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.
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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 email@example.com. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.Read More
We returned to the Gold Dome on Monday, March 2nd for the 24th day of the 2015 legislative session. This week, we considered several key pieces of legislation. These bills all address important issues facing our great state, so we reviewed each measure thoroughly and voted on many bills on the House floor.
One of the most significant bills of the Session passed the House last week, House Bill 170. I voted against this legislation for several reasons, but the most compelling reason is its adverse impact on Butts County citizens. HB 170, as currently drafted, will redirect over $1.7 million in sales tax currently collected by Butts County on motor fuel (gas and diesel) to the State. Butts County and its cities derive over 53% of their operating revenue from sales tax on motor fuel. According to county and city officials, this loss in revenue will result in a significant property tax increase, substantial cut in necessary public services, or a combination of both. While I support a shift in the tax code to ensure that users of our roads are paying for the maintenance of our roads, this particular approach deals a crippling blow to the property taxpayers, businesses and citizens of Butts County. My intention is to continue working with leadership in the House and members of the Senate to eliminate the impacts on Butts County.
With that said, let me tell you what HB 170 does assuming it makes it through the Senate without change which is not likely. Transportation improvements have long struggled to match Georgia’s rapid economic progress, resulting in too many roads and bridges that are now in need of critical maintenance. HB 170, or the Transportation Funding Act of 2015, is an attempt to address the critical and urgent need for funding for Georgia’s transportation infrastructure needs. HB 170 seeks to raise just under a billion dollars for maintenance and repair of our state’s bridges and roadways, many of which have been deemed functionally obsolete and structurally deficient; therefore, these funds are crucial to guarantee that our roads and infrastructures are safe for Georgia drivers. Well-maintained roads and bridges will enhance safety and quality of life for our citizens, and should assist with economic development in most of Georgia. Safety and economic development, however, are dependent upon money actually being spent in our counties. As for Butts County in particular, the resulting property tax increase and/or loss of services will greatly discourage new economic development opportunities and may even drive existing businesses away.
If you are interested in the details of how HB 170 works, read on. It provides funding through a variety of measures, including the conversion of the state sales tax on motor fuel to a straight excise tax that will be dedicated to transportation. This excise tax will initially be set at 29.2 cents per gallon, which approximates the sales tax rate that has been imposed on gasoline using a weighted average of the price of gasoline over the previous four years. Unlike the current gas tax, which is a 4% sales tax that varies with the cost of gas, the flat excise tax will provide a more stable alternative. This tax conversion will provide a dedicated, predictable, and steady funding source and a long term solution to our state’s transportation funding issues. Not only will the excise tax conversion provide the necessary funding for transportation maintenance and improvement, it also will help ensure gas taxes remain constant between counties and through periods of high spikes in gas prices.
Additional revenue for our transportation needs will come from a significant bond package that will go towards funding for the 128 transit systems across Georgia. Funding for our transit systems will enable more communities across our state to take advantage of public transportation options. This bond package is a practical way to provide more immediate funding for our transportation needs, while leveraging the state’s high credit.
Other funding sources in the Transportation Funding Act include the establishment of a user fee for alternative fueled vehicles of $200 for non-commercial and $300 for commercial vehicles each year. As these vehicles do not use gasoline, their owners do not currently pay their share of taxes devoted to the maintenance of the roads they use. This fee will provide equality among those who drive on our roads. HB 170 will also eliminate the state tax credit for the purchase of alternative fueled vehicles, as well as the state tax credit on jet fuel, which was established several years ago in a struggling economy, where companies were in jeopardy of bankruptcy. Furthermore, the Georgia Transportation Infrastructure Bank will grant preference for loans to be given to tier 1 and tier 2 counties, as well as to eligible projects with local financial assistance.
In addition to HB 170, the House passed another piece of legislation to better ensure safety on Georgia’s highways and roads. HB 190 requires appropriate automobile insurance for drivers in transportation network companies, such as Uberand Lyft. Currently, many of these drivers are offering ride-share services to the public with their personal auto policy, which does not cover commercial activity when the vehicle is being used for hire. Because personal insurance policies will not cover any damages or losses if a vehicle is being used for commercial use, drivers have gaps in insurance coverage, which puts both the driver and passenger at risk in the event of an accident. HB 190 addresses this disparity in coverage by requiring the transportation network company or the driver to purchase a commercial motor vehicle insurance policy that maintains $1 million in insurance coverage for drivers anytime they are logged into the company system, regardless if any passengers are on board. The legislation also requires at least $300,000 in coverage for bodily injury or death and $50,000 for property damage. HB 190 takes the necessary steps to protect the many Georgians who drive or ride with companies like Uber and Lyft.
