Last week was busy, both on the House floor and in committee meetings. The legislative session is coming to a close, and many House and Senate bills are being considered by Governor Deal.
The House unanimously passed Senate Bill 364, known as the “Quality Based Education Act,” which would revise annual performance evaluations for public school teachers and state mandated testing. This bill is the result of meetings with multiple education professionals from across the state.
The following changes would occur to performance evaluations for teachers:
- Student growth would account for 30 percent of the evaluation, down from the current 50 percent
- Professional growth would account for 20 percent
- The test component would be lowered from 70 percent to 40 percent
SB 364 would also do the following for public school testing in Georgia:
- Reduce number of state mandated tests from 32 to 24 for students in grades K-12
- Done by removing social studies and science milestone tests in grades 3-6 and 7
- All local school systems would be asked to move testing to end of year to ensure maximum exposure to material
- Formative testing adding to 1st and 2nd grades to measure progress and early learning
We also unanimously passed Senate Bill 402, which would pause new applications for licensure of narcotic treatments (until June 30, 2017) as well as create a commission to study the current licensure requirements. Current license holders will be able to renew their licenses during the pause. Until the pause ends, the State Commission on Narcotic Treatment Programs (established under this bill), would study the need for any changes to ensure safety in the state. The commission would be charged with the following:
- Examine the current licensure requirements for adequacy
- Assess how the current requirements and enforcement of the requirements effectively benefit patients
- Determine if the geographic service areas are reasonable and balanced between population density and service proximity
- Determine the cause and effect of hospital admittance for overdose and incidents of suicide, if any, in relation to the adequate licensure and oversight of these programs
- Hearing expert testimony on the effectiveness of nonnarcotic, medically assisted treatments for narcotic dependence and determining what legislative changes, if any, are needed
We also passed Senate Bill 350 as well as Senate Resolution 558, which would allocate funds from firework sales in Georgia to trauma centers, fire services, and local public safety purposes. SB 350 would allocate the following:
- 55% of the excise tax revenues from all state firework sales to the Georgia Trauma Care Network Commission
- 40% of the excise tax revenues from the firework sales would go to the Georgia Firefighter Standards and Training Commission (which trains state fire safety officials)
- 5% of the tax revenues would go to local governments to be used for public safety purposes and the operation of 9-1-1 systems
Senate Resolution 558 is the companion legislation to SB 350 and would amend the Georgia Constitution in order to allocate the excise tax funds, if approved by voter referendum on the November ballot.
We passed Senate Bill 193, which would make it a felony if a person commits family violence and has a prior conviction for the same in Georgia, or in any other state. Prosecutors could issue a felony instead of a misdemeanor, closing a loophole. The crime would be punishable for one to five years.
Another bill passed, Senate Bill 367, would do several things for the state’s justice system.
- Courts with jurisdiction over DUI or boating under the influence cases will be able to create a division tasked with dealing with them.
- Juvenile courts will be able to create a family treatment court division to address family issues concerning alcohol and drug abuse.
- Department of Corrections and the Department of Juvenile Justice will be allowed to operate charter schools within state juvenile justice facilities.
- Those who have suspended licenses because of criminal conviction will be able to receive their license sooner. Time spend in prison will count towards license suspension time.
- The SB will add court-mandated activities such participating in programs and accountability court to the list of limited driving exemptions.
- Ths SB bill will edit the Georgia First Offender Statute to allow courts to set a date when a defendant will be exonerated of guilt as long as the defendant cooperates with the sentence and does not become a repeat offender.
- Probation stipulations have been amended so that if an individual fails to pay a fine or report to his/her probation officer and will require them to attend a hearing in court.
Furthermore, inmates who have served sentences for certain drug-related offenses or repeat offenders of nonviolent felonies will be eligible for parole if they have completed at least 6 year of their sentence, earned a high school diploma, and have had no serious violations in the past 12 months of jail. Individuals who have been convicted of drug felonies will be allowed to apply for the SNAP benefits after their release to help them transition back to a normal lifestyle. Lastly, SB 367 will forbid professional licensing boards from refusing a license to an individual because of an arrest. The only exception is if the crime is related to an occupation they were trying to be licensed for. This bill is going to help citizens who have committed crimes to transition and be productive citizens again. We want to help and support all of our citizens while keeping our state safe.
On Monday of last week, we were honored to have Atlanta Braves legend Henry “Hank” Aaron and his wife Billye join us on the House floor, where we honored them for their work in the community. Aaron played 21 seasons with the Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves, and finished his last two seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers. He was a MLB All-Star for 21 seasons, and holds most records for All-Star selections. Aaron is most well-known for his 715th homerun on April 8, 1974 which broke Babe Ruth’s record. Since his retirement from baseball, Hank and Billye Aaron have been very active in their community, working with the Andrew Young Foundation and the Morehouse School of Medicine to advance the education of African-American citizens.
