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Education funding, runoffs, and abortion likely to take center stage as legislative session begins

State Senator Mike Dugan (R-Carrollton)
Georgia Senate
State Senator Mike Dugan (R-Carrollton) chairs a Senate study committee on education funding.

One of the major issues facing Georgia legislators during the session that begins next week is how public schools in the state are funded.

The Quality Basic Education Act was implemented in 1986 and dictates how state revenues are divided among 180 school districts, but many claim the formula is outdated, written before digital devices were a staple and before mental health issues spiraled.

State Senator Mike Dugan chairs a study committee considering changes. He says he expects something to happen but is unsure whether it will be completed during this session. Prior attempts have been snagged for several reasons: The formula is complicated; the state’s diverse school districts — urban, suburban, rural, rich, poor — have competing or at least differing needs; and the cost of meeting those needs, rather than shifting money between them, could be large. The last major effort, undertaken by Governor Nathan Deal in 2015, brought together a panel of more than 30 lawmakers, educators and experts to study the formula and recommend changes.
The commission issued an 86 page report which led to no significant action.

State lawmakers are also expected to undertake another round of legislation involving abortion. State law now restricts doctors from performing abortion services after about six weeks of gestation. But state law doesn’t clearly restrict women who want abortions from obtaining abortion medication themselves. One detail expected to get a look from legislators is the ability of women to receive abortive drugs in the mail or via a courier. The issue was taken up last year, but a vote was never taken. At the time, opponents of the bill spoke against the measure saying it would actually harm women by giving them fewer options before a fetal heartbeat is detected.

The fight over how Georgia conducts runoff elections is also expected to be in the spotlight during the legislative session.

Georgia is unusual in requiring a runoff whenever candidates fall short of a majority. No other state requires runoffs after both primary and general elections, and only two other states — Louisiana and Mississippi — call for runoffs after general elections.

That provision could be changed by the Republican-run General Assembly during this year’s legislative session after a third straight runoff win by Democrats last month, when U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock defeated Republican Herschel Walker. The state’s top elections official, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, called on legislators last month to make changes to the state’s runoff laws, citing the extra stresses that runoffs place on already-beleaguered county elections offices.

Some legislators, however, say they see value in keeping Georgia’s runoffs because they force candidates to win a majority and prevent Libertarian Party candidates from hurting the chances of other candidates. And positions on the runoff system do not fall exclusively along party lines. Hartwell Republican Alan Powell says he prefers keeping the runoff to prevent third party candidates from altering outcomes. Democrat James Beverly says he’ll be cautious about proposals to change the law.

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