Education will be major focus of next legislative session

For most of us the next few weeks will be a blur of Christmas shopping, gathering with our families and holiday cheer. But for area lawmakers, the next several weeks will also be spent preparing for the upcoming session of the state Legislature, which opens on Jan. 12.

Lawmakers meet this weekend in Athens for the Biennial Institute for Georgia Legislators.

“This gives us a chance to all meet together and discuss business and prepare for the session and generally get informed about what will be happening,” said state Rep. Bruce Broadrick, R-Dalton.

While lawmakers will have a more specific plan for the session after that meeting, local legislators say they already have some ideas about what will happen.

“The governor has been pretty open that he is going to push for a review of the formula for funding education,” said Rep. Tom Dickson, R-Cohutta, a member of the House Education Committee and a former educator and school system superintendent.

The governor’s Office of Planning and Budget has already started looking at the issue.

“Legislation will be required to make whatever changes they come up with. The formula is statutory,” Dickson said.

The formula that determines school funding is very complex, and local lawmakers said the issue is so large that it may take more than one session to address school funding.

“I gather that they are looking at a very robust look at K-12 education, looking at the whole picture. Budgeting and funding will be a huge part of that, but not the only part,” said state Sen. Charlie Bethel, R-Dalton. “We’ll see a lot of activity and maybe some movement. But 40 legislative days doesn’t seem like enough to do something of the magnitude of what they are talking about. I would not be surprised if we have to come back to it next year.”

Lawmakers say they expect the issue of legalizing a form of cannabis oil that has been shown to help control seizure disorders will likely come back up. A bill to legalize that oil enjoyed widespread support in the Legislature this year but failed at the last minutes as some lawmakers expressed concerns about how it would work.

“I expect that on the Senate side coverage of autism services for children as a part of mandated insurance benefits will be back,” Bethel said.

Broadrick says lawmakers may look at transportation funding.

“A study committee has been looking at the issue, and they should have some recommendations on how we will fund transportation in the future, funding sources and spending formulas,” he said.

Lawmakers said they’ve had no formal requests yet from city councils or county commissioners in the areas they represent for any local legislation. But each says he has some bills he plans to introduce.

“I’ve got a couple of education bills related to charter schools. One just cleans up some language. It’s just clarifying some technical language,” said Dickson. “The other, I haven’t decided whether I will drop it or not. I’ve been working with the legislative counsel trying to get the language right. It gives some additional options to parents for approval of charter schools. I’m looking for a way that if the local board doesn’t approve it there could be a local referendum to see if there is widespread support for a charter school.”

Bethel said he plans to introduce a bill that would allow pharmacists to administer all vaccinations approved by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to adults just as they currently give vaccines for flu.

Bethel says the move could help increase the state’s vaccination rate. He has been pushing the idea for the past two years. Physicians have expressed some concerns about the bill, but Bethel says he hopes to find language they can accept.

By Charles Oliver
The Daily Citizen

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