The House reconvened for Legislative Day 30 on March 5th, beginning the ninth week of the 2018 legislative session. Since we are now past Crossover Day, much of our legislative work this week was accomplished in committee hearings as my House colleagues and I reviewed Senate bills. We also took up several pieces of legislation on the House floor this week, including one of the most important bills that we will pass all session, the Fiscal Year 2019 state budget.
Fiscal Year 2019 State Budget
- House Bill 684 – The Georgia General Assembly is constitutionally required to pass a balanced budget each year, and the House took a step in fulfilling this constitutional obligation by granting initial passage to House Bill 684, the Fiscal Year 2019 budget. This year’s state budget is $50.85 billion and will guide our state’s spending from July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019. The FY 2019 budget was determined by a revenue estimate of $26 billion, which is an increase of $1.03 billion (4.1%) over last year’s budget.
The House Appropriations Committee carefully reviewed each portion of the budget and meticulously allocated state dollars towards our state’s needs. Most were specifically aimed at boosting economic development in rural Georgia including:
- Funding for the Department of Agriculture’s Georgia Grown marketing program
- A downtown development attorney to help Georgia’s small towns secure redevelopment grants
- A deputy commissioner of rural Georgia position
- Center for Rural Prosperity and Innovations
- Two rural surgical fellowships at St. Joseph’s/Candler Hospital
- A statewide residency recruitment fair for rural medical facilities
- Insurance premium assistance for physicians who practice in underserved counties with one or less physicians
- 10 regional Emergency Medical Services training positions to train EMS personnel in rural Georgia
- Rural Health Systems Innovation Center
- Soft skills training and character education development for rural Georgia’s lowest performing schools
- A mobile audiology clinic to provide audiological care to children in rural Georgia
- Birth-to-five literacy and numeracy in rural Georgia
I am proud that the House has prioritized state dollars to support and revitalize our rural communities, and these allocations for our rural communities will help rural Georgia, as well as our state as a whole, to thrive.
Education funding is always one of the largest budget items in the state budget, and this year is no exception, with 55.9 percent of the entire budget allocated to education. The FY 2019 budget includes:
- $119.5 million for K-12 enrollment growth and training and experience for an additional 6,552 students and 1,869 teachers across the state
- $361.7 million for the Teachers Retirement System to support 117,957 retired and 218,193 active TRS members
- Two Advanced Placement exams, one STEM exam and one non-STEM exam for low-income students, as well as dollars for the new Chief Turnaround Officer program to help Georgia’s schools in most need of assistance
- $1.6 million for a student mental health awareness training program, including response and intervention training for students in preschool through 12th grade
- $111 million for the University System of Georgia enrollment growth and increased square footage
- $5.5 million for the Technical College System of Georgia enrollment growth and increased square footage
- $27.1 million for the Dual Enrollment program
- $2.7 million for 1,177 additional HOPE and Zell Miller private scholarships
- $65.3 million for 27,832 more HOPE and Zell Miller public scholarships
- $8 million for school security grants to improve security in Georgia’s schools (added to the budget in light of one of the deadliest school shootings in recent history)
In addition to education funding, health care costs also make up a significant portion of the FY 2019 budget.
- $16.9 million for a 4.3 percent provider rate increase for nursing homes and $962,022 for increased background checks for long-term care facility owners and employees
- Essential autism services, such as funding for a program coordinator position and to develop capacity in the Department of Community Health and the Department of Public Health to provide behavioral health services to autistic children under the age of 21
- $568,057 towards the Marcus Autism Center to cover the cost of treating autistic children with the greatest needs
- $2 million to the Department of Public Health to address why Georgia has the highest rate of maternal mortality in the country
- Critical funding for several mental health programs that will benefit our state’s citizens.
