While Gov. Nathan Deal appears to be putting his education reform plans on pause for a year, there are plenty of high profile issues on the agenda for the 2016 session of the Georgia General Assembly. The Senate Republican Caucus released its agenda late last week which includes access to reducing standardized school tests, rural health care, protecting Georgians against terrorism, tax breaks for disabled, supporting small business, opposing abortion and safeguarding religious freedoms.
“The legislative priorities outlined by the Republican Caucus are a clear indication that the Senate is ready for business,” said Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle. “Georgia has always been the kind of place you want to raise your family, and it is our goal to make it the safest, most dynamic place to do business. We have outlined several key areas where we will focus our time and resources, and I look forward to working with our senators to advance these initiatives.”
Gov. Deal surprised many last week when he told a joint session of the General Assembly that he planned to put off his education reform plan for another year to make sure “we get this right.” Deal’s appointed Education Reform Commission recently presented their findings to the governor — including recommendations for a new funding formula to replace the 30-year-old QBE, and new teacher pay schedules (including a transition to merit pay).
But Deal has slowed this process. “It is important that we get this right,” he said. “It is also important that in the meantime, the debate be conducted in good faith and that your recommendations be based on facts and not rhetoric.”
Deal also announced his plans to create a Teacher Advisory Committee similar to the Governor’s Education Advisory Board to assist lawmakers during this process.
This doesn’t mean education won’t be on the forefront in the legislature this year. Deal’s budget proposal includes a recommendation that lawmakers add $944 million to public-school spending. This includes $300 million for a 3-percent teacher pay raise,.
Deal’s chief of staff, Chris Riley, said last week in a budget briefing that “The governor stands pretty strong on the 3 percent.”
One day after the Governor’s State of the State, Senate Majority Leader Bill Cowsert (R – Athens) released the 2016 Republican Caucus legislative agenda.
“In this year’s legislative session, the Republican majority will focus its efforts on protecting Georgia’s status as the best state in the nation to live, work, and worship,” said Sen. Cowsert. “Georgia prospers when its citizens feel physically safe, feel financially safe, and feel safe from over-reaching government influence on all aspects of their private lives. I am proud to be a member of this diligent and forward-thinking Senate caucus.”
The 2016 Republican Caucus legislative priorities are as follows:
1. Protecting Georgia Citizens – The Senate Republican Caucus will conduct a comprehensive assessment of Georgia’s anti-terrorism plan and any potential safety vulnerabilities; and, in response to such findings, will work to provide the necessary level of funding and appropriate legislative response to enhance the state’s safeguards against potential terrorist attacks within Georgia.
2. Protecting Access to Care – While working to protect access to care for all Georgians, the Senate Republican Caucus will address the rural healthcare needs by focusing on workforce development, telemedicine, improvement in EMS services and improved access and quality of care.
3. Protecting Teachers Ability to Teach – As the Senate Republican Caucus works to improve the quality of education in order to support a vibrant economy, it will look to enhance flexibility for testing requirements, allowing teachers to focus more of their time and energy on teaching.
4. Protecting the First Amendment – The Senate Republican Caucus stands united and is committed to the protection of the First Amendment freedoms for all Georgians.
5. Protecting the Future of the Disabled – The Senate Republican Caucus will ease the financial strains faced by individuals with disabilities and their families by making a tax-free account available to cover qualified expenses such as education, housing and transportation.
6. Protecting the Unborn – The Senate Republican Caucus will work to protect the unborn by expanding women’s access to pregnancy resource centers and their counseling and family planning services.
7. Protecting Small Businesses – The Senate Republican Caucus will continue the tradition of always protecting a small business’ ability to guard against government intrusion and overreach.
Georgia Democrats have also released their priorities for the 2016 session.
“In 2015, the Georgia House Democratic Caucus offered a robust slate of legislative initiatives to improve the economic security of Georgians, increase access to educational opportunity and expand our commitment to the shared responsibility for every Georgia, said House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams.
“The 2016 legislative agenda is a continuation of our efforts as the Georgia House Democratic Caucus to deliver solutions to our state’s toughest challenges. Once again our focus is on three simple but profound objectives: economic security, educational opportunity and shared responsibility. These are the foundations for building a strong future for our families.”