ATLANTA - Gov. Brian Kemp delivered his State of the State address Thursday, touching upon the unprecedented events in 2020 that have impacted Georgia, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the economy, and protests over racial inequality.
Here is a full copy of his planned speech:
Lieutenant Governor Duncan, Speaker Ralston, Speaker Pro Tem Jones, members of the General Assembly, Chief Justice Melton, Chief Judge McFadden, and my fellow
Georgians: In my first State of the State address, I talked about building on a sure
foundation. We applauded the leadership of Governors Perdue and Deal who guided our
state through difficult storms. I extended my gratitude to the Georgia General Assembly,
who helped pour the concrete with key investments in education and economic
During that first address, which quite honestly, seems like an eternity ago,
I retold the famous parable of two builders: one who built a beach house and the other
who picked a better lot on higher, more stable ground. The rains came. The floodwaters
rose, and the house built on a sure, solid foundation weathered the storm. And then last
year, I talked about our house plans – the blueprint for a safer, stronger Georgia. Each
side of the structure protected those who lived inside; windows faced the future; and a
front door, open for those who were looking for safety, opportunity, and a better
One year ago, I had no idea what we would experience in 2020 – what we would endure, the storms we would face. One year ago, our economy was growing at a rapid pace, with unemployment the lowest in the state’s history. We had full faith and confidence that our best days were still to come.
When I stood at this rostrum on January 16th, 2020, I didn't know that a deadly, global
pandemic was on the horizon. We didn’t know that businesses would be shuttered,
unemployment would skyrocket, and opportunity would slow under the weight of
We didn’t know that our prosperity and our economy would be undermined at the same
time that our health and well-being was threatened. We didn’t know all of the challenges
ahead; all of the impossible decisions to make; all of the struggle, pain, and grief. My
family didn’t know that we would have to say goodbye to Harrison Deal, the love of
Lucy’s life, like a brother to Jarrett and Amy Porter, and a son we never had to Marty
and me. We didn’t know that political division would generate ridiculous and harmful
conspiracies, lawlessness, and death. Friends, standing here 12 months ago, I had no
idea that 2020 would present more challenges than any year in my lifetime.
There is no doubt that this virus has impacted all of us beyond what we could ever have
imagined. Too many families are now missing loved ones – a heartbreaking, devastating
loss that I know many Georgians are still grieving today. And at this time, I’d like to
observe a moment of silence to honor the life of every Georgian, every American, taken
from us too soon by COVID-19. Those great Georgians may be gone, but they will not be forgotten. We will win this fight against COVID-19 and their legacies will live on for
generations to come.
In Georgia, our people are the foundation. Despite incredible loss and unprecedented
challenges, Georgia is still standing. Our house, built on a sure foundation, survived the
storm. This state, while battered, is not broken. A better, brighter future is right around
the corner. Yes, we still have challenges ahead, a virus to beat, an economy to rebuild
and restore. But my fellow Georgians, the State of the State is resilient, and we will
As you know, agriculture is Georgia’s oldest and largest industry, supporting nearly
400,000 jobs and $76 billion in economic impact throughout the Peach State. While we
often take these hardworking Georgians for granted, we were reminded of their
importance in the wake of Hurricane Michael. With winds topping 70 miles per hour,
this storm destroyed thousands of acres of pecans, cotton, and timber; leveling homes,
storefronts, and structures; literally upending lives and livelihoods. When the dust
settled, I traveled down to Southwest Georgia to talk with local farmers and support the
state’s recovery efforts. I remember many conversations while I was there, and most of
them went roughly the same way. These families were facing the destruction of their
livelihoods, with bills piling up and federal assistance far away. I would always ask how
they would move forward. Would they be able to continue feeding, clothing, and
producing for our state – and the world? Nearly every person said they would clear the
fields, repair what they could, and start planting.
As we begin a new year, a new legislative session, there are some who want to look to the past, assign blame, settle old scores, and relive and relitigate 2020. Today, I think we
should take the advice of those wise farmers. Let’s clear the fields and start planting.
While Jesus was a carpenter like his Dad, he had some timeless wisdom on farming and
life. In Matthew 13, Jesus shares a few best practices with the crowd that had gathered:
"A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the
path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have
much soil. It sprang up quickly because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up,
the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell
among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still, other seed fell on good soil,
where it produced a crop — a 100, 60, or 30 times what was sown. Whoever
has ears, let them hear."
