Burt Jones, a Republican from Jackson, joined the Georgia Senate in 2013.

On Monday, Jan. 11, the 156th Georgia General Assembly convened for the first day of session. We were sworn into office and welcomed 11 new members to the Senate Chamber.

Amidst the excitement and joys of being back under the Gold Dome to do the people’s work, there were noticeable changes to our normal processes and operations. Many of the COVID-19 safety protocols we implemented back in June of last year are still in place. Masks are required while in chamber, and staff and members have been asked to get tested twice a week.

Our meetings have switched to a virtual format and the Capitol, chambers and committee rooms have been reconfigured to allow for proper social distancing.

Despite these modifications to our normal way of conducting Senate business, most members have jumped right in and begun our work on behalf of the people that elected us to represent them. We are focused on reviewing the budgets for the Amended Fiscal Year 2021 and Fiscal Year 2022. While recent tax revenue announcements have been promising, we have not pushed the impacts of the pandemic to the side. We are working to pass a balanced, fiscally conservative budget with a strong rainy-day fund while also ensuring money is appropriated properly for further pandemic recovery.

Along with focusing on the budget and proper funding for additional COVID-19 relief, many of us are working with the Department of Public Health on additional resources for the vaccine rollout. By working with the state and local departments, we are hopeful that more vaccines will be made available to those who want them.

Vaccines are a critical step to getting COVID-19 under control but we must also look at supporting our health care workforce and systems and all front-line workers who are battling on behalf of all of us daily to save lives and flatten the curve.

While some of us are focused on critical issues like passing a balanced budget and providing COVID-19 relief to all Georgians, some started out the legislative session by breaking their promise of “always putting policy over politics.” To the detriment of the majority caucus, the entire Senate and Georgians who elected members to represent them at the Capitol, several members were stripped of their chairmanships. Instead of focusing on key issues, the lieutenant governor went against his own words to live by “policy over politics,” and made decisions based on payback and a difference in opinion on election reform.

While I am no longer serving as a committee chairman, I am not deterred and will continue my work on behalf of the citizens of Senate District 25 and all Georgians. Some may want division, turmoil and headline-catching petty behavior to continue in the majority caucus, but I would rather focus on patching up relationships and getting to work on critical issues like the budget, health care, broadband access and transportation. And though it might not be a popular opinion, we must look at election reform and how improper and illegal processes can be removed from Georgia’s voting laws.

It is unfortunate that some people can only see the small picture and focus on short-term gains like payback and retribution. I will never apologize for standing up for my constituents and asking for a review of a process that was clouded with allegations and wrongdoing. You didn’t elect me to always take the easy route and I will fight for what you have told me is important to you — secure, fraud-free elections.

Thank you for electing me to represent you once again, I do not take this position of public service lightly. I will continue to do the right thing and focus on policy over politics. After all, that is how we can all move forward and pass legislation that will have a positive impact on the lives of all Georgians.

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