House Speaker Jon Burns speaks at an Atlanta Press Club event during his first session presiding over the House of Representatives. Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder
House Speaker Jon Burns defended the push to create oversight panels for local prosecutors, touted ongoing efforts to improve access to mental health services in Georgia and seemed to crack the door back open for sports betting this session in remarks at an Atlanta Press Club event Thursday.
This is Burns’ first legislative session as speaker, and he has taken the helm as a new lieutenant governor also presides across the building in the Senate. New leadership meant a slow start to the law-making under the Gold Dome and a relatively quiet session so far when compared to the raucous ones of recent years.
But this year’s session, which wraps up later this month, hasn’t been without conflict.
Proposals to create oversight panels for district attorneys have been bitterly debated in both chambers and sparked concerns that the measures are a response to Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ investigation into former President Donald Trump’s actions after the 2020 presidential election.
Burns denied any connection to the Fulton County special grand jury investigation, arguing the push for oversight predates Willis’ work. Proponents argue the option to remove wayward district attorneys outside of an election is needed when they neglect their duties.
“We just want them to adhere to the law and apply it evenly to every Georgian,” Burns said. “We just can’t throw out the rule of law because ‘I don’t like it.’ That’s just not how we do business in this state. If we do, there will be anarchy.”
He did not reference any specific issue but argued that those who disagree with a state law should work to change it rather than flaunt it.
Burns also signaled that it may be too soon to lower the curtain on this year’s push to legalize sports betting in Georgia. The issue had seemed doomed for this year after the Senate rejected two measures and Burns declined to call up a House bill for a vote on Crossover Day.
“Monday night may have not been the right time, best time for sports betting,” Burns said. “But you know, we have a 40-day session last time I checked, and we’re going to have a 40-day session this year.
“We don’t close the door on anything. We will continue to talk, we will continue to get educated, and I’ll continue to do what I’ve committed to doing and that’s listening to my members,” Burns said.
He said boosting the state’s pre-K program, which is funded by the lottery, would be an important benefit in his mind of legalizing sports betting.
Burns has also backed continued work on improving access to behavioral health care, which was a priority for his predecessor, the late Speaker David Ralston. A measure building on a bill that passed last year cleared the House last week and is now under consideration in the Senate.
Several elements of this year’s bill focus on identifying the gaps in Georgia’s workforce and crisis care network while assessing the dynamics that cause some people to cycle through the system, often ending up on the streets.
The results of those studies – which are due at the end of the year – will help shape a plan going into next year that Burns says needs to be affordable yet effective.
“One of my favorite sayings is Rome wasn’t built in a day, and we won’t accomplish everything that we want to accomplish – that we need to accomplish – when it comes to providing and supporting mental health for Georgians in one year,” Burns said.
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