Last Thursday, March 24, 2016, was “Sine Die.” This means that the legislative session came to an end, but not before we passed a number of important bills.
One of the most important pieces of legislation passed this session was House Bill 751, which establishes the state budget for Fiscal Year 2017. The final version of HB 751 was passed after a House and Senate conference committee worked out the differences between each body’s version of the budget. The budget will guide state spending from July 1, 2016 until June 30, 2017. The FY 2017 budget set the state’s largest budget in history at $23.7 billion dollars.
As a result, the House was able to fund a number of its priorities, including:
- rate increases for health and human service providers
- salary adjustments for K-12 teachers, Pre-K teachers, bus drivers, nutrition workers and school nurses
- salary increases for public health nurses, sworn law enforcement officers and other critical positions to address retention issues
We prioritized education funding in the state budget, and we focused on key education policy initiatives last week, passing three education-related measures.
- Senate Bill 18 would establish policies within the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) that would allow active duty military or veteran students to obtain academic credit for previous college-level learning attained prior to their enrollment. SB 18 would require any institution within TCSG to grant academic credit for college-level learning accomplished before enrollment and would only apply to training and experience obtained through military service that was substantially related to the coursework credit given by the TCSG. This bill would give those who defend our country a head start in their post-secondary education!
- Senate Bill 329 would expand the Quality Basic Education Act to award high school diplomas to students who complete dual credit coursework. SB 329 would award a high school diploma to students who complete college dual-credit coursework and have earned certification to work in an “in-need” industry as determined by the State Board of the Technical College System of Georgia. Furthermore, students who meet these requirements to receive a high school diploma would also be eligible to receive the HOPE Scholarship or participate in the Move On When Ready dual-enrollment assistance program.
- My colleagues and I also gave final passage to Senate Bill 348 this week. SB 348 would simplify the process of creating a college and career academy. A college and career academy operates as a partnership and collaboration between businesses, high schools and postsecondary institutions to advance workforce development and work based learning programs. SB 348 would allow local school systems to create a college and career academy as part of a contract to act as a strategic waivers school system. Any established charter or strategic waiver district would have the power to create a college and career academy, as opposed to current law which only allows standalone charter schools to create college and career academies. Finally, SB 348 provides training requirements for the governing boards of college and career academies, including best practices, constitutional and statutory requirements, applicable statutes, and rules and regulations.
Senate Bill 230, the “Uniform Emergency Volunteer Health Practitioners Act,” also received final passage this week to provide Georgians with increased access to healthcare resources and medical personnel during states of emergency in Georgia and other cooperating states. SB 230 would waive licensing requirements for volunteer health practitioners from participating states to allow those volunteers to assist with medical needs in the event of a natural disaster or during a state of emergency even if those volunteers are not residents of Georgia. Volunteer health practitioners would be eligible to provide health and veterinary services provided that they are registered with a volunteer health practitioner registration system, have a license to practice medicine in their home state, and are in good standing in the state where they are licensed. During a state of emergency, the governor would define the length of time, locations, and types of medical practice which volunteer practitioners would perform, while representatives of GEMA or any host entity would have the authority to accept or deny volunteer applications.
Senate Bill 304, the “Pursuing Justice for Rape Victims Act,” unanimously passed the House to outline proper protocol and requirements for recording and reporting evidence collected during a forensic medical evaluation for investigations of rape. Forensic medical examiners would be required to notify law enforcement officials of this evidence, and law enforcement officers would then have 96 hours to collect the kit once the exam is completed. After collecting the kit, law enforcement officials would then have 30 days to submit the evidence to the proper division, where records of all evidence and kits collected would be kept. An annual report would be complied each December and given to the Governor, Speaker of the House, Lieutenant Governor, members of the House and Senate Judiciary and Non-Civil Committees, and posted online at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s website detailing the number of kits tested as well as those that were not tested.
Now that the General Assembly has adjourned sine die, these bills are in the hands of Governor Deal. The governor has 40 days to sign or veto the legislation. This means that any bill or resolution that the governor has not vetoed by Tuesday, May 3, 2016, will become state law in the coming months.
Although session is over, I hope that you will continue to contact me with any questions or concerns that you might have regarding your state government. 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 Andy.Welch@house.ga.gov.
Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.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.
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!
Monday, February 23 marked the half-way point of the 2015 legislative session. Among the bills passed this week was one of the most crucial pieces of legislation of the session, the Fiscal Year 2016 (FY 2016) budget. The Fiscal Year 2016 budget is the only piece of legislation that the General Assembly is required to pass, according to the Georgia Constitution. The 2016 budget, or House Bill 76, is the initial guide for all state spending from July 1, 2015 through June 30, 2016. This year’s budget was set by a revenue estimate of $21.7 billion, a 4.5% increase from the Fiscal Year 2015 budget.
