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On Friday, June 26, 2020 we adjourned the Legislative Session Sine Die which ends the 2020 biennial.
There was much work to be done in the final 2 weeks after being suspended for three months. Many days lasted over 18 hours and included a historic Saturday session. I am grateful for the work we completed while navigating a worldwide pandemic.
Our state is facing unprecedented times. Never in my lifetime have I experienced what we have seen happen in a few short months. All of our lives have been impacted, some more and some less, and for many that impact has been life-changing.
The state economy and therefore, our state budget was also significantly impacted by COVID-19. As a legislature, balancing the budget is a constitutional requirement and primary obligation. As a member of the appropriations committee, I worked with my colleagues to get this accomplished. Though Georgia will see a 2.3 billion short fall, we were able to find some alternate sources of revenue and thankfully saw increases with the unemployment rate rebounding quickly.
With the overall budget cut of 10% and matching CARE Act grants, we were able to greatly help some of my major priorities including education, special needs, public safety, etc. Specifically our K-12 schools received over $400 million in funds to help. Nevertheless, revenue short falls will cause a reduction in the size of government as well as cuts to services that many rely on. Mindful of this, I have worked closely with state agencies to ensure that District 16 is impacted as little as possible during these difficult times. I am grateful that so many of my colleagues were also willing to lead by example and support and approve a 10% pay cut for legislators.
After the budget, the most important bill the Senate passed this year was HB 838, the Police Protection Act. This bill updates the language of the Office of Public Safety Support that assists with PTSD and crisis counseling, allowing peace officers to file a civil suit against those making false claims against them. It also provides for additional penalties to a person convicted of a crime with bias motivated intimidation, malicious intent to intimidate, harass or terrorize a First Responder. Deadly assaults on those who serve us have proliferated in recent weeks and months. So I was proud to join my colleagues in voting for legislation that ensures that they are protected and that their families are kept safe.
I also voted in support of HB 426, The Georgia Hate Crimes law. Scripture teaches us that we are all made in the image of God and have equal value, no matter the color of our skin or the zip code where we were born or live. Recent, tragic events within our country have brought into plain view the fact that we still have a long road ahead of us in healing the wounds of our nation. Nevertheless, passing this bill was an important step. It was a historic moment and a great opportunity for us to listen, educate, hold accountable, heal, and move forward in a meaningful way. With the governor’s signature, Georgia has now become the 47th state to make a statement that there is no room here for hate.
There were numerous other pieces of legislation that passed this session and far too many to cover in detail here. Nevertheless, I would like to briefly touch on one final bill. A Business Immunity Bill SB 359, which assists with protecting our businesses, HOAs, and others from frivolous lawsuits. Many of us worked closely with the NFIB, Chambers of Commerce, healthcare professionals, the legal community, and other key stakeholders to ensure a positive result. We added this language to several bills and ultimately passed SB 359 assuring our businesses could operate without fear, HOAs could open pools, and our economy can recover quickly and safely. It is imperative that we not punish hardworking business owners for forces outside their control.
During the interim I will continue to work as your senator. My service to you continues all year long as I work on committees, ongoing budget updates, constituent services, community events, and more. I always welcome your input as to how we can keep Georgia as the best place to live, work, and play. My office seeks to help or assist you in any way we can. Please call my office at (404) 656-0078 or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Senator Marty Harbin