Jan 7, 2022 - Politics

Speaker Ralston talks guns, gambling and 2022 session

Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, wearing a mask and dark suit, walks out of a conference room at the state Capitol
House Speaker David Ralston leaves a Thursday briefing with reporters. Photo: Thomas Wheatley/Axios

When advocates of casinos, horse-racing and other forms of betting head to the Georgia Capitol next week for the Georgia General Assembly, they might discover their odds have improved from previous years.

Why it matters: Though the governor holds chief executive power in Georgia, all legislation eventually passes through the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, where House Speaker David Ralston wields the gavel and the power.

  • Long viewed as a steady hand when it comes to policy, the Blue Ridge Republican will face pressure from some members seeking higher office or re-election to take up pet issues aimed at turning out their base.
  • “There is an appetite this session that I haven’t seen before to do something [about gambling],” Ralston told reporters at a presession briefing yesterday morning. “Maybe it’s time that 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.”

Policies to boost public safety and to strengthen Georgia’s mental health care system — attracting workers, adding beds to treat people with mental illness, and fine-tuning existing laws, for example — will be Ralston’s main focus, he told reporters.

State of play: Here’s how Ralston feels on other major issues the General Assembly’s expected to consider — and the details of which remain up in the air.

  • Guns: Ralston, who tapped the brakes last year on gun-related legislation after eight people, including six women of Asian descent, were killed at metro Atlanta spas, said his biggest concern with Kemp’s proposal to loosen Georgia's gun laws is making sure people with felonies and serious mental illness cannot get weapons.
  • Buckhead: The speaker said he remains undecided. “At the end of the day, what we do will set a precedent," he said. "And it will be a precedent we’ll be called upon to follow ... a year or two or in five years or 20 years down the road. I want us to get it right.”
  • Abortion: Ralston said he doesn’t expect any new legislation on women’s reproductive rights until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on Mississippi’s restrictive abortion law — and how that affects Georgia’s “heartbeat law.”

What we're watching: It’s an election year. Expect discussions about “parental input into a child’s education” — think Critical Race Theory, which is not likely a part of any schools' curriculum but was essentially condemned by Kemp and the state board of education in June — and tax breaks.

Ralston will gavel the chamber to order earlier than usual — 8:30am — on Monday for a brief session, after which he’ll adjourn the House and fly to Indianapolis to see the Bulldogs play Alabama for the national football championship.

  • The House and Senate have agreed to be adjourned on Tuesday, Ralston said. “We will then reconvene on Wednesday both to celebrate the national title and to get business underway,” he said.
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