With the increase in state revenue, the House was able to fund a number of priorities in the FY 2016 budget including:
- Enhanced funding for education
- Maintaining State Health Benefit Plan coverage for non-certificated school employees
- Support for Georgia’s rural hospitals
Of the new revenue in the FY 2016 budget, 60% of those funds are budgeted for K-12 education expenses. K-12 education funds, totaling $571.9 million. This will help:
- Fully fund enrollment growth
- Allow for additional training for teachers
- Provide charter system grants and State Commission Charter School supplements
- Increase opportunities for agricultural and career/technical education
- Distribute more dollars to local school systems in hopes of eliminating furlough days and raising salaries for teachers
Additionally, the House version of the budget takes a strong stance on continuing the State Health Benefit Plan coverage for non-certificated school workers and includes additional funds to continue coverage for these valuable school workers.
Just as transportation has been a major topic under the Gold Dome, funding for state transportation projects was also set as a key priority in the FY 2016 budget. HB 76 includes an infusion of $55 million in state dollars and $210 million in bonds to improve our roads, rail, airports, bridges and cargo. This appropriation includes
- $3.9 million in prior-year funds
- $2 million to match federal funds for traffic management and control projects
- $9.6 million for the State Road and Tollway Authority, with $7.6 million specifically dedicated to funding projects through the Georgia Transportation Infrastructure Bank
- $17.1 million in debt service for $200 million in bonds for bridge repair and rehabilitation and transit projects statewide
Maintaining and repairing our roads and bridges is vital to every part of our state, and it is our duty to ensure that our roadways continue to be safe for Georgia drivers.
The FY 2016 budget also funds a variety of health initiatives. HB 76 includes
- $3 million to improve the financial health of struggling and closing hospitals in rural Georgia to leverage technology to improve patient outcomes
- $250,000 start-up grant for a community health center in Wheeler County
- $50,000 to support the Georgia Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center at Grady Memorial Hospital.
Additional investments were also made in our future doctors, with:
- An increase in funds for both Mercer and Morehouse Schools of Medicine
- Funding for 11 additional primary care residency slots
- The establishment of a rural clinical rotation for primary care students in Sandersville
- $200,000 to revive a rural dentistry program that provides debt relief with a service commitment to practice in a rural or under-served area.
With these dollars, we hope to not only prepare a future generation of doctors, but to also address the shortage of health care in rural areas. The Fiscal Year 2016 budget, HB 76, will now go to the Senate for their review and consideration.
In addition to passing the FY 2016 budget, my colleagues and I passed an extremely valuable measure to improve the quality of life for Georgia’s children and adults. HB 1 was passed overwhelmingly in the House and would decriminalize the possession of medical cannabis oil in Georgia for individuals with certain medical conditions who have obtained cannabis oil legally in another state. Qualifying conditions under HB 1 include cancer, multiple sclerosis, seizure disorders, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease), Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, mitochondrial disease, sickle cell disease, and fibromyalgia. These individuals would only be allowed to possess cannabis oil with a maximum of 5% THC and a maximum amount of 20 fluid ounces of cannabis oil. HB 1 would also require that potential patients register with the Georgia Department of Public Health and be placed on the “Low-THC Oil Patient Registry.” These individuals would then receive a registration card to indicate that they are legally in possession of this oil, thus exempting them from prosecution in Georgia as long as the oil has been legally obtained in another state and meets the aforementioned requirements.
Because we realize that this legislation is merely a starting point, the bill also creates the Georgia Commission on Medical Cannabis to examine the possibility of future policies related to medical cannabis oil in our state. This commission will be charged with making a recommendation for the potential regulatory infrastructure for the creation of an in-state growth/distribution model of medical cannabis, and must make its recommendations to Governor Deal by December 2015. The members of the commission will include the Director of the Governor’s Office for Children and Families, the Director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the Director of the Georgia Drugs and Narcotics Agency, the Commissioner of Agriculture, the governor’s executive counsel, members of the General Assembly, medical professionals, law enforcement officials, and pharmacists. With the work of this commission and the other measures in House Bill 1, we hope to eventually ensure that no Georgian will ever have to move to another state to obtain medical cannabis oil to treat a debilitating illness.
