Georgia State Rep. Stacey Evans (D – Smyrna) –
There are many things to reflect on since this legislative session has come to a close. There has been much talk about it being a welcome change to how the General Assembly has done business in recent years.
It was different. In more than one instance, Democrats and Republicans took the harder road and worked together despite the often shrill noise coming from each extreme of their respective parties. The state is better because of this.
Most of these instances were well covered. A bipartisan effort succeeded in making sure a hasty passage of a Religious Freedoms bill wouldn’t set Georgia up to reel as Indiana did for not including non-discrimination language.
A bipartisan effort sent a referendum that would allow states to intervene to help chronically failing schools to voters.
And it took a bipartisan effort to pass a long anticipated and necessary investment in transportation and transit.
The harsh reality, I fear, is that this may be a fluke. Next year’s session will be in the midst of a presidential election primary. Legislators will retreat to their respective wings to figure out how to out-fox the other in the legislature and under significant political pressure even the best intentioned of us will end up participating in this.
Don’t get me wrong. Campaigning is necessary. I am a proud Democrat, and think this state would be better served with a Democratic majority. And I will be doing my share to move our party toward that end. But campaigns have their place. That place is not inside the halls and chambers during those 40 non-consecutive days – whether it’s an election year or not.
There’s simply too much to do to make sure the work we’ve done during this year and in previous years is built upon.
Next year we will ostensibly be rewriting the K-12 funding formula. We will debate the role of limited casino gambling in funding education. We will undoubtedly revisit the constitutional problems with the Religious Freedoms Restoration Act. And hopefully, we will be working together to make sure HOPE Grants for technical colleges once again cover full tuition.
These are big issues that should not and cannot get caught up in partisan politics.
Our K-12 funding formula is severely outdated.
An influx in dollars could restore Georgia’s prize jewel, the HOPE program, to its original goal of a full merit based scholarship.
The fallout in Indiana after they passed RFRA without a non-discrimination clause was swift and real; we have to examine that without a partisan lens. As shown in Indiana and in Georgia, businesses will not tolerate operating in a state that is perceived as harboring discrimination.
And our technical college system has seen a harsh decline in tuition dollars since the changes to the HOPE Grant program. We can attract all the business we want to our state, but unless we restore the HOPE Grant program, we are contributing to a skills gap that deters businesses in the first place!
These are real problems with real solutions. And we saw real problems get the attention they deserved this session. As we all go back to our districts and tell our constituents about how those problems were addressed, I hope we will commit to them that we will do this next year, when it is harder.
This legislative session was different. And next year’s can be too, but only if we keep the campaigns outside. If they’re allowed inside, addressing next year’s problems will be hard, and we will have conceded this year’s progress as being a simple fluke.