House Bill 325 also passed this week to improve transportation safety in Georgia. HB 325 expands seat belt laws by requiring vans that have 15 passenger capacities to wear seat belts. Under current law, safety belts are only required for vans that carry 10 passengers or fewer. According to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) study, approximately 1,111 fatalities occurred between 1990 and 2002 as a result of crashes involving 15 passenger vans, and the study found that 80% of those who died were not wearing seat belts. These are hundreds of lives that could have potentially been saved by the simple act of buckling a seat belt. HB 325 draws attention to this important issue, and will make drivers and passengers on Georgia’s roads more aware of the need to buckle up, ultimately saving lives.
Another life-saving bill passed this week was House Bill 210, which allows Georgia citizens to qualify for organ donation by utilizing state issued I.D. cards. Currently, organ donor status is listed on drivers’ licenses, but not on state issued I.D. cards. HB 210 changes this, so that more people can become organ donors, regardless of their eligibility to drive in Georgia. It is important that we encourage public education and awareness of the value and lifesaving ability of organ donation, and I hope that HB 210 allows for more citizens to engage in this discussion and process.
In addition to passing several measures related to our state’s transportation system, the House also passed a bill to improve the health and safety of our children. House Bill 362 ensures that schools are well equipped to treat students with asthma by allowing schools to obtain and stock levalbuterol sulfate, a medication commonly used to treat asthma. Under HB 362, any school employee who is trained in recognizing symptoms of respiratory distress could administer the medication to students. Asthma is such a common illness and schools should be prepared to help our children handle these types of emergencies.
Another issue that our schools must be prepared to manage is illiteracy. To combat illiteracy, Governor Deal and First Lady Sandra Deal announced Read Across Georgia Month, a campaign to make reading more fun for Georgia’s children. As a part of the celebrations, First Lady Deal visited the House and introduced a new Pre-K book, TJ’s Discovery, which was written by teachers at the Rollins Center for Language and Literacy at the Atlanta Speech School. This book will be given as a gift to every student in Georgia’s Pre-K program and helps teach parents and caregivers how to make reading come alive to the children in their lives. I commend our First Lady for her diligent efforts to help Georgia’s children develop a lifelong love of reading.
Finally, this week we took some time to recognize John Smoltz, a former pitcher for the Atlanta Braves and honoree in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. In addition to being named an eight-time All Star, Smoltz is the only pitcher in major league history to top both 200 wins and 150 saves. Smoltz was honored before the Georgia House of Representatives with House Resolution 343 for his accomplishments both on and off the field. I’m proud that such an outstanding athlete and citizen claims Georgia as his home state.
Next week will be an extremely busy week at the Georgia State Capitol. On Friday, March 13, 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. With this deadline in mind, we will work diligently to pass legislation through the House chamber. I hope that you will contact me during this crucial week, so that I can address any concerns you might have. You can visit me or call my office at the State Capitol. The number is 404-656-0213. I look forward to hearing from you.
The state House recently honored John Smoltz! He played 21 seasons in MLB for three teams, all but one of which were spent with the Atlanta Braves!
On Tuesday, February 17, we began the sixth week of the 2015 legislative session. We were able to continue session as scheduled, despite the winter storm in other areas of the state. We completed day 19 of the session, so we are about halfway finished. With the 2015 legislative session heating up, an increasing number of bills were passed out of committees and voted upon by the full body of the House.
Senate Bill 5
The House and Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 5, which will enable the Georgia Ports Authority to accept federal dollars for the Savannah Harbor deepening project. The project began last month, and the project will deepen the Savannah River from 42 feet to 47 feet, allowing the port to accommodate larger container ships. The state of Georgia has thus far designated $266 million towards the project, and President Obama recently requested the appropriation of $42 million in federal funds from Congress. Thanks to the combination of state and federal funding, the project is currently scheduled to be finished by 2020. With the new improvements, Savannah Harbor has the potential to become one of the busiest ports in the world and positively impact counties all over Georgia.