Next week will be the final week of the 2016 legislative session. On Thursday, March 24 we will convene one final time this session for legislative day 40, or “sine die,” the last day we have to pass any legislation this year. If you have any questions or wish to give me your input, feel free to reach me at my Capitol office at (404) 656-0213 or by email at Andy.Welch@house.ga.gov.
As always, thank you for allowing me to be your representative.Read More
With Crossover Day behind us, my colleagues and I shifted our focus to considering Senate Bills and watching for changes made in the Senate to House Bills and vice versa. We saw bills receiving passage in the General Assembly, meaning that these bills will be sent to Governor Nathan Deal for consideration.
The House unanimously passed Senate Bill 137, which would expand Georgia property insurance laws to allow corporations described as one or two family residential buildings to collect insurance coverage against fire damage when a building is completely destroyed by fire. This bill will further show how business friendly Georgia is!
My colleagues and I also passed Senate Bill 158, the “Consumer and Provider Protection Act.” SB 158 creates a framework for rental preferred provider healthcare networks in Georgia to increase transparency for providers and consumers. A rental network contracts with health insurers to provide access to the terms and conditions of its contract with the provider’s discount, and then sells that contract to another network without the provider’s knowledge or consent. This bill would require these networks to register with the Commissioner of Insurance, and networks will access the discounts only if a contract that states the terms of agreement is signed.
Another bill that received unanimous passage was Senate Bill 279, which would expand the voting membership of the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training (P.O.S.T.) Council to 22 members. P.O.S.T. provides the state with peace officers and criminal justice professionals (such as deputy sheriffs, county police, the GBI, etc.) who are professionally trained. Increasing the council members would see that P.O.S.T. continues to lead the way in our state, and nation, in providing criminal justice leadership.
The Senate passed House Bill 751, which is the FY2017 budget. HB 751 received passage in the House, but the Senate version varied slightly, which promoted a conference committee to be formed. When a bill is altered during the legislative process, the Speaker of the House and the Lieutenant Governor will appoint a conference committee to work out the differences. Once the committee reaches an agreement, the bill will be presented to both the Senate and House for a floor vote; once approved by both chambers, the bill will be sent to the governor.
During last weeks busy schedule, my colleagues and I took the time to honor both Calvin “Megatron” Johnson, Jr., as well as Scott Woerner. Johnson is a Georgia native, and is a former wide receiver for the Detroit Lions and Georgia Tech. Woerner is a former safety for the University of Georgia and the Atlanta Falcons. Both men have received many accolades for their talents, and both have represented the state of Georgia well, on and off the field.
If you have questions or concerns about any of the legislation that the House or Senate will be discussing, please feel free to reach out to me; I am never too busy to hear from you. Your thoughts and opinions are important to me, and as your representative, I want to make sure that I am truly representing your interests under the Gold Dome.You can reach me at my Capitol office, which is 404-656-0213, or by email at Andy.Welch@house.ga.gov.
As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.Read More
Last week was the eighth week of the 2016 session, and it also contained “Crossover Day.” This day is the deadline for legislation to be sent out from its chamber of origin to remain eligible for consideration. It is a long day, due to passing House bills to be sent to the Senate.
One bill that we passed on Crossover Day was House Bill 722, AKA, Haleigh’s Hope Act – Part II. This bill would expand the list of medical conditions permitted to legally possess cannabis oil in Georgia. It would also allow manufacturers of low tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) oil in other states to ship this oil directly to Georgians who are properly registered. And, the bill would add low THC oil into the Georgia code section related to driving under the influence to promote safe usage, administration, and also maintaining the safety of citizens.
The House also passed bipartisan legislation this week in an exciting push to bring the commercial space industry to Georgia. House Bill 734, the Georgia Space Flight Act (GSA), would define procedures for commercial space flight activity to allow Georgia to be more competitive with our neighboring states. The GSA is modeled after Texas legislation, and would protect space flight entities, and also inform willing space flight participants of their rights. It would limit a participant’s ability to sue, and would not protect against injuries suffered by non-consenting parties. Participants would have to provide informed consent and sign a waiver. This bill would make Georgia a competitor in the estimated $330 billion per year industry.
We unanimously passed House Bill 862, which updates current laws allowing disabled veterans to qualify for the homestead exemption on ad valorem taxes. This will allow veterans to qualify for the exemption by meeting either, rather than both, of the standards. Veterans honorably discharged as being 100 percent disabled or compensated at the 100 percent level would qualify, as well as any veteran entitled to receive a statutory award from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for loss of one or both feet, loss of one or both hands, or loss of sight in one or both eyes may also qualify for the exemption.
