On Monday, February 3, 2014, we returned to the Gold Dome. With the 2014 legislative session heating up, we had a very busy and productive week. Dozens of committees and subcommittees met to review proposed legislation, and my colleagues and I met on the House floor every day to vote on many different bills and resolutions. We also heard Chief Justice Hugh Thompson give his first State of the Judiciary Address in a joint session with our colleagues from the Senate. In his address, Chief Justice Thompson applauded a series of criminal justice reform bills that we have passed over the last few years. One of the main goals of criminal justice reform was to increase the number of accountability courts in Georgia. Chief Justice Thompson proclaimed that 93% of these court graduates remain free of criminal charges and 85% are employed. With fewer people in prison, these courts save Georgia more than $20 million in prison costs each year.
In addition to hearing the State of the Judiciary, we also met on the House floor to vote on several pieces of legislation. One of the bills that we passed last week could have a significant impact on Georgia’s education system. House Bill 766 allows students over the age of 16 to obtain coursework credit for work based learning programs. House Bill 766 enables school districts and businesses to develop partnerships, so that they can better prepare tomorrow’s workforce with the skills they need to thrive. These bills will now go to the Senate for consideration.
In addition to passing legislation for Georgia’s youth, we also passed two pieces of legislation that would make it easier for residents and visitors to enjoy Georgia’s outstanding hunting and fishing opportunities. House Bill 740 allows all active duty military personnel and their families to obtain a Georgia hunting and fishing license, even if they do not list Georgia as their home of record. Similarly, HB 786 creates a non-resident lifetime infant sportsman’s license, so that children from other states can more easily enjoy Georgia’s hunting and fishing opportunities throughout their entire life.
Another bill passed this week was House Bill 774, which could raise the speed limit on interstates in the metro Atlanta area. Current law requires that the speed limit not exceed 65 mph in metro areas with a population greater than 50,000. HB 774 could raise that speed limit to 70 mph, upon completion of a traffic study. HB 774 passed the House on Monday with bi- partisan support. While all of these bills and others were passed by the full body of the House, other bills were studied in committees so that they will soon be ready for a floor vote in the weeks ahead. One bill that was heard in the Public Safety & Homeland Security Committee this week was House Bill 875. HB 875 has many components but would primarily expand 2nd Amendment rights for current Georgia Weapons Carry license holders by increasing locations where those individuals can carry their weapons and emphasizing private property.
The bill would give these individuals broader access to government buildings, if that building does not provide active security at entrances, and allow private property owners to decide on the prohibition or permit of weapons at churches and bars. HB 875 also allows veterans under the age of 21 who have been honorably discharged from service to receive a weapons carry license, eliminates the re-fingerprinting requirement for weapons carry license renewals, prohibits the creation of a database of license holders, and lessens the penalty for license holders who are found carrying a weapon on college campuses. While HB 875 would expand rights for responsible, law-abiding citizens, it also takes measures to improve mental health regulations for Georgia Weapons Carry license applicants. Under HB 875, licenses would be denied to any person who has been deemed “mentally incompetent to stand trial” or any person who is been deemed “not guilty by reason of insanity” at the time of the trial. The bill also ensures that these groups shall be reported within 10 days to the Georgia Crime Information Center (GCIC).
Probate judges shall check GCIC to ensure that what is on the application form is accurate, thereby ensuring the public’s trust in our license process. Additionally, HB 875 would give school boards the opportunity and choice to arm an employee under their well-thought-out guidelines and supervision. Finally, under a state of emergency declaration declared by the governor, this bill would prevent the confiscation of weapons or ammunition by the state, which is currently allowable. HB 875 was voted out of committee this week, and now awaits further action in the Rules Committee.
Another piece of legislation that was heard in the House Education Committee this week was House Resolution 486. This resolution would call for a constitutional amendment to allow any newly created cities or municipalities to set up their own school system. The legislation was passed out of the Education Committee and now goes to the full House of Representatives for consideration. As a constitutional amendment, the legislation must pass by two-thirds of the state
House and Senate before it can go to the voters for their consideration. Meanwhile, our colleagues in the Senate passed the Amended Fiscal Year 2014 budget, the state’s mid-year spending plan, this week. The Senate passed a slightly different version of House Bill 743 than we previously passed in the House last month. The amended budget will now move to a House and Senate Conference Committee to work out a final spending plan to submit for a final vote of the full legislature.