Another bill passed to improve Georgia’s healthcare this week was House Resolution 304. This legislation encourages Georgia’s technical schools, colleges, and universities to include education on gerontology and dementia in their academic curriculum. Georgia’s elderly population is increasing four times faster than the younger population. In fact, the state’s population over the age of 60 years old is expected to increase by 65.8% between 2010 and 2030. As the elderly population continues to rise, healthcare professionals will begin to see more patients with dementia and other health issues related to aging, and our healthcare professionals must be prepared to handle these cases. HR 304 addresses this potential issue and puts Georgia at the forefront of gerontology care.
Finally this week, we passed House Bill 70 to recognize the white tail deer as Georgia’s official state mammal. The idea for this legislation came from first-graders at Reese Road Leadership Academy in Columbus, Georgia who learned that Georgia is one of only three states that does not have an official state mammal. The children brought this to the attention of lawmakers and leaders of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and it was ultimately decided that the white tail deer become Georgia’s official state mammal. According to DNR, white tail deer bring in more than $800 million per year in
- Hunting license fees
- Sporting equipment sales
- Land leases
Therefore having a significant economic impact on the state of Georgia. This legislation, however, does not grant the animal any protection from hunters or change hunting laws in any way. I am glad that HB 70 helped teach some of Georgia’s youngest learners about the legislative process, while also recognizing an animal that has been an important economic and recreational resource for Georgians.
Now that we have passed the half-way point for the 2015 legislative session, we will soon begin to work even longer hours and vote on more legislation under the Gold Dome. I hope that you will contact me, so that I can apply your ideas and opinions to these last few weeks of lawmaking. You are always welcome to visit or call my office at the State Capitol. The number is 404-656-0213. I look forward to hearing from you.Read More
On Monday, February 2, 2015, we returned to the Gold Dome for another busy week. My colleagues and I spent much of our time reviewing various pieces of legislation that have been introduced in the House. The House and Senate went into a joint session on Wednesday in the House Chamber for the State of the Judiciary Address, from Chief Justice Hugh Thompson, who 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.
Georgia’s judicial system is sound and strong, according to the Chief Justice and head of the state’s judicial branch of government. In his address, Chief Justice Thompson recognized the successful expansion of specialty courts in Georgia. A specialty court, also known as an accountability court or problem solving court, is a cost-effective criminal justice alternative for non-violent offenders. Specialty courts, such as drug and mental health treatment courts, hold offenders accountable through court-supervised treatment programs. In his speech, Chief Justice Thompson shared success stories from some specialty courts in our state. He recognized Superior Court Judge Reuben Green, who oversees a veteran’s court in Cobb County that matches participants with supportive volunteers who are dedicated to keeping our veterans out of jail and mentor them through the program. I was pleased to hear that the 116 Georgia specialty courts have helped more than 5,000 Georgians avoid incarceration.
While Chief Justice Thompson shared the state’s judiciary achievements over the last year, he also spoke of the challenges that lie ahead. One challenge we face in Georgia is providing access to justice. He reminded us that six counties in Georgia are without a single lawyer, and 20 counties have fewer than five lawyers. As a result, judges are seeing a growing number of people who come to court without a lawyer and attempt to represent themselves, which usually results in an unfavorable decision, as the judges do not have the information they need to make just decisions. All Georgians deserve to have access to justice, regardless of their place of residence, or socioeconomic status. To address this challenge and expand access to justice in our state, Chief Justice Thompson asked for support of newly introduced legislation to encourage attorneys to work in underserved rural areas of Georgia. This legislation would create a pilot program in which a small number of law school graduates would receive college loan payment assistance for agreeing to work in an underserved county for at least five years.This bill was introduced in the House this week as HB 236 and will now make its way through the legislative process.
In addition to the State of the Judiciary Address, we saw several bills pass out of their respective committees this week.
- The House Education Committee voted ‘do pass’ on an important measure in House Bill 62. This legislation waives certain residency requirements so that children of active duty military personnel in Georgia have the ability to receive special needs scholarships. Military families are often required to relocate across the country, and these children should not be denied educational opportunities.
- House Bill 65 was considered also, which would increase transparency in local school boards by requiring the boards to hold at least two public meetings before adopting any budget. This would give parents and taxpayers the opportunity to see how their education dollars are being spent and to provide input.
Both HB 62 and HB 65 will now be sent to the Rules Committee before making their way to the House floor for a vote.
While the House Education Committee was busy passing bills, our colleagues in the Senate passed a bill that will strengthen our education system.
