June 30, 2021
Legislators and lobbyists alike faced a new reality under the Gold Dome in 2021 as the legislative session began amid the global COVID-19 pandemic. After the second half of last year’s bifurcated session provided a framework for working through socially distanced meetings and longer than normal floor votes, the legislature hit the ground running — eventually introducing over 2,000 individual pieces of legislation. Yet, COVID-19 was far from the only factor rattling the sense of normalcy in Peach State politics in 2021.
A contentious election cycle’s dramatic conclusion, mere days before the opening gavels fell in January, left Georgia politics in flux. The state’s presidential electoral votes cast for a Democrat for the first time since 1992, along with both US Senators belonging to a party that remains in the minority in both state chambers — and without possession of a single statewide office — compounded Republicans’ concerns about the state’s election process; concerns which the majority party felt determined to address through legislation. As you know, an election process bill did pass and was signed by Gov. Kemp, one of the first in the nation. Debate on the effect of its myriad details continues in the national press and will shape campaign rhetoric in Georgia throughout 2021 and into the 2022 May primaries.
Georgia’s journey to the center of the national political universe still left space for more traditional policy work. Legislators also focused their attention on healthcare and education proposals — including patient visitation and school choice overhauls.
The legislature also looked toward the executive branch as Gov. Brian Kemp traversed a balancing act between protecting public health and the gravitas of significant economic damage. His decision to roll back distancing restrictions before most of the country proved prescient, as state revenues, but not virus cases, rebounded — giving budget writers the ability to return spending to pre-pandemic levels. In total, the FY 2022 budget contained $27,252,569,596 in state spending representing an increase of over $1 billion from FY 2021’s lean austerity budget. A more comprehensive review of the budget follows below.
Contrary to popular perception, bipartisanship was not dead under the Gold Dome. Republicans and Democrats united to repeal the state’s citizen arrest statute and implement probation reform to help rehabilitated Georgians get back to work. Approval of the Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology Interstate Compact (and two other compacts for licensed counselors and occupational therapists) allowed Georgia to leverage telehealth solutions, which have exploded in popularity due to COVID-19. The expansion of virtual communication allowances also percolated to business entities with the state approving virtual shareholder meetings for both for-profit and non-profit corporations. Lawmakers also targeted the state’s foster care system, reducing the required age for adoption petitions and granting foster children tuition waivers for technical college.
All told, Gov. Kemp signed 294 bills in 2021. Numerous proposals remain eligible for action in 2022 and an anticipated special session for redistricting ensures that politics in Georgia will have little chance to cool down in the winter months.
As always, Nelson Mullins is proud to present this final report for our clients, colleagues, and all other civically minded folk. Please do not hesitate to reach out to our team should you have any questions, comments, or legislative needs.
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