FILE - Georgia House Speaker David Ralston

Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge Content Exchange

(The Center Square) – Boosting public safety and mental health are top priorities for House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, in the upcoming legislative session.

The 40-day session starts Monday. State lawmakers will return to the state Capitol in Atlanta to carve out new laws and the state's spending plans.

Ralston would like to spend more money on mental health and law enforcement. He cited a rising homicide rate in Atlanta and higher suicide rates among teenagers.

"Both public safety and mental health speak directly to the quality of life Georgians enjoy," Ralston said Thursday. "And they have a profound impact on our families, our communities and our economy."

Ralston announced in July his intent to file a $75 million proposal to increase law enforcement resources and jobs. On top of securing additional funding, Ralston said the House would put forth standalone legislation to improve mental health and reduce crime. Legislative proposals must be reviewed and approved in both chambers of the General Assembly before they can be sent to Gov. Brian Kemp for final approval.

Ralston's other priorities for 2022 include censoring critical race theory in schools and offering tax relief to Georgians. Ralston hinted Thursday at cutting income taxes but said he would announce more details next week.

Critical race theory also was on the legislative agenda of Republicans in many states in 2021. The theory is centered around the idea that race is a social construct used to oppress people of color. It was developed by legal scholars in the late 1970s and 1980s and concludes racism in America is systemic.

"Well, the broad goal is to make sure that parents feel like they're in control of their children's lives," Ralston said. "This whole topic includes not only CRT, but many of the other alternative notions of history and other things that are being discussed if not taught now."

Republicans in the Senate also have announced plans to block parts of critical race theory from being taught in K-12 schools.

Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan plans to push a proposal to give tax breaks to Georgians who donate money to local law enforcement agencies. A tax incentive to encourage and improve foster parenting is another top priority for Duncan. He also told reporters Wednesday he would like to see corrections officers get a pay raise.

Ralston said prosecutors and others in the judicial system, especially those in the accountability courts, should be at the top of the list for pay raises this year.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan, R-Carrollton, said his priorities include protecting personal data, free speech on social media platforms and workforce development.

Georgians also can expect to see the ever-recurring proposals for legalizing gambling. Ralston said there is a greater appetite for legalizing betting or gaming in the state.

"Maybe it's time that we just we asked the question of Georgians whether they want to expand gaming, and if they say yes, then we sit down and decide what form it will take," Ralston said. "Whether it's going to be sports betting, whether it be horses or destination resorts, that kind of thing."

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