By Jonathan Shipley

The Georgia State Legislature is scheduled to reconvene on Jan. 11 managing the COVID-19 pandemic and voting issues topping the agenda.

Although the first doses of vaccine have arrived in Georgia, state officials have projected that it will be summer before the general public has been inoculated against the virus.

Adjustments to the state budget are likely to take up many days of the session as the lawmakers try to adjust to the “new normal” and look at a post-pandemic future. Despite the new stimulus package approved by Congress, unemployment numbers increased in Georgia by 65% in the past week alone.

Election reform will be another hot button issue following a majority of Georgian’s voting for Democrat Joe Biden in a once “reliably red” state. Although the courts rejected baseless claims of voter fraud in Georgia, Republicans in the Senate stung by Nov. 3 losses are calling for an end to mass absentee voting, banning ballot drop boxes, and requiring those approved for absentee ballot voting to provide a photo ID.

Other issues that will cross the desks of legislators in the months ahead include expanding broadband internet access, economic growth in Georgia’s rural communities after the Economic Innovation Group said 50 percent of counties are considered “distressed,” and casino gambling is set to be revisited as lobbyists and lawmakers see dollar signs for Georgia’s economy as the pandemic goes on.

State Sen. Nan Orrock (D-36th District) will remain on the Appropriations, Finance, Health and Human Services, Higher Education, and Urban Affairs Committees. Last year she introduced, with Sen. Steve Hanson, the Georgia Death with Dignity Act (SB 291). The bill would allow eligible terminally-ill individuals the ability to request a prescription from their doctor to die peacefully in their sleep, should their suffering become too great.

State Rep. Park Cannon (D-58th District) was recently elected to the House Democratic Caucus as Secretary. A founding member of Georgia’s Equality Caucus, Cannon is dedicated to increasing LGBTQ representation in the public sector. She’s sponsored legislation calling for medically accurate HIV/AIDS instruction in sex education. A doula, she is also focusing her attention on reducing Georgia’s maternal mortality rate for Black women. In 2016, The Yale School of Public Health found the maternal death rate for Black women in Georgia is six times the rate for white women, nationally.

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.