This parable, told over 2,000 years ago, is just as relevant today. A good harvest starts
with good soil. Our future as a state – for decades or more – will be determined by the
decisions we make in the days to come. To ensure a strong harvest in the years ahead,
our top priority over the next few months must be to continue protecting both lives –
and livelihoods – against COVID-19.
From the beginning of this pandemic, I stressed the need to balance those
two priorities: the health and wellbeing of our people, and their ability to put food on the
table for them and their families. In March and April of 2020, that was not easy. Many
problems we confronted as a state led to long days and sleepless nights. It seems like
forever ago, but in the early days of our fight against COVID-19, protecting lives was a
minute by minute battle against a virus we knew little about.
Our first test was in Albany and the southwest part of our state. A few super-spreader
events led to the first surge in virus cases and hospitalizations throughout the region.
The local health care infrastructure was being strained to the breaking point, and
community spread of the virus was rampant. In response, the state quickly deployed
National Guard infection control teams to local nursing homes, contracted with
additional hospital staff to aid local frontline health care workers, and dispatched a
state-purchased mobile hospital unit to help with patient overflow. We stood up
additional bed capacity and purchased critical PPE supplies and ventilators to aid in the
critical care of infected Georgians. Alongside local leaders, we made every resource
available and worked tirelessly to provide life-saving medical treatment, protect the
most vulnerable, and flatten the curve.
The local community stepped up to the plate and bought into what local and state
leaders asked them to do – they wore a mask, practiced social distancing, avoided large
crowds, and followed public health guidance. The community – not the government –
flattened the curve and slowed the spread of COVID-19. And while every part of our
state continues to see higher cases, more hospitalizations, and more deaths at the hands of this virus, the Dougherty County community has shown what is possible when we all work together and choose to be a part of the solution instead of part of the problem.
Here with us today is a gentleman who led a team of health care heroes through some of the worst this virus has thrown at our state. During one of the darkest times in recent
memory, Scott Steiner and the hardworking Georgians at Phoebe Putney Health System
held the line. They worked with local community partners to educate the public when so
much about this virus was unknown. They provided life-saving treatment to thousands
of their neighbors, friends, and coworkers, and like so many nurses, doctors, and health
care professionals across the state, the Phoebe team worked long hours under
extraordinary circumstances – not just because it was their job, but because they have a
deep, abiding passion for their work. Thank you, Scott, and thank you to your team for
your dedication and service to the people of our state!
Learning from Albany, as we moved into the summer months, the state launched
a strategic plan to address the effects of COVID-19 and its impacts on our health care
infrastructure and communities as a whole. Thanks to help from our federal partners,
the state purchased four mobile hospital units to respond to increased hospitalizations
in real-time. Working with the General Assembly and Grady Memorial Hospital, we
ramped up the Georgia Coordinating Center to allow for statewide coordination of
hospital capacity, and we brought in additional bed capacity at the Georgia World
Congress Center, allowing metro-Atlanta hospitals the ability to quickly adapt to
changing conditions on the ground. We kept hospitals open, accepting patients, and
keeping Georgians healthy.
Like every other state across the country, the pandemic introduced the dire need for
rapid, accurate, and widely available testing – an infrastructure the Department of Public Health literally created from scratch. But we persevered through significant
supply chain challenges. We brought in the Georgia National Guard and contracted with
Augusta University to boost testing, set up mega sites and drive-thru testing operations,
and engage hard-to-reach communities to help identify cases and slow the spread of the
As of today, there have been a staggering 5.7 million tests administered in the state of
Georgia. As we all know, COVID-19 has hit our most vulnerable Georgians the hardest,
especially those residing and working in nursing homes. From the start of the pandemic,
Dr. Toomey and our team recognized that nursing homes – and their residents and staff
– would be among the toughest challenges we faced. The state sprang into action and
was the first in the nation to utilize National Guard infection control strike teams to
conduct missions in facilities in nearly every community. All told, the Guard’s 65
infection control teams conducted missions in more than 2,400 facilities.
Speaking of the National Guard, I’d like to pause here for a moment and recognize their
truly remarkable efforts throughout this pandemic. In addition to spearheading our
early testing and infection control efforts, our very own men and women in uniform also
helped Atlanta-area schools deliver 948,000 meals to children who were out of the
classroom throughout the spring and summer of 2020. Guard members assisted
overwhelmed food banks from Savannah to Atlanta and answered the call to help keep
our communities safe. At this time, I’d like to thank General Tom Carden and every
Georgian serving in the Georgia National Guard for their tireless work on behalf of our
state and nation.