Another bipartisan measure unanimously passed was The Fallen Heroes Bill, or House Bill 54. This bill would honor public service officials killed in the line of duty and their families. The bill would provide cost free college tuition to children of those who have fallen. This would supplement the existing Georgia Law Enforcement Personnel Dependents Grant. Georgia taxpayers would be able to voluntarily contribute to the program.
Both House Bill 934 and House Bill 957 will continue our efforts to aid Georgia kinship care providers. HB 934 would allow the Department of Human Services to provide a dedicated section on their website for kinship givers. This would provide information, applications, and knowledge about resources for the children in their cate. HB 957 would require judges and clerks of the probate courts to publicly post notice of the availability of the affidavit of indigence, which is a court document excusing an individual from paying court fees at the time if they can prove they do not have the funds. This would ensure kinship caregivers are aware of this resource when filing for guardianship with the probate court.
Now that Crossover Day is behind us, we will be spending time in committee hearings as we take time to carefully review Senate Bills. There are only nine legislative days left to complete our work for the 2016 legislative session, so if you have any questions about the bills I mentioned, or about any that will be considered by either chamber, I hope you will reach out to me in the remaining days. As your representative, your thoughts and opinions on these important issues are essential to my decision-making process, and I appreciate your input. If you are nearby, you are always welcome at your State Capitol, and I would be happy to serve as your host. You can reach me at my Capitol office, which is 404-656-0213, or by email at Andy.Welch@house.ga.gov.
As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.Read More
The seventh week of session began on Monday, February 22. The House had a busy week, convening on the floor every day, working hard to pass legislation ahead of Crossover Day.
A meaningful and possibly life-saving bill was passed, House Bill 965 (“The Honorable Jimmy Carter Cancer Treatment Act”). This bill would provide patients diagnosed with stage four metastatic cancer increased treatment, and any health benefit plan issued in Georgia cannot deny coverage for a drug covered by the USFDA if a patient does not have a previous history of failing to respond to initial cancer treatment medications.
The House unanimously passed House Bill 831, or the “Protecting Guardsmen’s Employment Act.” This bipartisan legislation will provide employment protections to Georgia workers called into service by the national guard of a neighboring state. This legislation will ensure reemployment to National Guardsmen who are called into service.
Another bipartisan bill passed in the House this week was House Bill 614, the Landon Dunson Act. With this bill, video monitoring camera equipment would be installed, as a safety measure, in self-contained classrooms that provide special education services. Participation would be voluntary, and consent from parents would be needed. Camera footage access would be strictly limited to school administrators for educational and safety monitoring purposes. The Department of Education has final approval of the schools that opt-in, but each school is responsible for providing their own equipment.
The House passed House Bill 768, known as the Georgie Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act. The bill would include the following:
- ease financial strains on disabled individuals, allowing them to save private funds in tax-exempt accounts without becoming Medicaid ineligible
- Georgia ABLE Program governed by board of directors (appointed by the Governor)
- The board would have several duties/tasks
- oversee the operations (including tax-free savings account criteria)
- establish insurance policies to protect assets of the funds
- Office of the State Treasurer would ensure proper management of funds and bank accounts
- The following state departments will work with the board of directors to define qualified ABLE applicants and program material:
- Department of Community Health
- Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities
- Department of Human Services
- Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency
- Department of Education
House Bill 962 was a bipartisan measure, and would create the position of Kinship Care Enforcement Administrator at the Department of Human Services. A kinship caregiver is a relative of a child (other than a child’s parent), that raises the child. Anywhere from 100,000 to 300,000 children are in kinship care in Georgia. During last year’s session, House Resolution 474 was passed to develop a study committee, which investigated the state’s kinship services. The study resulted in HB 962. The Kinship Care Enforcement Administrator would be appointed by the Commissioner of Human Services to monitor, facilitate, and ensure compliance with all federal and state laws related to any programs available to kinship caregivers or the children in their care.
We took the time to recognize the University of Georgia’s new head football coach, Kirby Smart. Smart is a Bainbridge, Georgia native who played four years at UGA. Before coaching at our state’s flagship university, Smart coached at the University of Alabama, where he helped the Crimson Tide gain four National Championships.
We were honored to have Presidential candidate, Governor John Kasich, join us last Tuesday. He reminded my colleagues and I to uplift each other, and reminded us that we are Americans before we are Democrats and Republicans.
The House, and the state, lost a true public servant last week. State Representative Bob Bryant from Garden City passed away last Thursday. Bob was a loving husband, father, grandfather, veteran, and friend to all. He served his constituents with grace and humility as their voice under the Gold Dome for 12 years, and the positive impact he made on the House chamber and in his community will not soon be forgotten.
