With three full weeks completed here at the state Capitol, we are finally entering into a routine, with convening in the chamber in the mornings, followed by committee meetings in the afternoons.
Since this is the first year of a biennium, all legislation must be reintroduced and begin the committee process all over again. For this reason, it will be a few more days until we have the opportunity to vote on bills in the Senate Chamber. However, legislators have been kept busy with committee meetings, as well as holding in-depth discussions on the budget and other legislative issues.
One area where we saw some significant progress was with our Amended 2021 Fiscal Year (AFY21) Budget. On Thursday, after a full week of hearings, the House passed their version of the budget in the form of House Bill 80. The very next day, the Senate began to hold our Appropriations Subcommittee hearings to further evaluate our state’s most important financial document. As Chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, we heard in-depth reports from the Georgia Department of Transportation, the Department of Driver Services and the Atlanta-region Transit Link Authority. As more and more Georgians return to work, it is vital that our roadways and public transportation infrastructure remain safe and accessible. As the final touches are added to the AFY21 budget, we must ensure that our transportation networks remain a priority.
On Thursday, in a meeting of the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee, we were provided with a very informative presentation on the current state of broadband infrastructure in Georgia. In 2018, the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 402, known as the Achieving Connectivity Everywhere (ACE) Act. An important component of this bill was for the Georgia Department of Community Affairs to construct a digital map to help identify discrepancies between perceived and actual broadband connectivity across the state. In Thursday’s meeting, we received a walkthrough of this new map in action and the new tools available to pinpoint exact locations where rural broadband access is lacking. This will be vital in gathering the data necessary to develop a plan to expand broadband into those hard to reach areas. While more work is necessary, particularly in the form of substantial capital investment from our state or federal partners, this map, paired with Gov. Kemp’s recommended total of $20 million to go towards rural broadband efforts, is a great first step towards achieving our goal.
Next week, we expect a number of additional bills to be introduced and assigned to a committee. Of particular importance will be a package of election reform legislation that will serve as the starting point to revamping how elections are administered in Georgia. We will work on these issues as we continue our deliberations on the AFY21 budget. If my office can ever be of any assistance, please do not hesitate to reach out.