The state prioritized the fight against COVID-19 in two other specific areas: PPE
procurement and additional health care personnel staffing. Activating the Georgia
Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency’s statewide network, the state
secured entire warehouses of PPE from hundreds of vendors which was immediately
sent to hospitals, nursing homes, doctors’ offices, and other health care providers on the
frontlines. Because of their around-the-clock efforts, under the leadership of former
Director Homer Bryson and Director Chris Stallings, the state now has at least an 80-
day supply of all critical PPE categories.
As our hospitals and nursing homes confront the fiercest part of this pandemic, the
frontline health care workers in these facilities have literally faced hell on earth. They’ve
worked under brutal conditions, for multiple shifts, over months now. There’s no doubt
that Georgia’s health care heroes have done their job with a grit and determination that
has inspired 11 million Georgians. Never has it been clearer how important your job is
and how vital all of you are to keeping our state healthy and prosperous. Thank you for
sacrificing your time with loved ones. Thank you for going above and beyond each and
To lend a hand to these heroes, the state has spared no expense. Through the end of
2020, Georgia allocated $250 million in CARES Act funds to augment staff at nursing
homes and hospitals across the state with an additional 70 million planned thru early
March. These nurses and health care professionals have been absolutely vital to our
battle against COVID-19, often serving as a lifeline for these facilities and patients. I
want to thank them for their willingness to do so.
These have been dark times for our state, for our country, and for the world. We have
overcome so much, and together we can now see the light at the end of this tunnel.
Thanks to the efforts of Operation Warp Speed, we have a miracle of modern science
that is quickly being administered, with over 283,000 Georgians vaccinated as of
yesterday. We still have a long way to go, but we are making steady, significant progress.
This is certainly good news, but our fight is far from over. The pandemic is still infecting
and killing fellow Georgians and Americans. We must all continue wearing a mask,
practicing social distancing, washing our hands, and heeding the regulations of the
executive order still in place. But we also know that there are 283,000 reasons for hope
and optimism. We will get through this. We will get there, together.
It’s pretty common for us to refer to 2020 and the pandemic as a fight, or maybe even a
battle. I know it has certainly felt like one for many Georgians, myself included. And in
any fight or battle, victory or defeat is often determined by leadership. I have thanked
God countless times for sending Georgia a remarkable leader to see us through these
challenging moments. Because it is only through God’s grace and eternal wisdom that
we have Dr. Kathleen Toomey. If I recited Dr. Toomey’s resume, we’d be here all day:
Harvard-trained, decades of experience in epidemiology. On paper, no one would be
better prepared for the job of confronting a once-in-a-lifetime global pandemic, but the
resume does not live up to the woman all of us have seen at countless press conferences, interviews, and fly-around tours. Her knowledge is unmatched, her work ethic is unparalleled, and her passion for public health and serving the people of our state is nothing short of remarkable. Dr. Toomey has become a friend and someone I trust completely. God sent Georgia the right person at the right time. Doc, thanks for
Thanks to the partnership of both legislative chambers and the outstanding work of the
best economic development team in the country, led by Commissioner Pat Wilson,
Georgia’s economy was able to hold its own during 2020. In a year riddled with
economic hardship from coast to coast, Vice President Mike Pence said it best, "Georgia
helped lead the way back to a prosperous American economy." And if the first half of
the new fiscal year has been any indication, the Peach State is well-positioned to emerge from this dark period of economic crisis stronger and more prosperous than before.
For an unprecedented eighth consecutive year, Georgia earned the title of #1 State for
Business, affirming, and solidifying our status as the leading competitor for jobs and
investment right here in the United States and around the world. At a time in our
nation’s history when jobless claims have skyrocketed, our unemployment rate in
Georgia sits at 5.7 percent, well below the national average.
And in the midst of a global pandemic, Georgia’s economic development numbers have
shattered record after record. Since the start of Fiscal Year 2021, our Department of
Economic Development has announced the creation of more than 16,000 new jobs and
more than $6 billion in new investment, with more than half of those jobs going to communities outside the metro area. Whether it was Georgia-based Wincore Windows growing their operation by 100 jobs in Swainsboro; Nestle Purina doubling down on their investment in Hartwell by 130 jobs; or major brands like Papa Johns and Home Depot relocating their headquarters and expanding their footprint, creating thousands of jobs in the metro area; those numbers constitute a 40 percent increase in new jobs created and a 47 percent increase in new investments compared to the first six
months of F.Y. 20.
But what they represent is so much more than that. They represent decades of hard-fought battles, foresight, and strong, conservative leadership under this Gold Dome.
