Keeping Sight of the American Dream

Last month we celebrated Independence Day. Many of our normal celebrations were not held due -to the pandemic. However, we should never lose sight of this monumental time in history. The following is a letter I wrote to my sons, and I forward it to them every year as a constant reminder.

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Enhancing Digital Learning - The New Normal

On April 1, Gov. Brian Kemp made the decision to close Georgia’s school buildings for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year and move to online learning, based on feedback from educators and administrators. This shift was challenging for some and smoother for others. School systems have adapted by establishing learn-from-home protocols and future-proofing classrooms for years to come.

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need for our state to adopt a more modern approach in education delivery methods to students. In 2015, I wrote and passed legislation that, in its original form, would have required local school systems to ensure that all purchased textbooks or educational instruction materials be available in a digital format. In addition, it provided use of the textbook fund in a digital format and encouraged all school systems to be provided laptops or tablets to use for homework or distance learning.

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June 2020 Update

I have been working more than 20 hours per day to serve you. I am hosting weekly town hall conference calls, getting supplies to our hospitals and first responders, and coordinating with our cities, counties, schools, governor, task force, White House, federal counterparts, etc.

Please support your local businesses during this time. If you are able, buy gift cards, safely get takeout food, and leave a generous tip. Make donations to local charities; it is simple and can be done online within a few minutes.

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2020 Legislative Session Update

On March 16, elected representatives were called into a special legislative session to ratify Gov. Brian Kemp’s executive order to declare a public health state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During this time, I sent updates to those on my email list, posted to my website and social media accounts, and hosted telephone town hall meetings to inform citizens of the important updates and resources available. Specific updates included best practices from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, health care access, the Small Business Administration, unemployment, federal stimulus, charities, schools, etc.

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Exciting Bills Being Proposed at the 2020 Legislative Session

The 2020 Legislative Session includes several bills that address some of the most critical issues lawmakers hear about on a daily basis. This is an overview of a few pieces of legislation that I’m excited to sponsor.

The General Assembly is constantly working to make health care more accessible to all Georgians as well as increase the transparency of health care costs. We often hear stories about patients who undergo a procedure at a hospital, which they believed to be in-network, only to find out after the fact that they had received out-of-network care. These patients are met with incredibly high bills for services they assumed were covered by insurance and must then handle the dispute with both the health care provider and insurance company, all while trying to heal from their procedure. Senate Bill 359 would remove the consumer from the center of this dispute and require the insurance companies and providers to work out a solution, with the additional option of arbitration available.

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“All Politics Is Local”

As a Georgia State Senator, I am often tasked with making decisions that affect citizens across our great state. However, as a resident and citizen, I understand that cities and local governments are often best attuned to the needs of their districts. That is why in order to impact meaningful change, it is critical that our localities have the authority and control to make decisions that will have a direct effect on their own communities. I am a strong advocate for local control, as I believe that the well-being of a community often results from a healthy partnership between state and local government, and that is exactly what I aim to work toward each legislative session.

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Water Wars

Over the summer months, most of us probably took part in some of the many outdoor recreation opportunities that our state has to offer. Some of the most popular summer activities include boating on Lake Lanier, tubing down the Chattahoochee River, or fishing in one of the many tributaries and rivers that make up the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) River Basin.

While these waterways are a great place for families to have fun, they are also vital in ensuring our state has adequate drinking water and that our farms receive the proper amount of irrigation. But for more than three decades, our ability to continue using these waterways to best benefit Georgians has been in jeopardy due to an ongoing dispute with officials in Florida and Alabama.

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The 155th Georgia Assembly — Part II

On Monday, January 13, legislators will reconvene for the second half of the 155th Georgia General Assembly. Legislation that did not receive final passage during the 2019 session could be taken up during the second half of the biennial. Some of the pending issues address surprise medical billing, transportation updates, marketplace fairness, and tax infrastructure assessments, among others.

Along with addressing pending issues, I want to present additional priorities during the upcoming session. Even though we’ve made positive strides to address the needs of our first responders, as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Criminal Justice & Public Safety Subcommittee, I will continue to work with committee members, state agencies, and first responders to secure proper additional funding for salaries, training, and retirement services.

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May 2020 Be a Year of Unity

As we celebrate this holiday season, let’s focus on what brings us together and unites us rather than issues that divide us.Historically, our country has been a place where people were free to speak their mind, follow their beliefs, and express their feelings. The same is true today; however, with social media platforms, people can now share their opinions and invite scrutiny by people in their community and all over the world.

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Giving Thanks

Expressions of thanks are everywhere in our society, from our prayers and holidays to our thank you letters and notes. But many of us don’t take the time to consider the things we are truly thankful for as often as we should. So, this month, I want to share some of the things I am thankful for and detail how service has an impact on each of our lives.I know that politics can be polarizing, but we should all be thankful that folks heed the call to public service and give their time to represent us to the best of their ability. These men and women put their heart and soul into doing what is right, regardless of political party, and move sound public policy through the process to have a tangible impact on their communities. One such person is U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson.

