February 22, 2021 - Your Georgia General Assembly will begin its seventh week of the 2021 legislative session. By the end of the week, we completed legislative day 19 and are moving closer to the halfway point of the 40-day session which will be this Monday.

During the 2020 national elections, many issues of voter discontent with how the Secretary of State was running elections made their way to us in the Georgia General Assembly. Since the start of 2021 General Assembly, over a dozen pieces of legislation have been introduced and to better handle the legislation, the Speaker of the House of Representatives created the Special Committee on Election Integrity.

This has been an extremely judicious move by the Speaker in creating this new committee to review existing elections laws and rules. In addition, this special committee will be reviewing the information gleaned from the Governmental Affairs Committee’s hearings in December relative to testimony from citizens concerning improprieties in the November and December elections.

Several bills have been introduced to close security loopholes by requiring the printing of the name and designation of the precinct on the top of the ballot and requiring that Georgia elections ballots are embedded with a holographic security device or seal. These devices or seals will not be capable of identifying the elector who cast the ballot.

In addition, several more bills have been introduced dealing with the use of photo identification with all submitted ballots. This will require voters to present an official state photo identification, such as a driver’s license or official state identification, including date of birth, to vote by any method including mail-in ballots and voting-in-person. If that is not available, a verifiable photocopy can alternatively be presented.

Another bill would provide for uniformity to a three-week early voting period. The bill would set standards requiring all counties to hold early voting from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday for three weeks before the election, plus a weekend voting day set as the second Saturday before the election. It would allow counties to extend hours to 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. but would prohibit counties from holding early voting any other days.

The end result for all of us in the General Assembly, we are committed to reestablishing integrity and faith of the election system in Georgia. We know that elections are going to be close and want to ensure that every legal vote is properly counted.

One bill that I expect to see on the House floor shortly is legislation I introduced to collect a tax that is already on the books but just is not being collected. H.B. 317 deals with Vacation Rentals by Owner (VRBO) and other long-term accommodations advertised by third-party marketing organizations. This legislation will require that innkeepers collect and bill customers for all taxes levied or imposed by this legislation on transactions facilitated by any marketplace innkeeper. This clamping down on VRBOs and other short-term rental accommodations will even the playing field of our many innkeepers and hoteliers in the greater Savannah area as they try to keep up with pandemic losses.

We will return to the State Capitol on Monday, Feb. 22, for five days of session. I encourage you to contact me with your input and thoughts on proposed legislation or current events that may impact our community. I am in 226-A of the State Capitol. My office phone number is (404) 656-5115 and my email is ron.stephens@house.ga.gov. I look forward to continuing this session and serving all of you.

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