We are gearing up for another extremely busy week at the Georgia State Capitol next week. On Monday, February 29, we are scheduled to complete the 30th legislative day, which is also known as “Crossover Day.” Crossover Day is the last date in which a piece of legislation must pass at least one of the General Assembly’s two chambers to be considered for final passage this legislative session. If you have any questions, you may reach me at my Capitol office at 404-656-0213 or by email at Andy.Welch@house.ga.gov.Read More
After last week, we are more than six weeks into the 2016 legislative session. “Crossover Day” is approaching fast, so we are beginning to pass crucial pieces of legislation every day of session. Last week saw the passing of several bills, including one of the most important pieces of legislation: House Bill 751, the Fiscal Year 2017 (FY2017) state budget.
The General Assembly has one constitutional obligation each year: to pass a balanced state budget. This budget will serve as a spending guide for the state beginning July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2017. The FY2017 budget is the largest budget in our state’s history at $23.7 billion.
Education spending accounts for more than half the annual budget. The FY2017 budget includes the following:
- $300 million for K-12 education for local school boards to give salary increases, eliminate furlough days or increase instruction days
- $5.1 million for a 3 percent pay raise for the following groups: teachers in Agriculture Education and Tech/Career Education programs, school bus drivers, lunchroom workers, nurses, and Regional Education Service Agency (RESA) employees
- $28.6 million in funding for Pre-K teachers for salary increases up to three percent, as well as increasing salaries for assistant teachers
- $59.1 million for FY2017 for Zell Miller and HOPE Scholarship recipients
- $29.4 million in funding to the Move on When Ready dual enrollment program
- $1.2 million to the North Georgia Military Scholarship Grants program
- Two new service loan programs ($100,000 each) for large animal veterinarians and the Georgia National Guard to address the need for skilled individuals in those fields
- $44.4 million for formula earnings based on enrollment and increased square footage at both the University System of Georgia and the Technical College System of Georgia
I also wanted to note that college students will not experience a tuition increase next fall due to the diligence of the Board of Regents to keep college affordable and the work of the governor and General Assembly to provide adequate formula funding.
Due to tremendous population growth, the FY2017 budget also focuses on healthcare for our citizens. Therefore, the FY2017 budget has allocated $66.7 million to offset Medicaid enrollment growth. We also want Georgians to be in close proximity to quality healthcare, which is why the House version of the FY2017 budget includes the following initiatives to ensure basic services:
- $200,000 to maintain the rural dentistry loan program
- $100,000 to establish a loan repayment program for physician assistants and advance practice registered nurses
- $100,000 for the Georgia South Family Medicine Rural Residency Training Program
- $200,000 for OB/GYN physicians who want to return to practice in underserved areas
- One-time start-up grant of $250,000 for the Champions for Children program, also known as the “Katie Beckett waiver” (provides grants to families with medically fragile children who do not qualify for Medicaid)
Georgia has been at the forefront of criminal justice reforms, causing state juvenile justice facilities to see a 25 percent population decrease. In his State of the Judiciary, Chief Justice Hugh Thompson credited accountability courts with reducing crime by 45 percent, and saving the state more than $51 million in 2015. To maintain this progress, FY2017 includes the additional funding to continue progress:
- $3.8 million to expand the state’s accountability courts
- $5.6 million to support educational initiatives in the state prison system, including operational costs for two charter high schools and expansion of GED fast track, vocational, and general education programs (Georgia’s recidivism rate is at its lowest in 30 years, and these types of programs assist with this rate)
The final portion of the FY2017 budget I would like to highlight is the inclusion of hundreds of millions of new transportation dollars to improve our state’s transportation infrastructure. As a result of House Bill 170, the Transportation Funding Act of 2015, FY2017 appropriates $825.6 million in new state general and motor fuel funds to help improve the state’s roads and bridges to keep freight and our commuters moving safely and efficiently. The following are included in those funds:
- $543.1 million budgeted for capital construction and maintenance projects
- $204.7 for routine maintenance
- $41 million in Local Maintenance and Improvement Grants (LMIG)
- $1 million in bonds allocated for the repair, replacement, and renovation of our state’s bridges to ensure safety
Along with passing the FY2017 budget, the House passed a number of important bills that are now being considered by the state Senate. House Bill 34, known as the “Georgia Right to Try Act,” will allow for terminally-ill patients to more quickly access experimental drugs/procedures. Full FDA clearance takes three phrases (up to ten years). HB34 will allow patients to try drugs/procedures that have passed the first phase (meaning treatments have met all safety precautions). Physicians would be required to provide written documentation for eligible patients stating the following:
- patient has a terminal illness
- patient considered all other treatment options
- patient received recommendation by the physician
- patient has given written informed consent
Manufacturers of certain experimental drugs will not be required to offer or charge for the treatment, and health benefit plans have the option to provide coverage to investigational products, but will not be required to cover the costs. Any medical physician, who recommends, prescribes, or treats an eligible patient with investigational drugs, would not be held liable by the Georgia Composite Medical Board under HB 34.