- Child and adolescent crisis services, including four new respite homes
- 13 new Georgia APEX Program grants to expand mental health services to students in 100 more schools
- Telemedicine equipment and services
- High-fidelity wraparound services training that will impact up to 3,000 young Georgians
- Expansion of the Georgia Crisis Access Line’s operating hours
- $2.2 million for Department of Human Services care coordinator positions to improve mental health outcomes for foster care children
The 2019 budget also includes allocations designed to meet the wide-ranging needs of our state, such as funding to clear hurricane debris and remove sunken vessels along the Georgia coastline and dollars to implement several economic development projects across the state. The budget also includes an extra $15.1 million for growth in out-of-home care and $15.2 million in additional funding to increase foster care per diem rates for relative and child placement agency foster care providers. It also provides funding for Georgia’s highly successful accountability courts, as well as for nine additional assistant district attorney positions and nine assistant public defenders to support juvenile courts across the state. Finally, the budget includes appropriations for statewide transportation infrastructure construction, maintenance and improvements.
House Resolution 1162
On Friday, March 9, we unanimously adopted a resolution for the benefit of Georgia’s schools, teachers and students. House Resolution 1162 would establish the House Study Committee on the Establishment of a State Accreditation Process to explore whether a state accreditation process for Georgia’s public schools and school systems should be formed. Currently, there is no state entity that is responsible for accrediting Georgia’s primary and secondary public schools and local school systems, and as a result, most of these schools and school systems seek accreditation through private organizations. The five-member study committee would explore the resources and structure needed for a state accreditation entity, as well as any obstacles that would need to be addressed and how such an entity would interact with existing private accreditation agencies. The study committee would also analyze ways to align accreditation review with charter renewal for charter systems and contract renewal for strategic waivers school systems; examine the possibility of establishing a state process to annually review system charters and contracts; study potential consequences of losing state accreditation; and explore the possibility of establishing a school board review commission. Should the study committee adopt any specific findings or recommendations, including suggestions for proposed legislation, the study committee’s chairperson would file a report by Dec. 1, 2018, the date upon which the study committee would be abolished. This study committee would ultimately help our state determine if a state accreditation process would be beneficial to our education system. I look forward to hearing the committee’s findings next year.
House Bill 159
On Monday, March 5, Governor Nathan Deal signed into law one of the House’s most important bills this session, House Bill 159. This bill will significantly update and modernize Georgia’s adoption laws for the first time in nearly three decades. HB 159 will streamline and expedite all types of adoptions in Georgia. State Representative Bert Reeves (R-Marietta) spent nearly two-and-a-half years refining the bill, which has been a top priority in the House for the past two legislative sessions. It has passed the House unanimously three times. The new adoption laws will increase efficiencies in every aspect of Georgia adoption, and these additions and revisions to our adoption code will bring Georgia up to speed with the rest of the country. Our state’s updated adoption code will benefit every family going through the adoption process and every child in Georgia in need of adoption. This groundbreaking legislation will go into effect on Sept. 1, 2018.
The General Assembly is in the final stretch of the 2018 legislative session. The last day of session (Day 40) is March 29, with only a few weeks left to finish our legislative business. My colleagues in the House, as well as our Senate counterparts, will be hard at work to ensure that we pass meaningful legislation for the people of our great state. Call or email me if you have any questions or concerns regarding any current or upcoming legislation. My Capitol office is located at 220 State Capitol Atlanta, GA 30334, my office phone number is 404-656-5912, and I can be reached via email at email@example.com. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.Read More
Next Wednesday, September 16, 2015, there will be two debates on CNN for the Republican Primary. The first will be at 6pm ET, and the second at 8pm ET. The candidates will continue to discuss their views on the issues and will include: Perry, Santorum, Jindal, Pataki, and Graham at 6pm, followed by: Trump, Bush, Walker, Huckabee, Carson, Cruz, Rubio, Paul, Christie, Kasich, and Fiorina at 8pm.
The moderators will be: Jake Tapper, Dana Bash and Hugh Hewitt.
I’m interested in getting your opinions, so be sure to tune in!Read More
It is that time again! It is time to go back to school for many Georgia counties.
- Newton County Schools begins THIS Friday, July 31st!
- Henry County schools begin this Monday, August 3rd!
- Butts County schools begin Wednesday, August 5th!