They serve as a beacon of hope to Georgians who had to worry about keeping food on
the table, or if their kids could build a career in their home state when the dust settles
from the pandemic. They show that rural Georgia – not just Atlanta – is ripe for
investment and opportunity, and they speak to the strength of our business community
– the hardworking Georgians who faced very long odds to stay in business and keep
their teams on the payroll.
I faced just a little criticism – from all sides – when we chose to safely and methodically
reopen the state. For news cycle after news cycle, it seemed like the only voices given a
megaphone were from the elites, those who could work from home long-term, and those
who had the resources to shelter in place for months on end. But the voices I heard were the voices of men and women from Bainbridge to Bolingbroke to Baldwin, who had
spent years building their business, creating jobs, sowing a harvest they hoped to one
day reap for themselves and their families literally days away from losing it all. I heard
their fear, the uncertainty, not knowing what tomorrow may hold, and it was familiar to
me. You see, as a small business owner in the construction industry during the Great
Recession, Marty and I had similar conversations together in our kitchen – living week
to week, day to day, hour to hour, like many other hardworking Georgians. It was not
uncommon for the guys on the job site working for me to have more money in their
pocket than I had in my bank account.
I can tell you those memories came to me often in the early days of the pandemic: the
phone calls, texts, and emails I received from folks holding out for a miracle. They
weren’t that different from the thoughts going through my head on more than one night
all those years ago. These hardworking Georgians were struggling, not because their
business was a failure or because their products or services were no longer needed. No,
they faced devastation because of a virus, through no fault of their own. While some disagreed with me, I know our decision to work with Dr. Toomey and her team to give these people a fighting chance – a glimmer of hope – meant everything to them. Salon, barbershop, restaurant owners, and so many more who sacrificed time and
resources to implement new, COVID-safe protocols in their stores when we reopened.
These new regulations upended their daily operations, but kept many from closing
stores, laying off workers, and losing businesses that sometimes had been in families
and communities for generations. Hundreds of thousands of waiters and waitresses,
contractors, hospitality and tourism workers, and farmers – the pandemic came for
them too. This virus took something precious away from each one of them, and not all of them ended up in the spotlight. My message to those great Georgians has been the same every day since we announced our measured reopening: your state hears you, your Governor hears you, and we have your back.
That decision allowed Georgia’s small business community to live to fight another day
and some of our largest companies – like Kia and Bridgestone – to have record success.
It has never been clearer that we must honor our commitment to the job creators in this
state. That commitment has held true these last 10 months, in communities rallying
around local businesses who overhauled to adhere to public health guidelines and keep
customers safe, and in the work done by leaders in both legislative chambers to make it
easier to stay in business in the era of COVID-19. You see, in the heat of the summer, when we were facing some of our toughest days in the fight with COVID, when access to testing was crucial, and the state struggled to meet demand for critical PPE, it was Georgia businesses – large and small – who stepped up to meet the moment. From craft breweries in Albany, to local mattress manufacturers in Rome, to a plastics business that began as a small startup in a garage in Newnan 13 years ago, our very own pitched in to build up the state’s stockpile, limit the need to compete with other states, and ensure our health care heroes had the resources they need to care for Georgia’s most vulnerable.
One of those businesses, America Knits, cut the ribbon to mark the official opening of
their facility in Swainsboro in late 2019 with 52 jobs in their community. Their ribbon
cutting heralded the return of American-made apparel manufacturing to Swainsboro,
more than 20 years after many cut-and-sew plants closed throughout the U.S. And of
course, it meant good jobs and more opportunities were on the way to hardworking
Georgians and their families. Like all of us seated here today, I’m sure no one on the
team at America Knits anticipated the COVID-19 pandemic and how hard it would hit
our economy, but when the pandemic hit, they didn’t slow down. They rolled up their
sleeves and Kept Choppin’.
These American heroes shifted their entire operation to begin producing masks and
gowns for frontline health care professionals, and while their products may not bear the
names of major brands, they caught the attention of those in high places, receiving FDA
approval in a matter of days to sew and send life-saving garments to our frontline
heroes. Steve Hawkins, the president of America Knits, joins us in the chamber today.
Steve, I know at this time last year, you could not have fathomed that your plant would
shift to 20-hour days, bring on more staff, and work harder than you thought possible to
fight a virus we knew so little about. You and your team’s commitment to that mission
represents the best of Georgia’s business community and reminds us all of what is
possible in rural Georgia. On behalf of all Georgians, thank you!