As legislation makes its way through committees and onto the House floor for a vote, I hope that you will contact me with your ideas and opinions. I am always eager to hear from you, so that I can better understand what issues are most important you and your family. Please stop by and visit if you are in Atlanta during the legislative session, or call my office at the State Capitol and let me know what I can do for you. The phone number is 404-656-0109.Read More
Last week, Winter Storm Leon brought snow and ice to many parts of our great state.
Leon’s impact on the metro Atlanta area was particularly harsh. Schools, government, and private businesses, who originally believed the bulk of the storm would hit further South, all released their students and employees onto the highways on Tuesday when the snow began to fall. The combination of icy roads and high volumes of traffic produced gridlock that forced many motorists to be stuck in hours-long traffic jams. The Georgia National Guard, Georgia Department of Transportation, and state troopers quickly got to work to help stranded motorists find shelter and clear the roads of ice, snow and abandoned vehicles. I was pleased to see that many Georgians reached out to those in need with a true spirit of Southern hospitality. Given the conditions, the House postponed all legislative business on Wednesday, January 29 and Thursday, January 30. This action helped ensure the safety of all Members and staff of the Georgia General Assembly, and also kept the roads clear of unnecessary traffic, so that GDOT could get our roads back up and running.
Despite Mother Nature’s disruption, we were able return to the House on Friday, January 31. One of our first orders of business was the passage of House Bill 176, the “Mobile Broadband Infrastructure Leads to Development Act,” which could result in better cell phone service for Georgians. This legislation would allow previously approved wireless support structures and wireless facilities to be modified without additional zoning or land use review beyond what is typically required by the local governing authority that issues electrical permits.
House Bill 176 would streamline the permitting process for companies investing in wireless infrastructure, which would ultimately allow wireless telecommunication companies to increase the cellular bandwidth for Georgians. Increased cellular bandwidth is not only crucial for business and recreational communication, but it is also an essential factor in public safety and emergency response. For example, when thousands of motorists were stuck on the roads last week, many were unable to call their families and friends because phone lines were jammed.
Increased bandwidth would have allowed those motorists to more quickly communicate, so they could make those important phone calls. HB 176 will now go to the Senate for consideration.
Also passed on Friday was House Bill 715, which clarifies the acreage of land permitted for development on Jekyll Island. This bill states that the Jekyll Island Authority cannot convert more than 1,675 acres of the total land area of the island into developed land. Additionally, HB 715 designates 12 acres for the expansion of an existing campground, 46 acres for public health, safety or recreation, and 20 acres for unrestricted use, which could be used for future commercial development. Setting these standards for development will ensure that Jekyll Island remains a place of rest, relaxation and recreation for the thousands of Georgians who vacation there each Senate Bill 297 was another piece of legislation that passed the House on Friday. This bill made a technical change to an elections bill that passed in 2013. It gives candidates for municipal or county office the option to waive campaign finance disclosure requirements if that candidate intends to accept or expend less than $2,500 on their campaign. This bill will also cut unnecessary government regulations, so that citizens can more easily run for local office in their county or city.
In addition to passing these pieces of legislation this week, we also took time to recognize some of our brave Georgians in uniform. On Monday, January 27, we celebrated Georgia National Guard Day in the House. Dozens of airmen and soldiers visited the State Capitol, and we recognized their accomplishments on the House floor with House Resolution 1131. We also had the great privilege to Skype with troops who are currently deployed in Afghanistan. It was an honor to show our appreciation to these incredible heroes. We are so grateful for their selfless actions both abroad and at home.
As the 2014 legislative session moves into its fourth week, we will be discussing and voting on more pieces of legislation. I would love to hear your input on any bills that come before the House. Your comments help guide my decisions on Capitol Hill, so that I can best serve our district. I encourage you to call my office at the State Capitol in Atlanta at 404-656-0109.Read More
2014 legislative session weekly wrap-up
The General Assembly’s most crucial responsibility each session is to pass two balanced state budgets: an amended budget for the current fiscal year and a full budget for the following fiscal year. The full fiscal year budget uses a projected state revenue estimate to guide state spending from July 1 to June 30 of the following fiscal year. The amended budget uses a more accurate estimate of state revenue and accounts for any discrepancies between the projected estimate and actual revenue obtained. Having already heard Governor Deal’s recommendations for both the Amended Fiscal Year 2014 (AFY 2014), and the Fiscal Year 2015 (FY 2015), we began the process of turning those recommendations into the actual legislation that will guide all state spending. Since all fiscal bills are required to originate in the House of Representatives, my colleagues and I quickly turned our attention towards the amended budget for FY 2014 by conducting a series of House Appropriations subcommittee hearings during our second week at the Gold Dome.