Just a friendly reminder that this weekend is sales-tax free for school-related items — Friday, July 31 through Saturday, August 1!
Children really are our future, and it is important for their success to be nurtured and encouraged to learn continually. A well-educated youth makes for a well-rounded adult, who can make informed decisions. I hope everyone has a fantastic school year!Read More
Independence Day, or the Fourth of July, is a busy time for me and my family, and a joyous time for us as a country. It was on this day in 1776 that the Declaration of Independence was signed by 56 members of the second Continental Congress, and the United States declared its independence from Great Britain. Many Americans celebrate this day by shooting fireworks, attending patriotic-themed parades, going to fairs, sporting events, or family reunions. Georgia is no different, and uses its many attractions to honor this special day.
Atlanta will host the 10-kilometer Peachtree Road Race, as it has every year since 1970. This is a tradition that many Georgians, as well as people across the nation look forward to; there is a patriotic laser show at Stone Mountain, a special fireworks viewing at the Georgia Aquarium, as well as at Centennial Park. With so many celebrations happening, it can be easy to forget how many people gave their all for our freedom. I want all of you to celebrate this joyous day with family traditions and have a restful day off of work, but I also want to challenge you to remember the sacrifices of our great military that fought, and continue to fight to keep our country free. From my family to yours, have a safe, and happy Independence Day.
Photo credit: ShutterstockRead More
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com
The official start of summer is still about two weeks away, but here in Georgia, it definitely feels like summer has been upon us for months now. With the summer season comes fun times with family, friends, time off for vacation, and many patriotic themed holidays. One such holiday, and probably the most widely celebrated in the United States, is the Fourth of July, or Independence Day.
This is an important celebration for America in that it commemorates the Continental Congress approving the final wording of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, after several grueling days of deliberation. To celebrate this joyous event in our nation’s history, many people often have parades or fireworks displays and Jackson is no exception. There will be a fun fireworks display on July 4th when it gets dark (weather permitting), and it will be fun for the whole family. For more information, please call Butts County Parks and Recreation at: (770) 775-8228.
Monday April 27th, we held the Town Hall Meeting at Kirby G’s Diner. It was there that a very special man was honored. Jake Carter, owner and heir of Southern Belle Farms, was elected to the National Young Farmer Committee Chair last year and has been traveling the country educating young people on the importance of agriculture this past year. Although it was difficult on his wife and two daughters, Carter thought it was important for Georgia and the farming community in general. I had the honor of awarding him with a proclamation signed by Governor Deal on Monday, and he will return to his farm and his family, who will welcome him with open arms.Read More
The Georgia Senate recognized the Rock Springs Medical Clinic in Milner, GA with Senate Resolution 344 on Thursday, March 19th. Sen. Burt Jones, R-Jackson, along with Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, Sen. John F. Kennedy, R-Macon, and Sen. Marty Harbin, R-Tyrone all presented the bill to the Senate. The resolution recognizes Dr. W. Stephen Taunton, the clinic’s Medical Director, Bobbi Riley, the Administrative Director, and Linda Taunton, the Pharmaceutical Director, in addition to a staff of 60 dedicated volunteers.
For those who are unfamiliar, here is a bit of history on this amazing clinic. Established in 2008, The Rock Springs Medical clinic provides free healthcare and counseling services to roughly 5,000 uninsured middle Georgians who live in 81 cities. The volunteer staff includes licensed physicians, and nurses for medical needs as well as dieticians for health education and counselors for mental health, assisted by clerical staff and volunteers. This clinic is staffed by a skilled team of medical professionals, including: pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, licensed physicians, nurses, dietitians and counselors assisted by clerical staff and volunteers. Manufacturers work directly with the pharmaceutical director to keep the clinic pharmacy stocked. I am very proud that this clinic is around, and hope to see it serve our community for many years to come. Congratulations to this amazing clinic!Read More
On April 2nd, the House and Senate completed the final legislative day, also known as “Sine Die,” a Latin term meaning “without assigning a day for further meeting. Being the final day, we worked late into the night to ensure the passage of important legislation related to transportation and education in our state. While we passed numerous bills in the final days of session, I would like to bring to your attention several key pieces of legislation that were passed to improve the quality of life for all Georgians.