As state leaders, we knew we had to support these businesses as strongly as they were
supporting Georgia. That’s why I was proud to work alongside Speaker Ralston,
Lieutenant Governor Duncan, and leaders in both legislative chambers last session to
support the passage of a PPE tax credit to incentivize in-state production and ensure
that we aren’t forced to rely on anyone but our own Georgia Made entrepreneurs for critical supplies. That piece of legislation was exactly the type of common sense,
business-friendly policy that we should champion here in the #1 State for Business – to
stand alongside businesses who are working hard each and every day to provide for their employees and communities and leverage state programs to support their efforts.
That is why, as part of my legislative agenda this session, I am proposing a natural next step to the PPE Tax Credit by expanding the letter of the law to cover pharmaceutical and medical equipment manufacturers. Georgia is home to some of health care's strongest pillars with the CDC, several major health care systems, and premier medical research institutions like Augusta University and Emory. And as we look to a future on the other side of COVID-19, we should focus our efforts on planting more seeds in that good soil by spurring job creation from those industries that are critical to health care and building on Georgia’s momentum to become a leader in all sectors of the health care industry. We’ve learned many lessons as a result of COVID-19, and one that we learned early on is that we cannot waste time in bidding wars with other states or foreign
adversaries. No one nation should hold a monopoly on life-saving medicines and
medical supplies, and we should bring these critical industries and the jobs that come
with them back to America and here to Georgia.
Despite the challenges of 2020, I’m exceptionally proud of what we were able to
accomplish working together last year. For the first time in our state’s history, the
General Assembly enacted a Public Health State of Emergency, granting my office with
the flexibility and tools needed to lead our state through the COVID-19 crisis. I know
that decision was not made lightly, and I want to thank each of you for placing that trust
in me. Working alongside Chairman England, Chairman Tillery, and our state budget
director, Kelly Farr, we were able to make the difficult choices to balance our state
budget when the session reconvened last June. Through diligent work, we passed a
balanced budget that reflected our priorities: health care, public safety, education, and
economic opportunity. And while the media and politicians in California, New York, and
others spent their 2020 throwing stones in glass houses, here in Georgia, I’m proud to
report that, unlike them, the Peach State will not be facing budget cuts this year.
In fact, our careful planning and measured approach was rewarded in spades. When the
pandemic’s effect on our state’s revenue projections looked its worst, we worked closely
with Chairman England, Chairman Tillery, Speaker Ralston, Lieutenant Governor
Duncan, and the House and Senate budget offices to prepare for the worst. However,
thanks to the passage of the CARES Act, conservative budgeting, and our measured
reopening of Georgia’s economy, our rainy-day fund remains strong. Other states are
looking at further cuts to employees and essential services. For aid, they are now forced
to turn to a dysfunctional and distracted Washington, D.C. But because we acted swiftly
and early, the budgets my administration will propose in the coming days include no
new cuts to state agencies and departments, no furloughs, and no widespread layoffs of
state employees. And, I might add: no new taxes to pay for it all.
This sound fiscal management enabled Georgia to maintain our coveted AAA bond
rating, and we find ourselves in a position that many other states should envy as
economic experts point to Georgia’s ability to weather the economic fallout from
COVID-19 as better than most. But now, as we begin a new legislative session, our state
still faces headwinds due to uncertainty in the national and global markets, but it is our
job to till the earth, pass budgets that put hardworking Georgians first, and get ready for
Continuing to invest in soil ready to grow Georgia’s economy means we have to stay
laser-focused on promoting development in all 159 counties – not just our capital city.
This has been a top priority of mine since the campaign trail and for many under this
Gold Dome. We’ve delivered on those promises by championing pro-growth legislation
for rural Georgia and establishing the Rural Strike Team to bring local developers,
elected officials, and industry leaders together to bring projects of regional significance
to communities looking to grow, but this is no time to let up. We know that we can land
major investments and job creation in rural communities throughout Georgia, but we
also know that will not happen if we don’t invest heavily in the infrastructure and
resources necessary to encourage that growth.
Many of the economic, medical, and other challenges that are facing rural Georgia
cannot be fixed with a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach. These issues are best
addressed through targeted, innovative, public-private solutions that meet the needs of
specific communities, not just today or tomorrow, but five, 10, or 25 years down the
road. That’s why I have included in my budget nearly $40 million to establish a Rural
Innovation Fund to provide a readily available pool of resources that empowers rural
Georgia businesses and entrepreneurs to get started, expand, and thrive.
