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 $2 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 27 state Sen. Greg Dolezal, said they were proud of what had been accomplished this session.
Dolezal was first elected to the seat in 2018 and represents the majority of Forsyth County, except the area of northeast Forsyth north of Hwy. 53. He serves as vice-chairman of the science and technology committee, secretary of the health and human services committee and as a member of the education and youth, government oversight and reappotionment and redistricting committees.
Here’s what he had to say about the session.
Obviously, this has been a unique year, so how do you think the session went despite the circumstances?
“Despite the obvious challenges, we were still able to move the needle on some important legislation in education and healthcare as well as balance the budget as we are required to do by law.”
Did you introduce any legislation, and if so, what was the result?
“I worked with Lt. Gov. [Geoff] Duncan’s office in the off session on surprise medical billing and price transparency legislation which both passed this year, bringing an end to surprise emergency billing and expanding consumer empowerment in the healthcare procurement process.
“I introduced a constitutional amendment to allow the collection of development impact fees for schools in fast growing school systems like Forsyth County. This will allow developers to pay their fair share of school infrastructure and accelerate the construction process to get our children out of trailers and into classrooms as we continue to grow. This bill made it out of committee but did not make it to a floor vote.
“As well, I introduced a constitutional amendment to require US citizenship to vote in Georgia elections. This measure failed on a party line vote. I also introduced a bill to term limit the office of Lt. Governor at the request of Lt. Gov Duncan. This bill did not make it to the floor for a vote. I also worked on bills to raise awareness for childhood cancer and another to eliminate a large number of crony capitalist tax credits and exemption.”
What are your thoughts on some of the big items of the session, such as schools funding, the state budget, surprise billing and the hate crimes bill?
“About 1 in 5 Americans have received a surprise medical bill after a hospital stay, which can be crippling to a family’s budget. The legislation passed this year should make the bulk of those surprise bills a thing of the past.
"At the start of the session in January, the budget looked very different than it did today. That said, the legislature worked hard to balance the budget and ensure our priorities were funded as much as possible. Due to conservative budgeting and a healthy economy in the past few years, Georgia has a reserve fund that helped us fund public safety, education, and our other critical needs. As well, here locally, our BOE has wisely prepared a reserve fund they were able to utilize to ensure we did not lose any instruction days in the 20-21 school year.”
Were there any other items of interest to Forsyth County residents during the session?
“The budget allocated $2m for the construction of the Fowler Road Library, which will expand on the first-class library program in Forsyth County. As well, we worked throughout the session with our Board of Commissioners and GDOT to negotiate the final deal that will secure the widening of McGinnis Ferry Road, which is significant to traffic flow in South Forsyth.
“We began a new tradition of having our Commissioners and Board of Education members to the capital on a regular basis to discuss issues critical to Forsyth County with various state agencies. There is great synergy between our delegation and the BOC and BOE and we are working on items such as a water intake for Forsyth County in Lake Lanier, widening of Post Road and Highway 9, and expanding the UNG campus in Cumming.”