Throughout this 40 day legislative process in the General Assembly, it is not uncommon to see bills change slightly as they make their way through the committee process and pass the House and Senate. Should any one piece of legislation pass in different versions in the House and the Senate, the Speaker of the House and the Lieutenant Governor can both appoint a conference committee to work out the differences between the House and Senate versions of a bill. Once the conference committee reaches an agreement, their final, agreed upon version of that bill then goes back to the House and Senate for a final floor vote. Both chambers must vote on the conference committee’s version of the bill to ensure that all contents are completely agreed upon by both chambers. Finally, if approved by both House and Senate, the legislation is sent to the governor’s desk for consideration. Here is a recap of some of the important bills passed this session.
- This bill establishes a state budget for Fiscal Year 2016, was given final approval during the last week of session through a House and Senate conference committee. As the only piece of legislation that we are constitutionally required to pass, the Fiscal Year 2016 budget passed unanimously and will guide all state spending from July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2016. This year’s budget was set by a revenue estimate of $21.8 billion, an increase from last year that enables $900 million in new spending. The majority of new funds will go to K-12 education, an investment in our children that accounts for 55%of the state’s budget. These funds will distribute more dollars to local school systems in hopes of eliminating furlough days and raising salaries for teachers. Additionally, the final version of the budget ensures that non-certificated school workers will continue to receive coverage under the State Health Benefit Plan.
- It also prioritizes health and public safety. To address a shortage of healthcare in rural Georgia, HB76 funds new primary care residency slots and includes $3 million to improve the financial health of struggling and closing hospitals in rural Georgia. Public safety is also a key component to the FY 2016 budget, with $100 million dedicated to repairs for Georgia bridges.
- This bill converts the state sales tax on motor fuels to an excise tax of 26 cents per gallon on gasoline and 29 cents per gallon on diesel fuel. The rate will be adjusted annually based on an aggregate of fuel efficiency standards (CAFÉ) and the Consumer Price Index beginning on July 1, 2016. After July 1, 2018 the Consumer Price Index will no longer be used and the index will be based only on CAFÉ Standards. Not only will the new excise rate help raise the necessary funds for Georgia’s transportation infrastructure, but it will also help keep gas prices more stable and predictable for Georgia’s consumers.
- HB 170 also takes precautions to limit its impact on the revenue generated for local counties through local option sales taxes. Under HB 170, local option sales taxes (LOST), homestead option sales taxes (HOST), municipal option sales taxes (MOST), special purpose local option sales taxes (SPLOST) and education special purpose local option sales taxes (ESPLOST) are left untouched. The local sales taxes will not be levied on any price per gallon above $3, and the legislation also authorizes counties to seek voter approval for transportation SPLOST of up to 1%. These measures ensure that local counties and city governments can continue to generate revenue to provide necessary services for their constituents.
- Other sources of revenue in HB 170 will be generated by ensuring everyone pays their fair share in maintaining Georgia’s transportation infrastructure. HB 170 adds an annual fee for drivers of alternative fuel vehicles, who currently pay less for Georgia’s roads and bridges because they buy little to no gas for their vehicles. The fee totals $200 for non-commercial vehicles and $300 for commercial vehicles. The tax credit for low emission or zero emission vehicles is also eliminated, in recognition of the tax advantage that those drivers already receive from their limited need for gas. Another measure implemented by HB 170 is a fee for heavy vehicles, which cause more wear and tear on Georgia’s roads. Required upon registration, the heavy vehicle fee will be set at $50 for vehicles weighing between 15,500 and 26,000 pounds and $100 for vehicles larger than 26,000 pounds. It also eliminates a tax credit given to commercial airlines and institutes a $5 per night tax on hotel stays, with an exception for extended stay lodging. Combined with the changes to gasoline tax, all of these measures are crucial for raising the necessary funds to support Georgia’s transportation infrastructure.