This pandemic highlighted many challenges for communities outside of metro Atlanta,
but maybe none more so than the critical need for high-speed internet access for better
health care and educational outcomes, for job opportunities, and something as simple as
keeping in touch with loved ones. That is why I’m proud to announce that we’re
including $20 million for this fiscal year and $10 million per year moving forward to
boost access to rural broadband grants so local leaders can continue a growing and vital
partnership with the private sector and quickly improve internet access for the people of
In a year where doctors, nurses, medical staff, public health workers, and other health
care professionals have shown themselves to be the best of Georgia and the best of
America, there is no question that we must direct every resource available to the
expansion of health care access in Georgia to our most vulnerable, to the families who
have seen their income cut, and to hardworking Georgians trying their best to make
ends meet. We’ve made great strides toward this goal already, passing and signing over
50 health care bills in the last two years to expand access, spur innovation, and cut costs for better coverage, including the Patients First Act. Georgia has one of the highest uninsured rates in the country, and many who are insured are struggling to pay for care.
In the midst of a pandemic, that is, quite honestly, unacceptable. More action is needed.
That is why my budget proposal for the coming Fiscal Year includes $76 million to
implement Georgia Pathways and Access to make health care accessible for the first
time to thousands and affordable for millions more by scaling back dependence on the
failed promises of healthcare.gov, giving low-income Georgians a hand up, and
increasing competition in the private sector to drive down costs.
We’ll also make use of state resources to shore up Georgia’s health care programs, with
$329 million for Medicaid and PeachCare to fund projected costs in the coming year.
When it comes to meaningful, innovative reforms in health care, Georgia is leading the
nation. We are putting our money where it truly matters. To plant the seeds that will
grow in our state for years to come, we must add important nutrients and strengthen
vital, life-saving programs and invest our resources in keeping Georgia healthy and
prosperous for generations to come.
Our oldest daughter, Jarrett, is in school at the University of Georgia to become a
teacher. Earlier this week, she actually started her student teaching assignment. Marty,
her sisters, and I are so proud that she has chosen this career path, and her passion for
educating has only strengthened my commitment to the teachers of our state.
The state was proactive and aggressive in easing the overwhelming challenges that faced teachers and administrators last year, including allocating $30 million to help ensure student connectivity, slashing the requirements on testing, allocating $19 million to support childcare for working parents, and providing over 8.3 million units of PPE to
school systems across our state. But the daunting task of teaching Georgia’s next
generation in the midst of COVID-19 has been anything but easy. So many educators
went the extra mile to help the children in their classroom who don't have the best home
life, or maybe it was to do whatever it took to make sure their kids had meals to last
them through the day. In a day and age where so much is thrown at those investing in
our children on the front lines, the additional burdens of remote learning, social
distancing, wearing a mask, adapting to the new normal honestly made educating
But the great men and women running Georgia's schools didn't miss a beat. From
principals, teachers, custodians, bus drivers, and support staff on down, their actions
have inspired us all. And today, I'm proud to announce that, working closely with State
School Superintendent Richard Woods, the state will provide additional support to
school system re-opening efforts, equating to a one-time supplement of $1,000 per
teacher and other employees. Richard Woods and his team have been tireless
champions for our schools, teachers, and students even before the pandemic, and I
appreciate his friendship and leadership. At this time, I’d like to ask those in the
Chamber and those joining us via livestream to join me in thanking our educators,
administrators, cafeteria workers, and school staff who faced COVID-19 with heart,
passion, and perseverance!
But ladies and gentlemen, I believe it is the responsibility of those serving under this
Gold Dome to send a clear message that we support our educators, students, and
parents. That’s why for this year’s amended budget, I am recommending $647 million to
restore funding to school systems across our state, fully fund enrollment growth, and
hold schools harmless for enrollment reductions – with $573 million allocated to
continue those efforts in next year’s budget as well. Those funds mean schools will be
able to prioritize our students’ safety, ensure quality instruction continues, and stand
with our educators in the months and years to come. In a year when other states may
face no other option but to slash education dollars, furlough teachers, and cut back on
essential student programs, Georgia is restoring funding to schools, backing our
teachers, and launching new initiatives to keep kids enrolled.
Like many families, our three daughters have had to get used to distance learning.
Having seen this firsthand as a dad, I think I speak for parents, students, and teachers
when I say that having class through a computer screen is leaving too many kids behind.
Experts in education and pediatrics have been sounding the alarm for months, and I
believe the toll the pandemic is taking on the next generation is reaching a crisis point.
These challenges are most concerning for our special-needs children whose educational
achievement, personal development, and emotional wellbeing have been severely
impacted. To prioritize assistance to these at-risk students and families, my office will be
working with the Department of Education to set aside $10 million in Governor’s
Emergency Education Relief funds to reimburse expenses parents and guardians have
incurred while providing a quality education to their loved ones during COVID-19.