House Bill 798 received overwhelming support. HB 798 would change HOPE and Zell Miller Scholarships to consider home schooled students and students from previously ineligible or non-accredited high schools. Eligibility would be determined by standardized college admissions tests, such as the SAT and ACT, which are available to all students. Students who fall in the two above groups who score in the 75th percentile or higher nationally would be eligible for the HOPE Scholarship; students who score in the 93rd percentile would be eligible for the Zell Miller Scholarship. The bill also changes the Zell Miller Scholarship eligibility for students graduating from eligible high schools by requiring a score in the 80th percentile or higher on the ACT or the SAT, in addition to maintaining a minimum 3.7 GPA.
House Bill 879 is another education bill that passed out of the House this week. This bill creates the “Georgia Seal of Biliteracy” to recognize high school graduates who are proficient in speaking, reading, and writing one or more languages in addition to English. Students may qualify to receive the Georgia Seal of Biliteracy by doing the following:
- Scoring four or higher on a foreign language advanced placement exam
- Scoring five or higher on a foreign language international baccalaureate exam
- completing a four-year high school course in a foreign language with an overall GPA of 3.0 or above in that coursework
- Passing the SAT II foreign language exam with a score of 600 or higher.
The Georgia Department of Education would provide the insignia to be attached to qualifying students’ diplomas. Each local school system could choose to opt-in to the program but would not be forced to participate or expend resources. It is our duty to encourage our students to broaden their horizons, and the Georgia Seal of Biliteracy will not only promote the study of foreign language, but it will certify their knowledge for future college and job applications.
Finally, my colleagues and I unanimously passed House Bill 561, which would make the “adoptable dog” the official state dog of Georgia. This bill brings awareness to the importance of adopting animals from shelters, where they face a high risk of being euthanized, and will help save the lives of many shelter animals.
You are always welcome and encouraged to visit my office at the State Capitol.My Capitol office number is 404-656-0213 and my email is Andy.Welch@house.ga.gov. I look forward to hearing from you.
And as always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.Read More
With the fifth week of session behind us, we are now past the halfway mark of the 2016 session! Committees have been hard at work, and many pieces of legislation have begun to make their way from the Senate over to the House. We achieved bipartisan support and passage of several important bills that deal with education, road safety, and military benefits.
House Bill 767, which ensures the safety of our state’s utility service workers, received unanimous support. HB 767 adds utility service vehicles and workers in the fields of electric, natural gas, water, waste-water, cable, telephone, or telecommunication services to the list of those covered under Georgia’s “Spencer Pass Law.”” The law requires drivers to make a lane change, if possible, when approaching any stationary towing, recovery or highway maintenance vehicle parked on the shoulder of the highway. If changing lanes is impossible, or unsafe, the driver must slow to a speed less than the posted speed limit and be prepared to stop, and violators would now be subject to a fine of up to $250. This bill will keep our utility workers, and citizens, safe on the roads.
We continued our focus on Georgia’s education system with the passing of House Bill 739. HB 739 gives the State Board of Education the option to establish a committee to study and recommend instructional materials and content, and also allows local boards of education to have a review process for any locally approved instructional material. As part of the process, the local or State Board of Education will post a list of proposed materials/content on their website for public viewing, as well as making all proposed instructional material/content available for individual review if requested. This will increase transparency, provide greater access to proposed classroom material, allow for local control of our education system, and increase parental involvement.
We also passed House Bill 659, which would require every local board of education and state charter schools to make financial information readily accessible for public access. Also, each school and district would send budget information to the Department of Education to be published on its website. Education funding accounts for more than half of our state budget each year and transparency of those funds is essential to establishing an open dialogue about the needs of our local school systems.
The House unanimously passed House Bill 757, or, the Pastor Protection Act, which reaffirms the separation of church and state in Georgia. Religious leaders will not be forced to perform marriages which violate their faith, and places of worship will not be required by Georgia government to host events that violate their religious doctrine. Under HB 757, businesses are also allowed to remain closed on a day of rest.
Lastly, the House unanimously passed House Bill 821, which will support Georgia’s military spouses and veteran population. HB 821 will require all state licensure boards to streamline the licensing process for service members, and their spouses, who move to our state from another. This bill allows eligible service members and spouses to qualify for temporary occupational licenses, licenses by endorsement, or expedited licenses to better aid their entry into Georgia’s workforce. This will be available to military spouses and transitional veterans who have a license from another state, as long as their training, experience, or testing meets or exceeds that of the Georgia license they seek. Transitioning veterans are also eligible if they are currently on active duty status or are within 24 months of their retirement and have received a specialty, certification, training, or experience in the military while a service member that meets or exceeds that of the Georgia license requirement they are seeking. I was honored to join my colleagues in an act of solidarity to give back to those veterans and their families who have given so much for this state and our nation.