House Bill 100
The House passed another important bill related to Georgia’s education system this week. The statute requires that a child be 5 years old by August 1st to be able to enroll in kindergarten. The current cutoff date is September 1st, and this change will take effect for the 2017-2018 school year; July 1st will be the cutoff date for the 2018-2019 school year and all years thereafter. This legislation will provide children with a better opportunity for success throughout their educational careers by ensuring that they are well prepared and mature enough to begin that journey. In the past, educators have been concerned with the maturity of younger students, and I think this legislation will help alleviate those concerns.
House Bill 198
This week, the House unanimously passed House Bill 198; this legislation is an important topic to protect teens and young adults in Georgia. HB 198 aims to lower the rate of suicide among teens by requiring annual suicide prevention training for certified public school system personnel in order for them to better identify symptoms of suicide. Suicide is a very real problem among young people, and is the third leading cause of death for youth ages 10 to 24, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This training will teach staff when to refer students to mental health services and how to identify those resources within their schools and/or communities. This training and implementation would be free for all school systems. It is our hope that this legislation will help equip Georgia school employees with the tools they need to prevent these unfortunate situations.
House Bill 119
We passed legislation to help protect our law enforcement officers this week. House Bill 119 authorizes probate judges to disclose to peace officers if a patient who is being held in their custody is legally determined to have AIDS. This legislation will help keep our men and women in uniform safe and allow them to take appropriate health safety precautions. It is necessary that we protect Georgia’s law enforcement officers, who already make so many sacrifices to keep us safe.
As for House Bill 170, I have received several calls, emails and messages from folks in the district regarding my position on HB 170. I cannot support HB 170 as it came out of committee this week. I do support shifting sales taxes on motor fuel to an excise tax because the excise tax must be used on roads and bridges and thus cannot be lost in the general fund. Read More.
If you have concerns or questions about proposed legislation, I hope that you will contact me. I am always eager to hear from you, so that I can better understand what issues are most important to you and your family. Please stop by and visit me at the Capitol 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. The phone number is 404.656.0213.Read More
We returned to Capitol Hill on Monday, February 9th for the fifth week of the 2015 legislative session. Many bills are beginning to make their way out of committee to receive a vote from the entire House of Representatives. We quickly got to work voting on several pieces of legislation to help the citizens of Georgia.
We kicked off our fifth week of session by passing the Solar Power Free Market Financing Act, or House Bill 57. This legislation, passed unanimously by our body, will make it easier and more affordable for Georgians to put solar panels on their rooftops by allowing individuals to fund solar power installations through third-party financing plans. With the option to finance, more homeowners and small business owners can avoid financial barriers, and pay for the use of these systems over time. If approved by the Senate and Governor Deal, this measure will provide our citizens with more energy options and the opportunity to lower their power bills.
The House also passed a measure this week to improve the quality of life for Georgia’s elderly. House Bill 86 creates the Georgia Adult and Aging Services Agency, which will take on the responsibility of improving services, and ensuring that services are properly and effectively administered to meet the needs of older adults and people with disabilities. The bill would move the current Division of Aging Services out of the Department of Human Services, which is responsible for many other initiatives. This important bill ensures that our seniors receive the full care and attention that they deserve, and I look forward to seeing this legislation make its way through the Senate.
We also continued to focus much of our attention this week on Georgia’s education system and its students. As I have written in previous weeks, education is a top priority in the General Assembly, and the unanimous passage of HB 91 in the House this week further speaks to that point. This legislation would make it easier for some deserving students to obtain high school diplomas. HB 91 retroactively allows former high school students who failed the Georgia High School Graduation Test, an assessment that was phased out in the 2011-2012 school year, the chance to receive a diploma. HB 91 allows those students who met all other requirements for graduation to petition their local school board where they were last enrolled to obtain a degree. HB 91 will tremendously benefit these individuals by giving them the option to pursue postsecondary education and thus helping them succeed in Georgia’s workforce.
Just as HB 91 opens doors of opportunity for former high school students, legislation introduced in the Senate this week is aimed at providing improvement opportunities for schools in Georgia. This week Governor Deal, along with Senator Butch Miller, introduced a senate resolution to create “Opportunity School Districts.” This model of education, which has proven to be successful in several states, allows the state to temporarily step in to assist chronically failing schools. Under the governor’s proposal, a school is considered to be chronically failing if it scored below 60 on the College and Career Performance Index (CCRPI), for three consecutive years. If deemed an Opportunity School District, the state would then temporarily assume supervision, management, and oversight of that school. This measure, which would require a constitutional amendment and referendum from Georgia voters, would ensure that all children have access to the outstanding education that they deserve. I am eager to learn more about the governor’s proposal and the ways that we can address the critical problem of underperforming schools in our state.
