Legislators Starting Now On Next Year’s Legislation

Courier Herald column for the week of July 31st:

Even though temperatures are in the high 90’s and the calendar unambiguously says that we’re in the middle of summer, most Georgia schools are beginning their fall semester.  With the summer break over, most adults return to or refocus on work.  This is also true for many of our state senators and representatives.

The legislative calendar has some official dates, focused on beginning a legislative session in January and continuing for 40 business days.  This part of their “part-time” job that receives most of our focus, tends to end in late March or early April.  A session that extends beyond these dates tends to interfere with members’ family responsibilities for spring break trips, as well as economic development opportunities during Masters week.

When legislators depart there’s usually a bit of a quiet period as they return to handle their private occupations and catch up on personal matters.  Ceasing most formal activities for a couple of months also allows some distance from the tensions that naturally build as the finish line of the General Assembly approaches.

Much of the work done between session occurs within the work of specially created “study committees”.  These are often used for legislative matters which didn’t get legislative agreement between the House and Senate during session, and/or for issues that are too complex to try to hash out during the 40 legislative days when every legislator has their focus divided among multiple issues.

Appointees are usually announced to these committees shortly after the General Assembly session ends, and some get to work sooner than others.  Several of the committees appointed for this year have already held meetings.  As summer turns to fall, the speed and cadence of these meetings increase, and the likelihood of future legislation becomes clearer.

All study committees are not created equal.  There are two ways to determine if the matter studied will generate legislation with a likelihood of reaching the Governor’s desk.  The first would be if the committee was created by a joint agreement between both legislative chambers.  The second would be if there’s one issue, often contentious, where the House and Senate form separate committees for each to explore the same topic.

The latter situation best describes the off-season work for which both chambers are investing significant time and political capitol.  Certificate of Need reform has long been a topic with many proposals submitted as legislation over the years.  Some bills became law that have nipped around the edges, while others advocate for full repeal.  CON laws exist to grant hospitals essential monopoly rights to serve an area in exchange for them providing a certain set of services – many of which the hospital can expect to lose money when delivering.  

There’s great desire to see some changes. But this isn’t just about hospitals, as hospitals are now the center and base of all medical industries. Don’t view it as a battle of patients vs hospitals, or hospitals vs hospitals.  Doctors, specialty clinics, insurers, drug companies, local governments, and even developers and contractors have a stake in how the rules are reset. 

In short, expect plenty of lobbyists from some of the state’s most powerful groups to be whispering or even screaming into lawmakers’ ears as the Senate and House host separate committee meetings on this topic.

The two chambers found enough common ground to establish two joint study committees. Appointees from both the House and Senate will evaluate dual enrollment programs for high school students to expand and better match the development of job skills employers are seeking while students are completing their high school degrees.  In a separate group, appointees by each chamber will review the highly technical but very important ways local governments negotiate with each other and the state when delivering services and/or dividing local tax revenues. 

The Senate has also formed a committee to review Georgia’s (too) numerous occupational licensing requirements, one to address truck driver shortages and one to consider recruitment of rural medical personnel, and yet another to address Georgia’s workforce challenges in a broader context. Other Senate committees will explore potential changes to county’s local option sales tax procedures, while another will review Georgia’s foster care and adoption laws.

Meanwhile, in addition to the joint committees and the aforementioned panel on Certificate of Need reform, the House has established a study committee to review access to freshwater fishing, with an eye toward balancing Georgian’s ability to fish with landowner’s private property rights.  The House also has a standing “Rural Development Council” that has acted as the primary vehicle for House leadership to review major issues facing the state and generate potential legislation for the upcoming session.

When these topics come before the legislature this winter, the issues nor potential solution should catch Georgians by surprise.  Each committee meeting is open to the public, is livestreamed, and presentation documents will be available on the General Assembly’s website.  If you want a jump on next session’s lawmaking, your legislators are about to start showing you their homework.

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