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Standing for Our Flag and Our National Anthem

In a recent and very public decision, a major athletic apparel company decided to pull back the sale of a 1776 Betsy Ross Flag sneaker after its production was criticized by a former NFL player. This same NFL player is affiliated with the movement for athletes to take a knee during the national anthem. In an effort to be “politically correct,” this company has made decisions that go against the grain of America and appeal to those who do not understand the sacrifices of our soldiers from every generation beginning with the Revolutionary War.Those of us who are proud patriots, who understand our history, and who haven’t forgotten the battles that made America the “land of the free because of the brave” choose to stand to support our flag and nation. Our flag is the beacon of liberty and freedom for the world. Those who do not respect our flag and national anthem have the freedom to make different choices because others have made the ultimate sacrifice.

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Is Socialism Right for America?

Our great Republic of the United States was founded based on the principles of democracy and individual liberty for each American citizen. Over the last few years, we have witnessed a dangerous trend that has some Americans feeling that socialism is the way forward. However, as history tells us, socialism is nothing more than a paved road to disaster and destitution.One of the main causes of the American Revolution and the birth of American independence was excessive taxation of the colonists at the hands of the British government. These colonists moved to a new continent to find better opportunities and kick-started the American economy by establishing industries that still exist in our country. However, these first industrialists were met with taxes on everything from stamps to tea, with the revenue lining the pockets of the British and funding foreign wars. These transgressions and others served as catalysts for the American Revolution. The reason? Excessively high taxes that did not benefit the citizens who were paying them resulted in national unrest. The parallels to modern socialism are undeniable.

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Bills To Help Ensure the Safety of Georgians

During the 2019 session, state leaders and legislators focused on properly funding and updating laws for our public safety agencies and judicial system, so they can efficiently address crimes that are impacting Georgia. This includes the opioid epidemic and a rise in gang activity, which must be dealt with before either issue impacts even more lives. Additionally, with the rise of technology use in criminal activity, we had to create laws for using drones. Positive strides were made regarding these issues, which will decrease crime and increase safety.To hinder the growing opioid epidemic and gang activity, additional funding was appropriated to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI). Within the Fiscal Year 2020 budget, $563,000 will be utilized by the GBI for five scientists and one lab technician within the chemistry division to address the current backlog. Additionally, $995,000 will provide funding for a one-time agent onboarding on the Opioid Task Force, and $500,000 will fund the GBI Gang Task Force, which includes one prosecutor liaison and two senior investigators. Also, in order to cut back on illegal gang activity such as bringing contraband within Georgia’s places of incarceration, we passed Senate Bill 6. Under this legislation, unmanned aircraft systems (drones) are prohibited from flying over places of incarceration. It is now illegal for a drone to photograph or record images over a place of incarceration without authorization from the warden, superintendent, or his/her designated representative.

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2019 Session Education Legislation

The 2019 session ended April 2, 2019, and since then, the governor has been reviewing what received final passage, so he can sign or veto the legislation. Overall, the Georgia General Assembly passed 130 general bills and resolutions addressing a variety of issues. A topic that remained a priority is properly funding education and ensuring our school systems have every resource possible to educate Georgia’s students.While the work to ensure our education system continues to thrive is never over, I believe we made positive strides. The following are some highlights of funding that was appropriated for education and legislation that passed that will impact Georgia’s education:

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Hurricane Michael Relief

On October 10, 2018, Hurricane Michael, the third-most powerful Atlantic Hurricane to hit the United States, made landfall in Mexico Beach, Florida, as a Category 4 storm then rapidly moved into parts of southern Georgia. Wind speeds reached 155 mph and left around $25.1 billion in damages while claiming 72 lives. The storm left devastation in its path throughout south Georgia, leaving many citizens without power, destroying infrastructure, damaging crop production, and resulting in an approximately $2.5 billion loss to Georgia’s timber and agriculture industries.While the destruction was concentrated in the southern part of our state, I am proud of all of Georgia’s citizens, including our leadership, for coming together to help our loved ones and friends impacted by the storm. Gov. Nathan Deal and state agencies took quick action before, during, and immediately after the storm. Their foresight into proper evacuation and safety instructions saved lives, and their rapid response to provide relief and help after the storm is commendable. Within five days, Gov. Deal worked with the federal government to receive approval for his request that Georgia’s 31 counties impacted by the storm receive public assistance along with six counties being approved for individual assistance. The Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Georgia Emergency Management & Homeland Security Agency worked together and with other agencies to provide aid.