Throughout the second week of session, these subcommittees met to hear from heads of state agencies and learn about their perspectives on the amended budget. It was also an opportunity for our subcommittees to delve even deeper into the amended budget and ensure that state agencies are efficiently stretching their allotted funds to best serve Georgians.
After the subcommittee hearings concluded, the subcommittees each passed their respective portions of the budget. The whole House Appropriations Committee then reviewed and passed a balanced budget for the remainder of FY 2014. On Friday, January 24, 2014, the budget, packaged in House Bill 743, went to the House floor. There, every member of the House had the opportunity to voice their opinions on it, before it was voted on and passed in the House by a majority vote.
The figures in HB 743 were very similar to what Governor Deal proposed in his budget recommendations that we heard in his budget proposal. Because state revenues have increased, we were able to add $300 million to the budget for AFY 2014, which is about a 1.5% increase from when we started the fiscal year. This will ultimately increase our overall state spending for 2014 from $19.9 billion to $20.2 billion.
Over half of the “new” funds in the AFY 2014 went to K-12 Education. An increase of approximately $180 million is the mid-year adjustment for K-12 Education which will go to local school districts to pay for growing student enrollment numbers. In addition, a portion of these new funds will go to economic development initiatives in OneGeorgia, Regional Economic Business Assistance grants and transportation items. For these projects, HB 743 adds $51.5 million for the Department of Community Affairs and $27 million to the Department of Transportation. We were also able to add $25 million to pay for increased enrollment in Medicaid and PeachCare for Kids health care programs.
Now that the amended budget has passed the House, it will repeat the same process in the State Senate. By the time the bill goes through Senate Appropriations subcommittees, the whole Senate Appropriations Committee, and the Senate floor vote, it may be a bit different from what the House originally passed on January 24. Should this happen, a conference committee with members from both the House and Senate will be appointed. These members will ensure that the House and Senate pass identical versions of HB 743. This is essential, because both chambers must completely agree on any piece of legislation before it can be sent to Governor Deal’s desk to be signed into law. Though complicated, all legislation must go through this process before becoming law.
As the budget moves through the legislative process, I will update you on its status. I will also keep you informed about other pieces of important legislation that arise during this legislative session. Please contact me about any state issues that are particularly important to you or your family. As your representative I am here to serve as your voice. You can reach me at my Capitol office at 404-656-0109.
Thank you for your time.
2014 Legislative Session Weekly Wrap-up
We began the second session of the 152nd General Assembly on Monday, January 13, 2014. With a goal to get back home to our constituents by April, we hit the ground running. On Wednesday, January 15, Governor Nathan Deal jump-started the session by revealing his goals for the year in the State of the State Address.
In his address, Gov. Deal detailed the exceptional progress Georgia’s economy has made since the Great Recession. The state’s unemployment rate is at its lowest since 2009, and 217,000 jobs have been created in the past three years. Lower unemployment means more Georgians are back at work, and state revenues are returning to pre-recession levels. Gov. Deal presented his ideas on how to best allocate state revenues in his amended budget for the Fiscal Year 2014 (AFY 2014), the mid-year spending plan, which helps fund the final few months of the current fiscal year, and full budget for Fiscal Year 2015 (FY 2015), the state’s budget from July 1 to June 30. He projects that revenues for AFY2014 and FY2015 will total $20.2 billion and $20.8 billion respectively. Both figures are a slight increase from the $20 billion that was originally forecast for FY2014 last session.
Georgia’s education system ranked at the top of Governor Deal’s priority list in his address. Among his goals for education was an increase in internet access at schools across the state, expanded online learning programs, and the creation of a new Zell Miller Hope Grant for technical college students who maintain a 3.5 GPA. The Governor then delivered his budget proposal, detailing the funding for these, and other, state projects.
