Close to 100 students from the School of Public and International Affairs from the University of Georgia gathered in a conference room in Atlanta to listen and learn about the Georgia legislative outlook for 2017.
On the 52nd floor of Troutman Sanders LLP in the heart of Atlanta, David Ralston, the Georgia Speaker of the House, led a conversation alongside UGA political science professor Charles Bullock, discussed what he anticipates for the 2017-2018 legislative session.
In a fast-paced conversation in a short amount of time, Bullock and Ralston covered everything from the repeal of the Affordable Care Act to potential casino gambling in Georgia.
Ralston explained how the discussion surrounding casino gambling unfolded over the years, culminating in a bill that stalled during the last session.
In 2016, House Resolution 807 and House Bill 677, which would have laid the groundwork to legalize gambling in the state as a method to fund the HOPE Scholarship Program, failed to cross over to the Senate by the 30th legislative day, effectively killing them.
On Crossover Day, Ralston postponed the vote on both pieces legislation, preventing them from moving forward through the legislature.
In regards to renewed efforts to legalize casino gambling, Ralston listed off factors that would have to be taken into account when legalizing gambling and establishing casinos, including where the casinos would be located as well as the regulation and tax on them.
"It'll be a high priority issue," he said.
In new bills Senate Bill 79 and House Bill 158, look to establish a Georgia Gambling Commission and authorize licensing for up to two destination resorts in Georgia.
Ralston briefly discussed the failure of Amendment 1, which would have established Opportunity School Districts. Ralston said he supports the idea of a scaled-down version of the Opportunity School District and hopes that a newer version will pass this session.
On the topic of Obamacare, Ralston said he hopes that the U.S. Congress has a replacement plan ready to go when it is expected to repeal the healthcare act, but that states will also have a say in the new plan.
"I strongly believe Georgia knows how to make a healthcare plan for Georgia better than Washington does," he said.
Another prominent, although shortly discussed, topic Ralston covered was campus carry. Following Gov. Nathan Deal's veto of House Bill 859 last year, which would have allowed students to carry firearms on college campuses, the Speaker said he thinks the proposition is coming back.
A bill proposing allowing guns on college campuses has appeared every year since 2013, with last year's bill making it the further than any other campus carry bill.
Ralston said he hopes to address the concerns raised over the bill, which saw state-wide protest throughout its journey in the legislature, and pass it this year.
Among other topics, Ralston also entertained Bullock's idea of a restructured system for runoff elections, which he notes may remedy often low voter turnout.
Bullock asked the Speaker about Maine's new "instant runoff voting" system, which asks voters to rank their choices for each candidate positon. Under the system, should a runoff be needed, the last-place candidates are removed through rounds of tabulation until the candidate with the most votes in the final round is elected.
"I don't think we've ever followed Maine before," Ralston joked, saying he would be open to the idea. At the same time, the Speaker defended the ease of voting in Georgia.
"We have made it so easy to vote in Georgia. There is no reason not to vote," he said, citing opportunities such as early voting and write-ins. "We made it easy, and at some point we expect citizens to make an effort to go vote."
There are multiple bills in both the House and Senate currently that deal with election reform, from changing the dates of advanced voting and runoffs to changes in candidates being noted as incumbents on ballots to extending voter registration opportunities.