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Georgia — Getting Down to Business

Over the last year, there has been a flood of news media headlines detailing the exodus of talented young professionals from states like New York and California to the South — particularly Georgia. Businesses are also recognizing all the South has to offer. According to Area Development magazine, all but one state in their annual listing of “Top States for Doing Business” was in the South, with Georgia No. 1. For six years in a row, a similar publication, Site Selection magazine, has ranked Georgia as the No. 1 state in the nation in which to do business.Georgia attracts and retains businesses from all over the world better than any other state in the nation. The reasons for this are plenty, but it all starts with our business environment. Georgia is one of only a handful of states to maintain a AAA bond rating from all three major agencies. In January of this year, the new, lower corporate tax rate of 5.75 percent went into effect, which is several percentage points lower than many of our neighbors to the north. Businesses have recognized Georgia’s assets and have responded accordingly. Nine out of 10 Fortune 500 companies maintain a presence in Georgia, while 17 of these companies have located their world headquarters here. Essentially, we offer a better business climate, a better corporate tax environment, and more lucrative business incentives than other states — all at a much lower cost.

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Senate Bill 48 Dyslexia Support in Georgia’s Schools

The 155th Georgia General Assembly has come to a close, and I am impressed with the meaningful bills we were able to turn into effective laws over the 40-day legislative session. One piece of successful legislation is particularly important to me – Senate Bill 48. This bill addresses dyslexia support in Georgia’s schools, and I commend Senator P.K. Martin for his leadership in sponsoring this bill and carrying it all the way to the governor’s desk. SB 48 provides specific guidance for schools to identify dyslexia in young students and continued training for school officials and teachers to learn about dyslexia in order to produce better-supported students.In the fall of 2018, former Senator Fran Millar led the Senate Study Committee on Dyslexia. This committee was formed to revise a previously existing law that simply “encouraged schools, local education agencies, and state educational agencies to recognize that dyslexia has a profound educational impact.” Upon hearing from educators, parents, medical professionals, and experts in dyslexia, the committee found that children with language difficulties that continue into kindergarten are at a higher risk of dyslexia. One in five students has a language-based disability, of which dyslexia is the most common. After expert testimony, as well as hearing from students who have dyslexia and the impact it has on their daily lives, the committee recommended the following:

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The First Term of the 155th General Assembly

The first term of the 155th General Assembly is well underway, and we hit the ground running. With a new governor, lieutenant governor, and secretary of state, we are starting the 2019 Legislative Session with a fresh slate. So far, I have already introduced two new pieces of legislation, Senate Bill 15 and Senate Resolution 12. Both pieces of legislation address an issue of utmost importance to all Georgians: school safety. Both were drafted from recommendations gathered by the Senate School Safety Study Committee that I chaired during the 2018 interim.I was reappointed chairman of the Senate Public Safety Committee and am proud to begin work this session. SB 15, the “Keeping Georgia’s Schools Safe Act,” will address the offenses of minors in possession of a firearm, focus on data sharing through the Georgia Information Sharing and Analysis Center, and create a statewide requirement for schools to employ threat assessment measures. These measures include conducting drills and providing coaching for students and teachers as well as training teachers or staff about the appropriate action to take when a threat is believed to be present. This will increase preparedness in schools while making it easier for teachers to identify when and where they should report certain threats.

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Georgia’s Economic Strength

The stability of our economy is something that we continue to strive for, and the rate at which our nation, and Georgia specifically, is developing has exponentially exceeded my expectations. This did not happen by accident. We’ve been working diligently in the Georgia Senate to pass strong economic development legislation to support job creation. Government does not create jobs, but we can create an environment for success. Decreasing unemployment rates is a goal in our state and nation every year, but this is only a piece of the overall puzzle in terms of state and national economic development.Georgia has been named the No. 1 state in the country to do business for the fifth consecutive year. Last November, Site Selection, an economic development trade publication, ranked Georgia’s business climate as No. 1 for the sixth consecutive year. According to their records, “Georgia is the first state to hold this ranking for six consecutive years under leadership by the same governor.” There are many reasons for this; here are a few:

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Senate School Safety Study Committee’s Final Recommendations

When the 2018 Legislative Session adjourned, my colleagues and I began our work on the Senate School Safety Study Committee, which I chaired. We spent our time during the interim visiting different Georgia high schools across the state to help find solutions to some of the safety concerns they face. The committee met at five different high schools over the course of five months to hear presentations, commentary, and proposed ideas. We considered what we can do to ensure that our students, teachers, and other personnel go to school knowing that they are protected and that there is a plan in place in case of emergency. Of the many proposals discussed, we compiled a list of recommendations for the General Assembly to take into consideration during the 2019 Legislative Session.The three areas the committee wanted to highlight included crisis prevention; physical security of buildings, facilities, and buses; and emergency response. When discussing crisis prevention, a major factor we considered was the mental health status of our students. We are currently relying on our school counselors to not only help guide students through their high school years and set them up for collegiate success, but also address their mental health. By providing additional funding for students to have trained mental health professionals, we can help our students get the attention and guidance they need in each specific area.

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