Let me begin by thanking the wonderful staff and readers of North Fulton Family Life. It has been my sincere pleasure to write monthly articles for the past several years. This magazine has been a treasure, and I hope you will support them in their Woodstock and Canton publications.
As I write this column, we are amid our 2021 legislative session. I am working on several important priorities and continuing my efforts to serve you in a responsible, respectful, and results-oriented manner. In the last 10 years, I have watched many people take an unprofessional, harsh, and nasty approach to so many things, and politics is a big part. It has been propagated by keyboard warriors and social media as well as the press sensationalizing everything.
On January 11, members of the Georgia Legislature were officially sworn in to begin the first session of the 156th Georgia General Assembly. While a few changes were necessary to mitigate exposure to COVID-19, one tradition remained the same: reciting the Oath of Office at the beginning of the first legislative day. This oath represents our pledge to you to always act in the best interest of the state.
Thank you for the great honor and privilege to serve you in elected office once again. I am humbled and overwhelmed by this great opportunity. We return to the Senate on January 11, and I will be sworn in for the next legislative biennial at the Georgia Capitol.
Merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah, and happy New Year! I am proud to wish you true tidings of joy and hope you will pass it along. We love to celebrate Christmas in the Albers house, and we have many wonderful traditions.
This Thanksgiving, we have much to be thankful for — even during the time of COVID-19, elections, and other uncertainties. It is easy to take for granted the many blessings we have in our lives. My wife Kari and I lost many good friends and family members to heaven this year, and suffering these sad losses helps us appreciate those in our lives and our community even more. Reflecting on my abundance of Thanksgiving, I am both humbled and grateful.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: