We returned to the Gold Dome on Monday, February 1, 2021, and kicked off the fourth week of the 2021 legislative session. We convened for four days in the House Chamber, and the pace picked up in our committees. Also, Governor Brian Kemp rolled out more of his legislative initiatives for this session.
One of the more notable bills that was sent to the Rules Committee was House Bill 86, or the “Georgia Lottery Mobile Sports Wagering Integrity Act,” which passed out of the House Economic Development & Tourism Committee and seeks to legalize and regulate sports betting in Georgia. Specifically, HB 86 would allow the Georgia Lottery Corporation to regulate sports wagering, and individuals who are 21 years of age and older would be able to place bets on specific professional and Olympic sporting events through an interactive sports wagering platform. The bill includes certain restrictions for sports betting, including prohibiting the use of credit cards, as well as prohibiting league and team insider betting.
Additionally, HB 80 would provide resources for individuals with gambling problems or addictions, enhance fan engagement and strengthen partnerships with Georgia sports teams. During the committee hearing this week, it was estimated that sports betting could generate $433 million in gross revenue, and the taxable revenue could add $43 million into the HOPE Scholarship fund. Several of Georgia’s professional sports teams have expressed their desire for legalized sports betting since the industry’s revenue has plummeted due to the pandemic. As our stadiums continue to remain empty for the time being, legalized sports betting may be one way to keep the professional sports industry, and the jobs it provides, afloat during this unprecedented time.
The State Planning & Community Affairs Committee approved legislation to commemorate the late Georgia civil rights hero and congressman, John Lewis. Congress established the National Statuary Hall Collection in the U.S. Capitol, and under the approval of the Joint Committee on the Library of Congress, each state is authorized to contribute two statues to the collection that represent important historic figures from each state. House Resolution 14 would create the National Statuary Hall Collection Replacement Committee, and this committee would work to replace a statue of Alexander Hamilton Stephens in the U.S. Capitol with a statue of the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis. This eight-person committee would determine a new location for the Alexander Hamilton Stephens statue, select a sculptor to create the statute of John Lewis, and identify private funding for the costs associated with the project. The deadline for completing the statue of John Lewis would be June 2022, and the statue would be unveiled at the U.S. Capitol Rotunda when it is completed. While there is still much work to be done, a statue of this hero, who was often called “the conscious of the Congress,” would be a fitting representation of our state’s rich and diverse history. This impactful legislation will now be considered by the House Rules Committee.
In other news, Gov. Kemp unveiled his major “teacher pipeline” legislative package to recruit, prepare, mentor, and retain the best teachers for our classrooms. Through legislative measures, Gov. Kemp intends to boost the educator workforce by allowing retired teachers to return to work full-time in communities with the greatest shortage of teachers. To further address teacher shortages, the governor’s legislative proposal would ease certification requirements for veterans to become teachers and give veterans first priority when enrolling for teacher preparation programs. This plan also seeks to increase the number of minority teachers in classrooms by partnering with historically black colleges and universities to recruit minority educators. Further, Gov. Kemp’s plan would ensure that future teachers are better prepared at the university level with more reading-based instruction, as well as prioritize mentorship in the classroom instead of spending too much time on reviews. Bills associated with this legislative package should be filed in the near future, and I will update you on this legislation as it makes its way through the House and Senate.
The governor also recently announced a legislative package to reform adoption and foster care in Georgia. The first bill, House Bill 114, would increase the state’s tax credit for families that adopt from foster care from $2,000 to $6,000 per year for five years. Gov. Kemp’s legislative package also includes House Bill 154 to make it easier for close relatives to adopt children out of foster care by lowering the age an individual may adopt from 25 to 21. Finally, Senate Bill 28 would increase training and resources for case workers that would allow our juvenile court system to better determine the safety needs of children, including those in foster care. SB 28 would also ensure that all reliable information is made available to the court in order to make decisions that are in a child’s best interest, such as whether placing a child in a new home is actually the best course of action. In recent years, the House has championed adoption reform legislation, and I look forward to building upon that work as we examine these bills.
On Friday, Gov. Kemp rolled out House Bill 304, or the “Georgia Made Medical Manufacturing Act.” This key initiative for the 2021 legislative session seeks to incentivize the production of medicine and medical devices within our state to limit our dependency on other states or foreign countries for critical supplies that aid in the fight against COVID-19. The Georgia Made Medical Manufacturing Act is modeled after Georgia’s Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Tax Credit, which was passed by the House during the 2020 legislative session last June. HB 304 would increase the amount of credit available under the state’s Jobs Tax Credit to incentivize job creation and investment in the medical equipment and pharmaceutical manufacturing industries. This legislation is the next step to ensuring Georgia businesses can operate safely this next year, and my colleagues and I will review this legislation once it has been assigned to a House committee when we return for week five of the session.
While we are busy at work at your State Capitol, we are also closely monitoring the state’s high demand for COVID-19 vaccines. As of this week, Georgia has shipped all of its Moderna allocations and has administered nearly 70 percent of the state’s current vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna). On Wednesday, Georgia hit a major milestone with its vaccination efforts as we surpassed the one million vaccination mark, and more than 500,000 Georgians who are 65 and older have received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. To ensure that the state’s supply of vaccines can be administered more efficiently, Gov. Kemp recently signed an executive order to allow more medically trained professionals to safely administer the COVID-19 vaccine. Gov. Kemp also announced that Georgia’s weekly vaccine allocation from the federal government will bump up to more than 154,000 starting this month. The governor reported this week that two million Georgians are eligible for the vaccine, including health care workers, public safety officers, and residents who are 65 and older and their caregivers. To learn more about the 1A+ phase of Georgia’s vaccine distribution and other important COVID-19 facts, please visit https://dph.georgia.gov/covid-vaccine.
Georgians are certainly facing challenging times, and my colleagues and I will continue to keep this in the forefront of our minds as we consider legislation throughout the session. As we begin to vote on more legislation in our committees and on the House floor, I encourage you to contact me with any questions or concerns you might have about bills that come before us. Your comments are always very important to me, so I hope to hear from you soon.
Thank you to the Emanuel County Health Department for taking such good care of all us as we get vaccinated. I'm so pleased to have completed the second round!