It’s been a unique a year for all parts of life, and that includes for the local lawmakers representing Forsyth County.
Due to the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s Georgia General Assembly legislative session ended in late June rather than the regular time of around early April, but that was far from the only change.
The plan coming into the year was to pass a reduced budget, and the assembly voted to approve a $26 billion budget, including $2.2 billion in cuts.
Lawmakers also approved a new hate crimes bill, new rules for surprise medical billing and provided funding for a number of local projects.
Despite the unique circumstances, lawmakers, including District 24 state Rep. Sheri Gillian, said they were proud of what had been accomplished this session. "
Gilligan is secretary of the House's code revision committee and a member of the budget and fiscal affairs oversight, human relations and aging, industry and labor, natural resource and environment and science and technology committees.
Here's what she said about the session.
Obviously, this has been a unique year, so how do you think the session went despite the circumstances?
“Each legislative session is quite different from the next. This session was extremely tough. Managing to balance a budget in such extreme circumstances was the single largest challenge. In spite of the challenges we faced we passed some very meaningful and important legislation. The Surprise Billing Consumer Protection Act aims to limit surprise medical bills.
“We also passed legislation aimed at fighting human trafficking. Another important measure was legislation authorizing pharmacists to dispense prescription refills for up to 90 days which is critical in states of emergency like when a county is under a hurricane warning issued by the National Weather Service.”
Did you introduce any legislation, and if so, what was the result?
“The one piece of legislation that I worked the hardest on over the past two sessions was to have September 1st designated as Childhood Cancer Awareness Day in the State of Georgia. By bringing more awareness to this disease, we should be able to help raise more funding and provide more focus on the number 1 killer of children by disease. Senator Brandon Beach sponsored the bill which was the exact same language that I carried the previous session. I worked tirelessly with community advocates to bring the attention and pressure to get this measure on the floor for a vote which passed unanimously.”
What are your thoughts on some of the big items of the session, such as school funding, the state budget, surprise billing and the hate crimes bill?
“The state economy has been hit hard by the shutdown which resulted in large budget cuts to achieve a balanced budget. To reduce the impact, and in spite of opposition by the Democrats, the Republican-led legislature passed a measure to cut the legislative salaries by 10% for the FY 21 budget year. Importantly, we were able to make the cuts while not requiring a single furlough day for state employees. Despite the reductions, the General Assembly restored cuts and mitigated reductions to services for Georgia’s most vulnerable citizens, such as those with disabilities and mental health disorders; health care access; the criminal justice system, and public education.
“With the necessary cuts in the state budget, the Forsyth County Public School system had a 5% cut in its overall budget. Fortunately, just as the state has a rainy-day fund held in reserve, so do our school systems. On the plus side, the legislature was able to reduce the number of standardized tests Georgia students must take. The measure will cut four of eight exams in high school and one exam in middle school. This will free up more time for teachers to teach.”
Were there any other items of interest to Forsyth County residents during the session?
"There was a lot of interest in the 'Georgia COVID-19 Pandemic Business Safety Act' which would provide some immunity from liability claims regarding COVID-19 unless there is gross negligence. Most residents expressed interest in this bill because they wanted their homeowner’s associations to be able to safely open the pool without the board members being held personally liable. "