Robertson: Update from the Capitol

Published 3:29 pm Monday, February 3, 2020

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The General Assembly is now just a little under a quarter way through the 2020 legislative session We have 31 more legislative days ahead of us and I anticipate the upcoming weeks to be eventful, as we begin to work towards resolving some of the state’s most unrelenting challenges.

Public safety, as I have mentioned before, will continue to be one of my top issues, as well as a priority of the General Assembly. It is imperative that we make sure every Georgian feels safe crossing the street, walking to their car, taking a stroll in their neighborhood and everywhere in between.

On Sunday, I was fortunate enough to speak further on these issues at the Public Safety Committee at the Georgia Municipal Association’s “Cities United Summit.” Gang violence is becoming a statewide epidemic and our local law enforcement and municipal leaders, while well-motivated, do not have the necessary level of resources and support needed to combat this issue. Gang violence and gang-affiliated criminal activity is affecting the state in record numbers and it will not go away unless we become proactive in our legislative measures.

The full extent of this issue, in terms of prevalence in our communities and the statistics of those affected, was elaborated during a joint meeting between the Senate Public Safety Committee and House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee. According to a national gang threat assessment conducted by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation in 2011, the state has more than 71,000 gang members, 30,000 affiliated members in prison or on parole, and more than 1,500 active gangs. The statistics speak for themselves – violent and criminal gang activity has become a rampant issue across the state and likewise, it is the number one area where law enforcement officers allocate their time and efforts. The state needs collective action between state, local and national law enforcement agencies, but in order to do so, we must provide greater protections for those who risk their lives for us every day.

One legislative measure that I have sponsored to do so is Senate Bill 249. SB 249 would increase the amount of monthly dues paid to the Peace Officers’ Annuity and Benefit Fund, increasing the monthly benefits allowed upon retirement. In addition to sacrificing their lives every day, our public service officers far too often have to make sacrifices regarding their personal allowances. Making sure rent is paid on time takes precedence over allocating money for retirement. Our law enforcement officers serve to better the lives of Georgians and create a safer future. For all they give, our officers deserve, in the simplest terms, the chance at an equally secure future.

As you may have heard, the state budget continues to be a topic of conversation. I have been vocal in my opinions and professional experience as it relates to the needs of Public Safety, the Department of Behavioral Health and Disability Disorders and the Department of Family and Children Services. Passing a balanced budget is our only constitutional mandate, and we must make difficult decisions when our state has less revenues than projected.  However, I firmly believe we do not need to cut the budgets of these important departments that serve the most vulnerable among of us. The Governor’s proposed budget is being discussed in committee meetings and we are working diligently to find a way to ensure that Georgia’s best days are still ahead of us.

Georgia’s efforts to combat public safety issues, around the board, have seen a lot of motion this week, but my work is far from over. In both rural and urban Georgia, citizens have expressed their anxieties on issues ranging from healthcare to education to public safety. It is my duty as your state senator to make sure you are able to gain greater confidence in our state and our communities, and I will work tirelessly to make sure that goal is achieved.