The legislative session has begun! For the next several months, our elected legislators will be drafting, vetting and voting on new laws. GOP leaders in both the House and the Senate have already begun talking up their legislative priorities.
The first week is mostly ceremonial, but priorities are beginning to emerge. Expect that some leaders are also eyeing higher office for 2018.
Republicans in the Senate have already announced their legislative priorities, which include transportation, education funding, anti “terrorism” efforts, rural health care and generic anti-bureaucracy measures.
Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, the second most powerful Republican in the state, has also declared that repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare, is also a top priority. Medicaid expansion is dead, and many leaders are talking about block grants as a preferred strategy, although this model has received a lot of criticism in the past because they guarantee no minimum care.
Speaker David Ralston, the ranking Republican in the House, has named education, health care, transportation and rural infrastructure/economic development as top priorities.
Both the House and Senate are signaling that public transit might get attention from the Republican party. Speaker Ralston just announced the Georgia Commission on Transit Governance and Funding and a new appropriations subcommittee just for transportation funding.
In the Senate, pro-public transit Brandon Beach will be chairing the Transportation Committee. Remember, earlier this year he fought off primary challengers for his conservative Alpharetta seat, in part over his support for MARTA.
Speaker Ralston spoke about rural health care last year, however the biggest policy changes were the implementation of a tax credit for donations to rural hospitals and a trial run equipping rural ambulances with telemedicine capabilities. So it’s to be determined what kinds of policy this stated priority actually translates into.
Campus carry is definitely expected to come back and early signs indicate that it may be even more extreme than last year’s vetoed bill.
“Religious freedom,” on the other hand, has an uncertain future, as Sen. Josh McKoon has been stripped of his chairmanship of the powerful Judiciary Committee. And, as I touched on last week, anti-immigrant legislation is also expected to show up.
As one of the lobbyists down at the Capitol points out every year: they are only constitutionally required to meet for 40 days and pass a balanced budget. Everything else is just gravy.