In his budget summary, Gov. Deal recommended that Georgia’s education system obtain the largest budgetary increase in the past seven years. With a partnership between school systems, such funds have the potential to restore instructional days that were cut during the economic downturn and provide teachers with a much-needed and long-awaited pay raise.
Also included in the Governor’s budget proposal is funding to increase caseworkers for the Division of Family and Children Services, so that reports of child abuse and neglect obtain the attention they deserve. Other objectives for the state include funding to deepen the Savannah port and the continuation of a three year plan for criminal justice reforms, which could help reduce recidivism and crime in Georgia. Finally, the Governor’s budget proposals also increased funding for the juvenile justice system with the intent to improve the retention rates of juvenile corrections officers.
In addition to the State of the State address, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees began the process of reviewing the Governor’s budget recommendations and turning them into the actual legislation that will ultimately guide all state spending. The process started on Wednesday, January 16th with a joint Appropriations Committee meeting. Governor Deal led the presentations by detailing the major highlights of his budget proposals. The Governor was then followed by the leaders of our state agencies, each of whom explained their agency’s budget and answered questions from House and Senate members.
Another milestone for the week was the House and Senate’s final passage of House Bill 310. This legislation moves state and partisan county primary elections from July to May 20, so that the state elections will coincide with the federally mandated elections that were recently moved to May. If this fix had not been made, as voters we would have to vote at separate times to decide who we were going to send to Washington and who we were going to send to Atlanta. The change in dates also provides troops overseas with more time to vote via absentee ballot. For information about election dates and your voter registration status, visit the Georgia Secretary of State’s website, www.sos.ga.gov.Finally, we also took some time this week to remember two great colleagues who passed away last year: Representatives Calvin Hill and Quincy Murphy. Rep. Hill, from Canton, and Rep. Murphy, from Augusta, both served in the House for more than 10 years. Their families visited the Chamber on Tuesday, January 14, to hear the readings of House Resolutions 1050 and 1051, which recognized the lives and accomplishments of the two representatives. Reps. Hill and Murphy will be greatly missed, but their legacies will live on through their contributions to the state of Georgia.
Now that session has begun, we want you to know that we will be working hard every day we are in session in Atlanta. We hope you will take the opportunity to review updates like this one to keep you informed about legislative matters. You can also stay in touch by visiting our website at www.house.ga.gov to watch the House in action, view live and archived committee meetings, and review legislation that we are considering. We also hope to hear from you on your ideas and opinions regarding the issues facing our great state. Please call our office at the State Capitol in Atlanta and let us know what we can do for you.
The phone number is 404.656.0109. Thank you for your time.
Rep. Welch Named Vice Chairman of
Appropriations Subcommittee on Economic Development
ATLANTA – The Georgia House of Representatives’ Committee on Assignments named State Representative Andy Welch (R-Locust Grove) as the Vice Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Economic Development. Rep. Welch also serves as the Vice Chairman of the Code Revisions Committee, in addition to being a member on the Judiciary, Juvenile Justice, and Regulated Industries committees.
“I am simply humbled and excited by this opportunity to serve the people of the 110th district and the state of Georgia in this capacity,” said Rep. Welch.
For a complete list of all House Committee assignments, please click here .
DDS Commissioner Announces New Online License Reinstatement Services
Pay Fees; Automatically Reinstate
Department of Driver Services (DDS) Commissioner Rob Mikell announced today a new online service for Georgia drivers needing to reinstate a driver’s license. The new service enables customers to check their driving reinstatement eligibility, view, print or email a list of their specific reinstatement requirements, pay fees and reinstate driving privileges online – all without a visit or telephone call to DDS.
“A high priority has been to improve the license reinstatement process which is the most time consuming transaction for our DDS team members and customers,” Commissioner Mikell commented. “Not only will this online service save time for many who need to reinstate a license, but it should directly impact our service levels at all customer service centers,” he added.
To access the new online reinstatement services, a customer must:
- have a Georgia driver’s license that is suspended, revoked or cancelled
- know their Georgia driver’s license number
- have (or create) a DDS online services account to access their personal suspension information
Each year DDS processes over 200,000 license reinstatements at customer service centers statewide. The DDS customer contact center handles over six hundred thousand reinstatement calls annually. Allowing reinstatement customers to handle their services online should directly improve the wait times at customer service centers statewide.