- Finally, HB 170 implements measures to improve transparency and accountability in the distribution of state transportation dollars. The bill requires the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) to provide the Georgia General Assembly with a ten year strategic plan, which would outline the department’s use of resources for the upcoming years. The Georgia Transportation Infrastructure Bank must also meet a set of requirements to make every effort to balance any loans or other financial assistance equally among all regions of the state. The Georgia Transportation Infrastructure Bank may give preference to eligible projects in tier 1 and tier 2 counties. Additionally, Preference for grants and other financial assistance may be given to eligible projects which have local financial support. This bill also creates the Special Joint Committee on Georgia Revenue Structure to review any future tax reform measures that may come before the General Assembly. I’m proud that HB 170 not only addresses Georgia’s critical transportation needs, but it also ensures that those needs are addressed fairly. Overall, HB 170 ensures public safety on Georgia’s highways and bridges, while also making Georgia a more attractive place for businesses.
- This would improve safety on Georgia’s roads and highways. One measure in SB 76 requires drivers to stop at crosswalks that have flashing beacons. This will improve safety for pedestrians, who must currently step on the crosswalk in order to halt traffic. Other provisions in SB 76 update our state laws for bicycles and motorcycles. One section of the bill will change the existing state law on handle bar height, while another section allows cyclists and bikers to proceed through a traffic light, in the event that the lightweight design of their bike has caused the traffic light to become inoperable. In these situations, the driver must follow all other traffic rules and must ensure that the intersection is clear of oncoming traffic.
- This companion bill to Senate Bill 2 that was passed last week, would allow all high school students, whether in public or private school, to apply to a post-secondary school in order to take one class or more. If accepted, the student could then earn credit for the class at both the student’s high school and the postsecondary institution. This legislation will allow students to move at an accelerated pace that matches their unique career path and interests.
- This would allow local boards to use digital and electronic software instead of physical textbooks. The bill also encourages local boards to purchase all instructional materials in digital or electronic format and to provide an electronic device for students starting in 3rd grade by July 1, 2020.
- These will address the needs of these youth by establishing a Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Fund Commission and toughen the fines and penalties against sex traffickers. The Safe Harbor would provide a physical and emotional refuge for children to rebuild their lives after experiencing sexual exploitation. Additionally, human traffickers would be required to register as sex offenders, and pay into a new Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Fund to help victims with housing, health care and other services. Funding for the harbor will be derived from penalties and fees on strip clubs, an industry that has been known to participate in human trafficking.
- Originally introduced as Senate Bill 1 and passed unanimously in the House, this bill requires insurance companies to cover up to $35,000 for autism treatment for children 6 years of age or younger.
Now that the legislative session has adjourned Sine Die, Governor Deal will begin reviewing legislation that passed both chambers. If approved by him, these bills will become state law in the coming months. If you have any questions about these potential changes to state code or if you have any suggestions for future legislation, I hope that you will contact me. You can reach me at my capitol office at (404) 656-0213 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Additionally, I will be spending a lot more time in the district now, so feel free to contact me locally at (770) 957-3937.
Last Friday was the 30th legislative day for the 2015 Georgia General Assembly. Also known as Crossover Day, this date was the final chance for bills to pass at least one of our two legislative chambers. With Crossover Day behind us, we returned to Capitol Hill this week to focus on legislation that has already been passed by the Georgia Senate. To ensure that every bill is fully vetted before its final passage, we spent most of our time this week in committee meetings reviewing Senate legislation.
In its review of Senate legislation, the House Education Committee heard public testimony on a very important measure, the creation of “Opportunity School Districts” in the state of Georgia, or Senate Bill 133. With strong support from Governor Nathan Deal, SB 133 and its companion legislation, Senate Resolution 287, would create an “Opportunity School District” to allow the state to temporarily step in to assist chronically failing schools. Because Opportunity School Districts have been implemented in other states across the nation, we have the advantage of learning about the program from teachers and school administrators that have experience with such schools, and will take that into consideration.
Although most Senate bills are still in the committee process, a few pieces of legislation passed out of their respective committees and made it to the House floor for a vote.
