The 2022 legislative session is still months away, but the battle lines are already being drawn. Lawmakers from both political parties are scrambling to put together agendas, but many of them are keeping their pet projects close to the vest—at least for now.
In an effort to gain more insight into the 2022 session, I caught up with Rep. Ed Setzler (R-35) and Sen. Bruce Thompson (R-14). They predict a session dominated by headline-grabbing issues sure to spark some passionate debates.
Contrary to what many might think, in most years, state lawmakers only have one statutory duty: “Constitutionally, we always have to address and make sure we pass a balanced budget,” Sen. Thompson remarked. Thankfully, revenues are up by 14.6 percent year-to-date. This should free lawmakers from internecine budgetary fights and allow them to focus on what may prove to be 2022’s primary issues: jobs, public safety and the pandemic response—specifically COVID-19 vaccines.
“Vaccine mandates are something that every citizen in Georgia should expect their governor and legislature to address,” Rep. Setzler exclaimed. As it stands, President Joe Biden issued an executive order mandating that all companies with 100 employees or more require each person to either be vaccinated or tested weekly, and many private companies are requiring that their employees be vaccinated as a condition for continued employment.
This isn’t sitting well with many in the General Assembly. The notion of a government or an employer “mandating a needle be put in someone’s arm—and inject something in their blood system that they don’t want—just shocks the conscience,” Rep. Setzler explained. He believes that prohibiting mandatory vaccines will be a hot topic under the gold dome. The vaccine debate may even draw the national spotlight, as could one of Georgia’s other main issues: crime.
For some time, Speaker of the House David Ralston and Gov. Brian Kemp have been emphatic that policymakers must address Georgia’s deteriorating public safety. Murders, rapes and other violent crimes have skyrocketed in Atlanta. It has gotten so out of hand that it has, in part, spurred many in Buckhead to push for independent cityhood, but it’s not just Atlanta. “You are seeing crime rise throughout our state,” Sen. Thompson pointed out.
Reducing crime is easier said than done, but Sen. Thompson expects the legislature to begin by exploring the tools and support law enforcement officers need to more effectively patrol the streets. Moreover, he believes that state leaders “may be looking at some opportunities for indemnification for people in certain circumstances,” although it isn’t clear what form such a measure might take at this juncture.
Promoting public health and safety are vital considerations for the legislature, but so is maintaining a thriving business environment. Just recently, Area Development named Georgia the “top state for doing business” for the eighth year in a row, and Georgia boasts an unemployment rate of 3.2 percent.
“Why is it that Georgia is the number one place to do business,” Rep. Setzler rhetorically asked. “It’s because we have an environment where people can enjoy a great quality of life and [Georgia has] sound governance.” Even so, Rep. Setzler admits that legislators cannot get complacent. As Georgia grows and evolves, lawmakers will need to continually work to foster a welcoming business environment.
While there are a host of issues impacting our economic status, both Rep. Setzler and Sen. Thompson quickly pointed to infrastructure. Traffic has long been a scourge in the metro area. In 2020, a study found that Atlanta had the 9th worst traffic congestion delays in the country, and it looks to worsen as Georgia grows—impacting our daily commutes and even entire industries like shipping. Lawmakers need to study methods to build capacity and provide more options within our transportation system to set Georgia up for success well into the future.
Yet that’s only one of many needed approaches, and Sen. Thompson was clear on how to promote a healthier economy. The legislature needs to cut the income tax rate and reduce red tape. As he sees it, “we have our private sector fighting against government” as it struggles to survive against an onslaught of burdensome and misguided regulations. Thankfully, the legislature is sure to consider efforts to reduce barriers to employment in 2022.
Time will tell how these endeavors will play out and how long session will run. With campaign season on the horizon, some may be looking to end session earlier than normal, but both Rep. Setzler and Sen. Thompson say not so fast.
As Sen. Thompson put it, they should first focus on “doing the people’s business.” Between the COVID-19, public safety and jobs, they have a lot on their hands.
Marc Hyden is the director of state government affairs at the R Street Institute, and he is a long-time Georgia resident. You can follow him on Twitter at @marc_hyden.