Many customers visit a customer service center to simply obtain a list of requirements needed to reinstate their driving privileges. Once the requirements are fulfilled, customers would return to the DDS.
Representative Andy Welch Visited Town Square @ Green Valley
for Georgia Pre-K Week on
October 1, 2013
McDonough, GA, October 2, 2013 – Representative Andy Welch sat amongst a group of 4-year-olds yesterday, reading to the group from a favorite children’s book as part of Georgia’s Pre-K Week. Around the state, attention will be turned to the tens of thousands of Georgia’s youngest children in celebration of the important work they are doing to prepare for school success.
September 30-October 4 is the state’s official Pre-K Week, hosted by Voices for Georgia’s Children (www.georgiavoices.org) and its Pre-K Week partners. Representative Andy Welch is one of nearly 150 officials who will visit some of the approximately 3,800 Pre-K classrooms located in all 159 counties in Georgia.Read More
Representative Andrew Welch (R-110)
Receives 2013 ACCG Legislative Service Award
Atlanta, GA (August 6, 2013) – ACCG, Georgia’s county association, has honored Rep. Andrew Welch (R-110) with a 2013 Legislative Service Award. Rep. Welch, whose district includes Henry, Butts, and Newton Counties, has been a member of the General Assembly since 2011. He serves as vice chairman of the Code Revision Committee and as a member of the Juvenile Justice, House Judiciary, and Regulated Industries Committees. ACCG recognized Rep. Welch at the Henry County Board of Commissioners meeting on August 6, 2013.
“Rep. Welch has long been a dedicated public servant who values the interests and concerns of his constituents,” said ACCG Executive Director Ross King. “His work in the General Assembly has exemplified great consideration for Georgia’s counties and its citizens.”
During the 2013 legislative session, Rep. Welch co-sponsored HB 674. HB 674 provides a formula for the creation of assistant district attorneys and public defenders for the juvenile court based on the number of juvenile court judges funded by the state. In addition to his involvement with HB 674, Rep. Welch was instrumental in helping to advance Georgia’s counties’ interests by offering an amendment to HB 276.
HB 276 began as renewing the fees for the state’s Hazardous Waste Trust Fund, which is intended to help county governments clean up leaking landfills and illegal dump sites. Rep. Welch’s successful amendment is aimed at fixing the problem by reducing the fees proportionately to the amount that is redirected from their intended purposes. The “fee-reduction” mechanism also applies to the Solid Waste Trust Fund – $1 per- tire fee meant to help counties clean up illegal tire dumps found throughout Georgia.
“ACCG commends Rep. Andy Welch for his efforts to restore trust fund fee proceeds for their intended purposes,” said ACCG Associate Legislative Director Todd Edwards. “When these fees are redirected, counties have to make up the difference in property taxes to pay for programs that Georgia citizens already thought they had paid. HB 276 will help fix Georgia’s broken fees process.”Read More
Bill Signings Conclude Successful Legislative Session for Rep. Welch
ATLANTA-State Representative Andy Welch (R-Locust Grove) wrapped up a successful 2013 legislative session after Governor Deal signed into law eight bills that Rep. Welch sponsored, cosponsored, or amended.
“I want to thank Governor Deal for his support in signing all of these bills into law,” said Rep. Andy Welch. “It was a highly successful legislative session, and I look forward to continue to be of service to the citizens of Henry, Butts and Newton Counties.”
Governor Deal signed into law House Bills 94, 160, 179, 182, 187, 276, and 499, as well as Senate Bill 158. Rep. Welch sponsored House Bills 94 and 179. He cosponsored House Bills 160,182, 187 and 499. While Rep. Welch did not sponsor House Bill 276, he did sponsor significant amendments to the bill prior to its passage. Rep. Welch also carried Senate Bill 158 in the House.Read More
The fourth week of the 2013 legislative session proved to be an important week under the Gold Dome. Committees met to consider legislation, Chief Justice Carol Hunstein of the Georgia Supreme Court delivered the State of the Judiciary Address, and we ended the week by approving the Amended Fiscal Year 2013 state budget.Read More