Now that we are officially halfway through the 2016 legislative session, we will begin voting on more bills and resolutions every day. I encourage you to contact me at my capitol office with your thoughts and opinions, as I am always happy to answer any questions or concerns you may have regarding legislation. My capitol office phone number is 404-656-0213, and my email address is Andy.Welch@house.ga.gov.
As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your state representative.Read More
Week four of the 2016 Legislative Session means that a month of session is already behind us. The General Assembly is hard at work, passing legislation that will positively impact Georgians. A number of bills have been passes, while many have made their way to the House floor!
Education is a top legislative priority, which is why we unanimously passed House Bill 801, which will encourage our students to take college courses in certain areas. HB 801 will do the following:
- change the GPA weighting system for HOPE Scholarship recipients who take certain science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) courses
- directs the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia to select bachelor-level STEM courses to receive extra weight when calculating the HOPE scholarship GPA (while student is in college)
- upon completion of certain courses, students will receive .5 added to grade when calculating HOPE Scholarship GPA
- identified courses must be determined to be academically rigorous and lead to jobs in high demand STEM fields
- providing additional GPA weight bridges the skills gap in Georgia without risking scholastic fulfillment of our students
A great workforce is needed for the economy to thrive, which means that passing legislation that heightens the state’s business climate and arms our citizens to succeed in Georgia’s job market is crucial. Therefore, we unanimously passed House Bill 402, which aims to close the skills gap in Georgia. HB 402 will do the following for the state:
- increase business partnerships and participation with local public school systems for K-12 work based learning programs
- under HB 402, businesses who participate in work based learning programs will be offered a discount of up to five percent on their worker’s compensation insurance premiums
- work based learning programs install a strong work ethic in our teens, as well as hands on experience
Two more pieces of legislation were passed this week as well, both of which intend to ease the burden on public safety officers. The first is House Bill 421, which provides enhanced disability benefits to community supervision officers employed by the Department of Community Supervision who become permanently disabled due to an act of external violence or injury incurred in the line of law enforcement duty. These officers will be eligible for a monthly disability compensation of $5 per month for each year of creditable service. Also, the bill calls for a minimum monthly disability retirement benefit equal to two percent of their monthly earnings beginning the month their permanent disability occurred until mandatory retirement age.
The following groups of public safety officers are positively impacted by HB 421:
- deputy conservation rangers with the Department of Natural Resources
- parole officers with the State Board of Pardons and Paroles
- probation officers with the Department of Corrections
- any community supervision officer with the Department of Community Supervision
The House also passed House Bill 690 this past week. HB 690 acknowledges the brave service and sacrifices that public safety officials make for our communities and our state.This bill allows any individual who is a member of the Uniform Division of the Department of Public Safety, a conservation ranger with the Department of Natural Resources, an officer or agent of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, a district attorney investigator paid from state funds, or an alcohol and tobacco officer or agent of the Department of Revenue to claim creditable service towards retirement if he or she previously worked for a local law enforcement agency for up to five years. In order to be eligible to claim those retirement years, officers must be vested in the state’s Employee Retirement System (ERS) for at least 10 years and ineligible for a defined contribution retirement or pension plan while employed at the local law enforcement agency. HB 690 will allow our public safety officers to recoup their years of service, but will have a zero dollar cost to the state. I was proud to support this legislation and show my unwavering appreciation for the public safety community in Georgia.
As we continue through the legislative session, I hope that you will contact me if you have questions or concerns about these bills, or any other legislation that may come before us. As your state representative, it is my job to represent your thoughts and opinions in Atlanta, and I would like to hear from you before the session adjourns on March 24. Please stop by and visit if you are in Atlanta during the legislative session, or call my office at the State Capitol and let me know what I can do for you and your family. My Capitol office number is 404-656-0213 and my email is Andy.Welch@house.ga.gov.
As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.Read More
During the third week of the Georgia General Assembly’s 2016 legislative session, my colleagues and I had the responsibility of passing one of the most important pieces of legislation of the year: the 2016 amended fiscal year budget (AFY 2016). This budget, a mid-year adjustment of state spending through June 30, 2016, was first introduced by Governor Deal at last week’s Joint Appropriations hearing. Since then, through a series of Appropriations Committee meetings, we have carefully reviewed and edited the AFY 2016 budget. The House version of the Amended Fiscal Year 2016 (AFY 2016) budget was packaged into House Bill 750 and was passed by the House on Thursday, January 28th.
The House version of the AFY 2016 budget is very similar to Gov. Deal’s initial budget proposal. The amended budget includes an addition of $1.1 billion, or 5.3 percent, in “new” funds. The total appropriations for AFY 2016 equals $22.9 billion, with education and transportation funds accounting for 85 percent of the appropriations. Here are how the funds were allocated.
