue.

Another is House Bill 274, The Gift of Life Act. This bill ensures organ donors can maintain their health insurance, so it can’t be canceled if they’ve given an organ to a loved one or someone in dire need.

Burns personally got to carry House Bill 1303 to the senate. This bill is also known as The Elementary Agricultural Education Act. It makes permanent an opt-in program which teaches fundamentals of agriculture.

Burns hopes to see this bill go far because “it’s especially good for urban environments because they lack exposure to agriculture that our rural area residents see every day. Georgia’s top industry is agriculture.”

Finally, Burns addresses two bills that he has been tracking for a while: House Bill 1150, the Freedom to Farm Act, and House Bill 1013, the Mental Health & Parity Act.

The Freedom to Farm Act, after much discussion and input, finally passed in the senate on April 1 and returned to the House for agreement.

Burns as well as some constituents had some concerns about the Mental Health & Parity Act. He has talked to the chairman and sub-chairman of the Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee, both of whom are medical doctors, expressing these shared concerns. This team is working on the bill, and Burns assures that there will likely be changes.

Finally, Burns thanks every constituent for their input and promises to continue monitoring the process at the capitol. He reminds that guests, especially those from his own District 23, are welcome to come visit him at the capitol.

In other news (taken from Burns’s Facebook page Saturday morning, April 2)

Friday, the senate passed Senate Bill 319. According to The AJC, with the final approval, this is a bill that will let Georgians carry a concealed hand gun without getting a license from the state.

Senate Bill 319 would allow Georgians to carry a concealed hand gun everywhere license holders currently are allowed to carry them. Guns would still be prohibited in the secured areas of airports, government buildings that have security at the entrance, and other secured areas.

Under the bill, only those who are legally allowed to carry a gun could carry a concealed hand gun. Those who could not carry a concealed weapon include people who have prior drug convictions, have been convicted of a felony or are facing felony charges, or have been treated for mental health issues or substance abuse issues within the past five years.

The state will still issue concealed-carry permits to allow Georgians to take advantage of gun carry “reciprocity” with other states. Such agreements allow gun owners to carry concealed handguns in states that offer the same permissions.

SB 319 passed by a vote of 34-22. The measure now goes to Governor Brian Kemp, who has said he supported passing legislation to allow handguns to be carried without a permit.

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