Pandemic or not, it is my commitment that we will make every resource available to give
each student the opportunity to succeed.
As many of you have read in news reports over the last few months, COVID-19 has also
had a negative impact on enrollment in some of our colleges and universities. The
institutions hit the hardest have often been those serving minority students. With an
additional $5 million, a pilot program through the University System of Georgia
can keep up to 10,000 juniors and seniors with unmet financial obligations enrolled in
college. These hardworking Georgians have nearly crossed the finish line of their higher
education journey, and I believe the least we can do is ensure financial hardship at the
hands of COVID-19 does not stand in the way of achieving their dreams. The future
wellbeing of our state and any harvest we hope to enjoy in the years to come will be
determined by our shared commitment to education – to our students, parents,
teachers, and school staff. As your 83rd governor, that commitment will never waiver.
In addition to the pandemic, our country faced another crisis throughout the summer
and early fall of 2020. In the tragic deaths of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, the
entire nation witnessed injustice with our own eyes. I was proud to support the peaceful
protests that drew the world’s attention to these terrible acts, and those voices
demanded change to protect the lives of every Georgian regardless of race, creed, or
political preference. In a bipartisan way, leaders under this Gold Dome stood side by
side and answered the call. Together, we passed meaningful hate crimes legislation that
reaffirmed Georgia’s commitment to be a welcoming state that values the life of each
and every one of its citizens. I’d like to thank Speaker Ralston, Lieutenant Governor
Duncan, Dean Smyre, Chairman Efstration, Senator Cowsert, Senator Harold Jones,
and others for their work on this important issue. Oftentimes, the best of what is
accomplished in this building is achieved when we put politics aside and simply do what
is right. When I signed HB 426 into law last year, I called it a "sign of progress" and "a
milestone worth applauding," but we know – thanks to the example set for all of us by
titans like C.T Vivian and John Lewis – that our work is far from finished.
On May 5th, 2020, a viral video shocked the world. The horrific killing of Ahmaud
Arbery shook a Georgia community to its very core. We all felt anger, disbelief, and a
12 deep sorrow, but none more than Ahmaud’s family and loved ones. Ahmaud was the
victim of a vigilante-style of violence that has no place in our state. The deranged
behavior that led to this tragedy was excused away because of an antiquated law that is
ripe for abuse and enables sinister, evil motives. That’s why my administration plans
to introduce significant reforms to our state’s citizen’s arrest statute, and working with
legislative leaders and members of both parties, I believe that we can take another step
toward a better, safer, and more just future for our state. We can again send a clear
message: Georgia is a state that protects all of its people and fights injustice wherever it
Peaceful demonstrations across our state in honor of Ahmaud, George Floyd, and others were made possible by our dedicated men and women in law enforcement. They worked long hours to protect protestors and to ensure, if anyone had a different motive
involving violence, that our communities and streets remained safe. Unfortunately,
many of our law enforcement personnel were faced with events that turned destructive
throughout the summer months of 2020. I don’t believe it’s ever been more dangerous
or more challenging to wear a law enforcement uniform, but police officers across our
state have made us proud. Our state cannot prosper or reap a good harvest without safe
communities, safe streets, and safe families. In a day and age where many vilify the men and women who protect our communities each and every day, my message is clear: in Georgia, as long as I’m governor, we back the blue!
Atlanta Police Officer Max Brewer is an 18-year law enforcement veteran and a self-described "Motor Man for Life," and serves in the Atlanta Police Motorcycle Unit. On
Saturday, May 30th, he was on duty in the city of Atlanta on the corner of Marietta and
Spring Streets, assisting in traffic flow and ensuring demonstrators were kept safe.
Around 10:30 that night, Officer Brewer was struck by a drunk maniac on an ATV and
suffered serious, life-threatening injuries. Going in and out of consciousness and losing
a significant amount of blood, Officer Brewer’s need was critical. The call went out for
help. The closest available assistance was a Georgia National Guard unit under the
leadership of Sergeant First Class Jason Rustin. Sergeant Rustin’s team responded
quickly to the scene, applying a tourniquet to Officer Brewer’s leg and providing lifesaving medical treatment at a moment’s notice. The actions of Sergeant Rustin and his fellow Georgia Guardsmen literally saved Officer Brewer’s life. Once stable, but in
critical condition, Max was transported by the Guard unit to Grady where health care
heroes continued to save his legs and his life. These two gentlemen, and countless other first responders, answered the call of duty in 2020. Officer Brewer wanted to join us today, but is still receiving treatment for his injuries. Both Sergeant Rustin and Officer
Brewer went above and beyond that call, and for that, my family and our state are
incredibly grateful. Today, Sergeant Rustin is in the chamber with us. Thank you both!