Also this week, we passed an adjournment calendar that sets the legislative schedule through the remainder of the 2015 legislative session. Based on this adjournment resolution, the 40th legislative day, marking the conclusion of session, will be on April 2. I hope that you will contact me before that day to provide feedback and way in which I can better serve you and your family. Please stop by and visit if you are in Atlanta or call my office at the State Capitol. The phone number is (404) 6560213
Finally, a group of 4th graders from Community Christian School toured the capitol. It is such a delight to see our youth taking an interest in politics!
During the third week of the Georgia General Assembly’s 2015 legislative session, my colleagues and I had the responsibility of passing one of the most important pieces of legislation of the year: the 2015 amended fiscal year budget (AFY 2015). This budget, a mid-year adjustment of state spending through June 30, 2015, 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 2015 budget. Thanks to the committee’s diligent work, the House version of the Amended Fiscal Year 2015 (AFY 2015) budget was packaged into House Bill 75 and was passed unanimously by the House on Thursday, January 29th.
The House version of the AFY 2015 budget is very similar to Gov. Deal’s initial budget proposal. The amended budget includes an addition of $276 million in “new” funds, 70% of which will go toward education. Here are how the funds were allocated.
- $128.5 million will go towards K-12 enrollment growth
- $35 million will be added for local school systems to expand their wireless broadband internet connectivity.
- $7.4 million will go for equalization funding grants that will provide additional funds to K-12 systems that qualify based on per student wealth rankings
- $750,000 will go to support the Governor’s newly created Education Reform Commission
Higher education was also set as a budget priority, with funds designated for new engineering and military scholarships and the creation of the Georgia Film Academy. I am happy to see our state continue to put money into our school systems, as our children are a precious resource.
There are also several significant additions for economic development in our state. As we strive to ensure that Georgia remains the number one state in the country to do business, the House version of the AFY 2015 budget appropriates the following.
- $20 million in grants toward job-creating economic development projects through the OneGeorgia Authority
- $20 million for Regional Economic Business Assistance grants
- $4.5 million to support routine maintenance in the Department of Transportation
- $1.5 million set aside to keep Xpress buses running in 13 metro counties
By financing transportation and economic development projects such as these, we can make Georgia an even better place for business for years to come.
With a thriving economy comes an increase in our state’s population, so it is crucial that we take measures to ensure the good health and safety of all citizens.
- $5 million in the AFY 2015 budget is allocated for driver education programs to improve safety on Georgia’s roads.
- Funds are also set aside to expand the length of the Department of Corrections’ Residential Substance Abuse Treatment program from six to nine months
- The Board of Regents is issued $4.8 million to provide clinical trials on cannabidiol for children with medication resistant epilepsy.
These programs, among others, will make Georgia healthier and safer for families across the state.
In addition to passing the amended budget, we also took time to recognize some outstanding citizens across our state. On Monday, January 26, the House celebrated Georgia National Guard Day in honor of our brave Georgians in uniform. Dozens of airmen and soldiers visited the State Capitol and were recognized for their accomplishments on the House floor with House Resolution 27. We also had the honor of witnessing a new member of the Georgia National Guard be sworn into the Army National Guard by our colleague and veteran, Representative John Yates. It was an honor to meet this new soldier, as well as the many others who make such tremendous sacrifices for our freedom and safety.
On Tuesday, January 27, we had the privilege of meeting another group of courageous Georgians in honor of National Holocaust Remembrance Day. On this day, we paid special tribute to the Holocaust witnesses of liberation. These heroic Americans witnessed some of the worst atrocities in human history while they were serving in the U.S. military during World War II. They were each recognized in the House Chamber for their contribution to history preservation and the role that they played in the liberation of the Holocaust. Our colleague, Representative John Yates was among the six honorees that were recognized before the House.
Finally, this week we welcomed members of the Atlanta Hawks basketball team to the Gold Dome. Hall-of-Famer Dominique Wilkins, CEO Steve Koonin, coach Mike Budenholzer, shooting guard Kyle Korver, and forward Elton Brand all visited the capitol on Tuesday, January 27th. After a recent 16 game winning streak, the Hawks were recognized before the House for their sportsmanship, citizenship, and positive economic impact on Atlanta.
As the 2015 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