- $758 million in new state general and motor fuel funds (results of House Bill 170, the Transportation Funding Act, passed during 2015 legislative session)
- $519 million of the funds are for capital construction and maintenance projects
- $200 million for routine maintenance
- #336.1 million in Local Maintenance and Improvement Grants (LMIG)
This increased funding aids in improving our infrastructure and also ensure citizen safety on roads and bridges.
Investments to our education system were essential to the AFY 2016 budget.
- $204 million to Georgia’s K-12 system
- $109.9 million for midterm enrollment growth
- $30 million in lottery funds for HOPE/Zell Miller Scholarships
- $20.2 million for the Move on When Ready program (allowing eligible students to take advantage of dual enrollment programs)
- $14.9 million through the OneGeorgia Authority to continue providing grants to local school systems to advance wireless broadband connectivity
- $525,808 for the North Georgia Military Scholarship Grant
Additional funding was provided in other areas, such as Georgia’s health services.
- $59 million for growth in the Medicaid and Peachcare programs (funds will cover high-cost prescriptions, increased cost of the Aged, Blind, and Disabled program, and overall program growth)
- $17.1 million toward Medicare payments
- $2.3 million toward office expansion/relocation of four county offices that are the most active in the Community Care Services Program
In addition to passing the AFY 2016 budget, we were able to pass House Bill 742, which is an annual Internal Revenue Code (IRC) update which makes changes to Georgia’s tax code by synchronizing tax return filing dates to allow most businesses in Georgia to file state and federal returns simultaneously. HB 742 would also make permanent the $500,000 deduction in section 179 and the Research Tax Credit. By streamlining this process and bringing Georgia’s policy in line with federal legislation, we are easing the tax process for individuals and business owners statewide.
The House and Senate convened for a joint session in the House Chamber with the Georgia Supreme Court, the Georgia Court of Appeals and other guests for the annual State of the Judiciary Address from Chief Justice Hugh Thompson on Wednesday. Chief Justice Thompson was appointed to the Supreme Court of Georgia in 1994 and was elected by his peers to a four-year term as chief justice in 2013. Lt. Governor Casey Cagle welcomed the Chief Justice to the rostrum where he updated us on the current state of Georgia’s judicial system.
Chief Justice Thompson called Georgia the “gateway to the South,” and to the country. Chief Justice Thompson noted our population has almost doubled since implementing the new state constitution in 1983, but the number of judges has increased only 16 percent. Thompson applauded the passage of House Bill 279 during the 2015 session, which added three judges to the Court of Appeals in Georgia. The addition of these judges has led to the hearing of five times the number of cases each year, allowing the Supreme Court of Georgia to focus on more complex cases.
Chief Justice Thompson transitioned to new technology within the court system, which is overseen by the newly commissioned Judicial Council Standing Committee on Technology, established by a Supreme Court order. A top priority for the committee is transitioning all state of Georgia court systems from paper documents to electronic filings. Both the Supreme Court of Georgia and Court of Appeals have transitioned to e-filing systems, with a goal of developing a statewide filing and retrieving portal that all courts can access.
Chief Justice Thompson commended Governor Nathan Deal on his commitment to criminal justice reform, noting that the state’s prisons are at their lowest point in 10 years, and the recidivism rate is the lowest in 30 years. These improvements are attributed, in part, to the expansion of our state’s now 131 accountability courts (a cost-effective criminal justice alternative for non-violent offenders, where offenders are held accountable through court-supervised treatment programs). These courts have reduced crime by 45 percent, and have saved the state more than $51 million in prison costs in 2015.
In the third week of session, we took time to recognize some of our state’s most admirable citizens. On Monday, January 25, the House celebrated Georgia National Guard Day in honor of our brave Georgians in uniform. Members of the Georgia National Guard were recognized on the House floor and presented with House Resolution 1007. It was an honor to have Adjutant General Joe Jarrard and members of the Georgia National Guard with us in the House, where we were also privileged to witness a new member of the Georgia National Guard be sworn into the Army National Guard by our very own colleague and WWII veteran, Representative John Yates (R-Griffin). These soldiers embody the true meaning of patriotism, and I cannot thank them enough for their service to ourstate and to our country.
As the 2016 legislative session moves into its fourth week, committees will be meeting more frequently to discuss pieces of legislation. I would love to hear your input on any bills that come before the House, because your comments help guide my decisions on Capitol Hill. I encourage you to call my office at the State Capitol in Atlanta at 770.957.3937. I can also be reached via email at email@example.com. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.Read More
Last week began the important task of reviewing the governor’s budget recommendations and creating legislation that will direct the state’s spending. Through this process, we must outline two balanced state budgets:
An amended budget for the current fiscal year (AFY 2016)
A full budget for the following fiscal year (FY 2017)
With substantial economic growth occurring throughout the state in recent years, we have seen sustained growth in the state’s revenue, allowing for an addition of “new” funds in the budget. Gov. Deal’s AFY 2016 budget includes $109 million for K-12 education, and an increase of $1.6 million to support information technology applications used by local school systems. Gov. Deal also proposed an adjustment of $14.9 million in the amended budget to allow school systems to improve internet connectivity and for live online instruction.
