Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan praised this year’s legislative session as a successful one where “policy over politics” was the name of the game in passing laws focused on education, health care and technology.
Duncan made the comments April 16 during a 15-minute speech at a Dunwoody Perimeter Chamber of Commerce luncheon held at the Atlanta Marriott Perimeter Center hotel with approximately 30 people attending.
Duncan did not mention in his comments to the crowd the controversial House Bill 481 bill, known as the “heartbeat bill,” that was approved this year and essentially bans abortion in the state. In a brief interview, he said he was proud of how the Senate handled the emotional debate. The governor has yet to sign the bill into law and Duncan did not know when that may be.
“Look, it’s a personal issue. It’s a personal issue for me, it’s a personal issue for the folks who voted against it,” Duncan said.
The ACLU of Georgia has already stated they plan to sue the state if Kemp does sign the bill into law.
“We’ll see how that plays out. I’m personally in favor of the measure,” he said. “I’ve got three beautiful kids I view as complete miracle from God ant that’s the lens I look through.”
During his talk, Duncan said he kept his focus on shepherding good law through the General Assembly.
“I get policy, and I despise politics,” Duncan said. “I’m a policy over politics person.”
He said Gov. Brian Kemp is the same way and “what you see is what you get” in dealings with the governor who, he said, would tell a person the same thing in private that he would tell them in public on any kind of legislation.
“Although we may not always agree on policy, we agree that being honest and up front is the best way to start,” Duncan said.
Duncan, who lives in Cumming in Forsyth County, said one of his main goals is to make Georgia the “technology capital of the East Coast.” To do so, Duncan said, he wants to lead an effort to create an “ecosystem of talent” in the state.
Computer science classes offered at all high schools and integrating technology into education can help achieve this goal, he said. Much like the film industry has created an environment where talent can be found in Georgia for all areas of making a movie, so can Georgia do with technology, he said.
“I want technologists to come here, to train here, to start businesses here,” he said.
Duncan said he believed Georgia would also become a model for other states due to its passage of Senate Bill 106. The bill gives the governor the authority to seek Affordable Care Act and Medicaid waivers that, Duncan said, would allow “Georgia to create its own health care system.”
The bill only allows for limited Medicaid expansion for Georgians at 100 percent of the poverty level. For an individual, that’s about $12,000 a year. Full Medicaid expansion, as Democrats pushed for, includes adding those making 138 percent of the poverty level to Medicaid, or about $16,000 for an individual.
The new law will “redefine the definition of Medicaid,” Duncan said.
Legalizing growing and selling medical marijuana, signed into law by Kemp on April 17, was also a major milestone for the legislative session, Duncan said. The medical marijuana bill passed in 2015 gave people the right to use THC oil illnesses such as seizures, but they could only obtain the oil by crossing state lines to purchase it, thereby breaking federal law.
This bill closes that loophole by creating a limited, government-supervised industry to grow medical marijuana, he said. The bill would not pave the way to recreational marijuana use because of how closely it will be supervised, Duncan said.
Duncan praised a rural broadband bill approved this session. The bill allows electric membership corporations to get into the broadband business and bring high speed internet to rural communities across the state. This will help boost economic development throughout the state and not just in metro Atlanta, he said.
Kemp’s $3,000 raise included in this year’s budget to all public teachers is a “great down payment” for the $5,000 raise he promised on the campaign trail, Duncan said, and was a successful bipartisan effort.