- Senate Bill 51– SB 51 will help patients enjoy greater convenience in Georgia pharmacies by allowing a pharmacist to give a patient a drug that is “interchangeable,’’ or “bio-similar,” with the patient’s currently prescribed, more expensive, biologic drug. As medical innovation continues to advance, more doctors are using complex drugs made from living organisms, called biologic medicines, to treat their patients with chronic diseases like arthritis and psoriasis. By allowing physicians to prescribe and pharmacists to dispense bio-similars, similar to a generic version of biologics, the cost of medication could potentially be reduced by up to 80%. Furthermore, to ensure patients have full disclosure and knowledge of the change, SB 51 requires the pharmacist to indicate the substitution on the original prescription and on its label. SB 51 also requires the pharmacist to notify the prescriber of this substitution within 48 hours so the doctor is aware of the changes made to the patient’s treatment. SB 51 will improve efficiency in the delivery of Georgia’s healthcare by making it easier for patients to obtain their prescribed medications and offering potential cost-saving benefits.
- House Resolution 303– HR303 urges the State Board of Education to develop and implement a comprehensive civics education curriculum to improve students’ civic knowledge and skills. This education should teach students about their legal rights, as well as their responsibilities as law abiding citizens. Classroom discussions on current events, community service opportunities, and extracurricular activities could all be used as means for delivering the important civics lessons.
- House Resolution 302– HR302 strives to increase the number of doctors in Georgia through a plea to the United States Congress. Currently Georgia faces a shortage of doctors, particularly in rural parts of the state. Last year, Gov. Nathan Deal appointed a committee of legislators and health care advisers to study the problem, and the House Study Committee on Medical Education found that the shortage of doctors is primarily caused by a shortage of residency slots in our state. While the state has taken great steps to increase the number of medical students in Georgia, we still need more support from the federal government to help fund residency slots. HR 302 urges Congress to enact reforms to the nation’s federally-financed graduate medical education programs, so that states like Georgia can receive the fair amount of support we need to meet the health workforce requirements of the future. Since doctors tend to reside where they do their residencies, it is important that we offer more residency slots in rural areas to ultimately gain more doctors in Georgia.
Also this week, we also took some time to recognize some distinguished guests in the House chamber. On Thursday, March 18, we welcomed Chris “Ludacris” Bridges to the Georgia State Capitol. Ludacris is a recording artist, actor, and rapper, record label executive, entrepreneur, philanthropist, hip-hop culture icon, and resident of Georgia. He is also the founder of The Ludacris Foundation, which has donated over $1.5 million and 5,000 hours in hands-on service to youth organizations across the country. Ludacris was recognized for his accomplishments with House Resolution 643.
Also on Thursday, we had the pleasure of hearing former Governor Jeb Bush speak before the House chamber. Governor Bush, who served as the 43rd governor of Florida, reminded us that academic achievement should be our number one priority every year. He discussed that diligence in bettering our education system will help every child in Georgia gain the skills they need to obtain good jobs in adulthood. It is clear that education is a key concern in the General Assembly, and I could not agree more with Governor Bush on this matter.
I am also happy to announce that our colleagues in the Senate this week passed a measure that continues to put education as the top priority for state spending. On Friday, the Senate passed House Bill 76, the 2016 Fiscal Year budget, which will guide state spending from July 1, 2015, through June 30, 2016. The $21.7 billion state budget plan designates a majority of state revenue to education, proving that Georgia’s children are once again our most important investment. Behind education, other priorities include health and human services and public safety initiatives. Now that the Senate has passed their version of the budget, members from both chambers will work together to resolve any discrepancies through a joint conference committee. I look forward to seeing the final version of the budget soon, which we will vote on in the next two weeks.
We also had a town hall meeting on Thursday. Thank you to everyone who attended; it was great to hear from Henry County residents about the proposed legislation.
As we continue working with the Senate to ensure final passage of bills, I encourage you to contact me with any concerns you might have. Your comments are always very important to me, so I hope to hear from you soon. You can reach me at my state capitol office at 404-656-3937 or by email at email@example.com. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.Read More