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Gooch: The 2021 Session Begins
Steve Gooch
Senator Steve Gooch - photo by For the Dawson County News

On Monday, Jan. 11, 2021, members of the Senate and the House officially gaveled in to begin the 2021 Legislative Session. The new session brings with it many familiar motions and procedures, including formally electing our President Pro Tempore, Secretary of the Senate, and Sergeant at Arms. All members of the General Assembly, both new and returning, were also officially sworn in to begin their new terms in office. In the Senate, we have eleven members who will be experiencing their first session with us and I am looking forward to getting to know them all as work to make Georgia as great as it can be. 

While there were many similarities between this session and others I have experienced, new protocols have been introduced as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that has drastically changed the way we do business at the Capitol. To start, all members of the General Assembly and Capitol staff are required to undergo COVID-19 testing twice a week. For those who test positive, a robust contact tracing program has been implemented to mitigate exposure of the virus. Additionally, seating in our committee rooms has been spaced out in order to socially distance committee members and new procedures have been introduced to promote fewer crowds on the Senate floor. I’m happy to report that testing and tracing has been working as intended and we are confident these measures will reduce the risk of an outbreak while we are in session. 

Importantly, we are continuously working to get the COVID-19 vaccine to those in the most need. First, it is important to note that there are currently two different COVID-19 vaccines available in Georgia: Pfizer and Moderna. Both are proven to be effective and require two doses, but they differ in that Pfizer requires the doses being administered three weeks apart and Moderna requires 28 days. Right now, Georgia is receiving 120,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine each week and they are being deployed in three different phases. We are currently in the first (Phase 1), and doses are being administered to healthcare workers, employees and residents of long-term care facilities, first responders, and adults aged 65 and above. We will then move to the next phase which will include non-healthcare essential workers, followed by the final phase which will include those between the ages of 16-64 with preexisting medical conditions. If you fall into any of the groups that make up Phase 1, I encourage you to find a COVID-19 Vaccination Site near you and follow additional guidance from the Georgia Department of Public Health’s website. 

On Thursday, we heard the annual State of the State Address delivered by Governor Brian Kemp. This speech highlighted a few of the Governor’s main budget priorities for the upcoming budget cycle, with a particular emphasis being placed on areas impacted by COVID-19. Specifically, the Governor is proposing $1.2 billion over the next few years to public education and $1,000 to go towards educators to ensure schools can reopen safely. Additionally, the Governor called for increased investment in rural broadband infrastructure, to expand high-speed internet access to communities such as ours. 

Next week, these proposals will be examined in closer detail when members of the Senate and House Appropriations Committees will meet to examine the state’s current and projected budgetary needs. “Budget Week” is one of the most important times of any legislative session, perhaps none more important than the one we are about to witness. If you ever have any questions about any of the legislative proposals we take up, progress on COVID-19 vaccinations or any budgetary items, please feel free to contact my office.