Gov. Deal also wants to adjust funding for students planning to attend colleges and universities in the state of Georgia. Since 2012, the number of Zell Miller Scholars has increased by more than 40%, therefore, Gov. Deal has allocated an additional $30.3 million for AFY2016, and $59.1 million for FY2017.
The focus on education will continue in FY 2017. The governor believes we should invest $300 million for K-12 education to allow school districts to grant salary increases, eliminate furlough days or increase instruction days.
In addition to K-12 education, the governor also included an additional $26.2 million in funding for Pre-K teachers for salary increases up to three precent, as well as increasing salaries for assistant teachers.
In addition to advancements in education, we have progress in other areas, such as our state’s criminal justice reform system. Juvenile justice facilities in the state have seen a 25% decrease in population since the reforms have begun. Gov. Deal’s FY2017 budget calls for an additional $3.8 million towards the accountability courts to rehabilitate offenders and juvenile incentive grants aimed at providing community alternatives, as a proven alternative to sentencing. Gov. Deal has also allocated an additional $4.3 million in FY2017 to support educational initiatives in the state prison system. This includes operational costs for two charter high schools and expansion of GED fast track, vocational, and general education programs.
The last portion of the FY2017 proposal that I would like to highlight is the inclusion of hundreds of millions of new transportation dollars. As a result of legislation passed last session, House Bill 170, Gov. Deal’s budget proposal for FY2017 appropriates over $800 million to help maintain and improve the state’s roads and bridges to keep freight and our commuters moving safely and efficiently. This major funding source for our state’s transportation infrastructure will benefit Georgians in many ways and will be felt throughout the state years to come. I am proud of my colleagues in the House for their leadership on HB 170 last session and to Gov. Deal and the Georgia Department of Transportation for executing these projects.
Finally this week, the House and Senate voted on an adjournment resolution that set the legislative calendar for the remainder of the 40-day session. Day 40, the final day of the 2016 legislative session, or “sine die,” will be Thursday, March 24. We have a very aggressive and busy schedule from now until then, and as we continue through this legislative session, I encourage you to reach out to me with your questions and concerns.
As your state representative, I want to know what issues are most important to you, and I welcome the opportunity to discuss them with you. I also encourage you to visit your State Capitol, where you are always welcome to visit me at my capitol office, located at 508-C Coverdell Legislative Office Building, Atlanta, GA 30334. You may also call my capitol office at 404-656-0213, or reach me via email me at Andy.Welch@house.ga.gov. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.Read More
Reps. Strickland, Rutledge, Welch and Douglas Support State Funding for Industrial Arts Building for Henry County’s Southern Crescent Technical College
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Friday, January 22, 2016
Contact: Betsy Lynch
ATLANTA –State Representatives Brian Strickland (R-McDonough), Demetrius Douglas (D-Stockbridge), Dale Rutledge (R-McDonough), Andy Welch (R-Locust Grove) and Senator Rick Jeffares (R-McDonough), along with the support of the Henry County delegation as a whole, recently expressed support of Governor Nathan Deal’s FY2017 budget proposal, which allocates funding to Henry County’s Southern Crescent Technical College. Governor Deal’s 2017 Budget allocates $16.175 million in state dollars to match Henry County’s $6.5 to 5.5 million in SPLOST funds dedicated to construct a state-of-the-art industrial educational facility on the McDonough campus of the Southern Crescent Technical College.
“The Henry County campus of Southern Crescent is an invaluable resource in our community, providing education and technical training, which will result in a more skilled and competent workforce in our area and state,” said Rep. Welch. “Proper technical training is an asset to any community, and the entire state, but the development of the campus will also bring economic growth in the way of new jobs and increased interest to Henry County. As a result of the intense work of the entire Henry County delegation, Governor Nathan Deal has kept an important local campaign promise with the inclusion of these funds in the budget. I would like to thank Gov. Deal for making this a priority, as well as my colleagues in the General Assembly and our local leaders in Henry County for their support.”
Southern Crescent Technical College was formed in 2010 and serves roughly 10,000 students in the middle Georgia area. The Henry County campus was established in 2014 and offers 23 degree, diploma, and certificate programs in various fields.
For more information about Southern Crescent Technical College, please click here.
For more information about Governor Deal’s FY2017 budget proposal, please click here.
Representative Andrew Welch represents the citizens of District 110, which includes portions of Butts, Henry, and Newton Counties. He was elected into the House of Representatives in 2010, and currently serves as the Chairman to the Appropriations Subcommittee on Public Safety. He also serves on the Code Revision, Judiciary, Juvenile Justice, and Regulated Industries committees.