As state leaders, we spend a lot of time talking about Georgia’s status as the best place in the country to live, work, and raise a family. We talk about it because, for so many
Georgians, that phrase reflects the reality of how blessed we are to live in the Peach
State. Georgia is rich with good soil, but it is our job to weed out the evils which seek to
steal that promise from all those who call our state home. It is abundantly clear that no
industry embodies that theft of innocence, childhood, and opportunity more than the sinister enterprise of human trafficking. During our first days in office, we hit the
ground running to crack down on traffickers, care for victims, and eradicate modern-day
slavery in our state. And before I go any further, let me just say this: I don’t think any
First Lady in the country has done more to end human trafficking than our First Lady,
Marty Kemp, and the people of Georgia – and myself included – are lucky to have her.
Marty and the GRACE Commission have done incredible work these first two years.
Implementing statewide training programs so Georgians know the signs and how to
report instances of human trafficking; passing bi-partisan, meaningful legislation that
toughens penalties for those who participate in the sale of a person’s innocence for
profit; and working with organizations on the front lines in communities throughout
Georgia to ensure survivors of human trafficking find their voice and transition back
into society, but, as Marty and all those who are fighting tooth and nail to end that
industry will tell you, there is far more work to be done.
On the heels of a year that sowed division along party lines more than any in recent
history, I am asking the members of the General Assembly to unite once more. Let’s
build on the great work done by the GRACE Commission by implementing more
training programs that equip Georgians to recognize and prevent instances of sex
slavery. Let’s make common-sense reforms to our laws, so survivors seeking a name
change to build a new life no longer have to take out an ad in the paper that puts their
safety at risk, and let’s strengthen our statutes to add a civil remedy that allows victims
to seek court action against their traffickers or those who knowingly aided in trafficking.
There is no shortage of issues on policy or politics to debate this year, but taking
common-sense steps to keep people safe and bring an end to modern-day slavery is a
goal that each of us can work together to achieve. You see, there is so much more that
unites us than divides us. And working together, we can continue taking necessary,
bipartisan action to champion the voices of the vulnerable in Georgia; protect our
children; implement adoption reforms that make it easier to put them in safe, loving
homes; and ultimately, secure the promise of Georgia for generations to come.
As I come before you today, my memories of 2020 will not just be the struggles, the
many challenges I spoke about today, the countless tough decisions, or the sleepless
nights. Like many of you, I will remember time spent with my family that otherwise
would not have been possible. I will remember standing shoulder to shoulder – well, six
feet apart – with the best private sector, political, and civic leaders in our state to face a
once in a lifetime pandemic. I will remember my travels across the state to visit Georgia
companies and workers who proved innovation and hard work are the backbone of our
economy and wellbeing as a people. And I will remember the countless sacrifices and
hardships faced by the people of our state and how we pulled through, how we
weathered the storm, how we emerged resilient and stronger than ever.
The reason you build a house with a strong foundation is not for the good times, not for
the sunny days. You do it to weather the storm when times get tough. I spent my
summers working on a farm. It’s hot. It’s hard work, but it’s also rewarding. Watching
the seeds you planted, grow over the days, weeks, and months – literally enjoying
the fruits of your labor. I know that many in this room, and those watching, are worn
out, tired, and burdened. It’s a New Year, but it all feels the same. There is no doubt that
this "new normal" isn’t really normal, and frankly, it's not clear when things will return
to business as usual. But my fellow Georgians, we have the opportunity – and
responsibility – to make strategic decisions now that will impact generations to come.
We have the opportunity to act and to accomplish what we were sent here to do.
In five years, 10 years, or 20 years, we can look back and tell our kids, grandkids,
and their kids that we invested in health care, education, and the safety of our
communities. We upheld our sworn oath and stood up for what was right, even when it
wasn’t popular. We prioritized jobs and prosperity in all parts of our state. We
championed legislation to make our state a more welcoming place to live, work, and
raise a family. We protected the lives – and livelihoods – of what makes Georgia great:
It’s time to put our differences aside put 2020 in the rearview. Let’s stand together as
Georgians and clear the destruction caused by the storms of life. Let’s clear away the
conspiracy theories and the division. Let’s focus on the bountiful harvests to come. Let’s
find the good soil together and start planting. May God bless you, and may God continue
to bless the Great State of Georgia. Thank you!