- Senate Bill 2 passed the Senate unanimously and would provide high school students with alternative ways to earn their high school diplomas. Students can earn their high school diplomas and start their post-secondary degrees simultaneously. Now that this legislation has passed the Senate, it will go through the committee process in the House as my colleagues and I review the details of the bill.
- Finally, we received some exciting news out of Washington D.C. about the future of The Savannah Harbor Expansion Project. In his 2016 budget proposal, President Obama requested that Congress designate $42 million for dredging the river channel that cargo ships use to reach the Port of Savannah. This funding, in addition to the $266 million from the state of Georgia, will help the expansion stay on schedule to be completed by 2020, which will bring jobs and boost our economy.
I wanted to share with you some information about House Bill 244, also known as Safe Harbor/Rachel’s Law Act. The bill is named for Rachel, a young lady who was forced into prostitution by her so-called boyfriend at the age of 17; Rachel is now 20 years old and recovering. Members of the state House and Senate are teaming up to provide more protection against child sex trafficking. Safe Harbor/Rachel’s Law Act will do several things: provide resources for the victims of child sex trafficking and penalize pimps and other people who take part in the sexual victimization of children. I believe this bill will help victims recover and help the fight to end child sex trafficking.
Here are some recent press articles to further familiarize yourself with Safe Harbor/Rachel’s Law Act.
- Bills seek to help sex trafficking victims, penalize pimps
- State lawmakers to propose stronger sex trafficking laws
- New effort by state lawmakers to go after child sex traffickers
- Georgia lawmakers pursue stronger effort against sex trafficking
In the coming weeks, we will be reviewing even more pieces of legislation in committees and on the House floor. 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
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
INDIANAPOLIS (June 12-13, 2014) –
Georgia State Representative Andy Welch along with Representatives Bruce Williamson, Buzz Brockway, Tim Barr, and Paulette Braddock as well as Senator Bill Cowsert from Georgia joined a bi-partisan group of over 100 state legislators representing 33 states at the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis this past June 12 and 13. The Assembly of State Legislatures (a.k.a the “Mount Vernon Assembly”) gathered to continue work toward a recommendatory set rules and procedures for a future state-led convention for proposing amendments to the U.S. Constitution as authorized by Article V of the Constitution. This Indianapolis meeting is a continuation of our efforts that began in on December 7, 2013 at George Washington’s historic Mount Vernon estate in Virginia.
The Assembly did not consider any specific constitutional amendments. Rather, its focus is on building the framework needed to hold a potential amendment convention in the future, should one be called by the states under Article V of the U.S. Constitution. The meeting was open to the public and was streamed live.
The Executive Committee assigned Representatives Welch and Braddock to serve on the Judiciary Committee. After a long afternoon of discussion and debate regarding the process for a state-initiated application for a convention and the manner of the Congressional call for such a convention, the committee recommended the formation of two subcommittees. The Applications Subcommittee will review and determine the validity and effect of all existing applications filed by the States with Congress calling for an Article V convention. The Call Subcommittee will analysis the process, form and manner of Congress’s duty to call a convention of the states for the purpose proposing amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
The Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to recommend Rep. Andy Welch for chair of the Applications Subcommittee. Welch accepted the nomination but only after requesting and receiving the blessing of the Committee to add Senator Marv Hagedorn from Idaho as a co-Chair. Welch mused that “Peaches and Potatoes can make a good combination.” The Application Subcommittee anticipates completing its work in about 3 months, which will help inform the Assembly at its next meeting in December of this year.
Representatives Williamson and Brockway, assigned to the Planning, Communications and Finance Committee, worked with the committee to outline the structure of the Assembly and initiated discussions regarding the next meeting location in December and funding. Rep. Williamson proposed holding the next meeting in Atlanta. Serving on the Rules and Procedures Committee, Rep. Barr and Sen. Cowsert participated in debate regarding the particular rules and procedures to be recommended to govern a future convention of the states.
In the closing session, Welch and Williamson engaged in amendments and debate regarding the language of a resolution approved unanimously by the body. In short, the resolution requests that each state send a bi-partisan delegation of at least 3 currently elected legislators to the next gathering of the Assembly in December.
When asked about the import of the Assembly, Welch stated: “The fact that such a large and diversified group of state delegates has now met twice, with more meetings to come, regarding a convention to amend the U.S. Constitution is indicative that Congress has failed to address the legitimate redresses of citizens and states across this nation. When Congress falls deaf to the people, the drafters of our Constitution authorized the States to act by proposing amendments at a convention of the states. The Assembly of State Legislatures is one of many groups calling on the States to listen to the American people and lead. I am honored and excited to be a part of this movement.”Read More