Despite the divisive rhetoric regarding the history of our country, it was a privilege to present a replica of the Martin Luther King, Sr. memorial bridge sign to Bernice King and the King Family on August 28th at the M.L. King, Jr. statute unveiling. With the assistance of the Stockbridge City Council, I introduced and passed legislation to dedicate in memory of M.L. King Sr. the bridge in front of City Hall along State Route 138 and crossing over the Martin Luther King, Sr. Heritage Trail. M.L. King, Sr. used this trail to travel to work and school, as he was raised in Stockbridge and preached his first sermon there at the age of 15. This was a way of recognizing some of the history that exists in Stockbridge that many people may not be aware of. With all that’s going on in the country, I think it’s appropriate to discuss some of the people who shaped the civil rights movement. It is a small but very public recognition of an important person who helped shape the history of our county for the better. The city of Stockbridge will be hosting a bridge dedication ceremony in the next few weeks, and I hope to see you there!Read More
ATLANTA – State Representative Andrew Welch (R-Locust Grove) was recently appointed by Governor Nathan Deal to Georgia’s Juvenile Justice State Advisory Group (SAG).
“In my time in the legislature, I have remained committed to criminal justice reform, particularly as it relates to Georgia’s juvenile offenders,” said Rep. Welch. “I am eager to serve in this capacity and to be a part of SAG’s ongoing efforts to enhance public safety by improving Georgia’s juvenile justice system and implementing best practices for juvenile offenders. I am honored that the governor appointed me to this critical advisory group.”
The federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) was enacted in 1974 and reauthorized in 2015 to promote the well-being of youth in the United States. JJDPA was designed to change the way juveniles are handled in the justice system by helping state and local governments prevent and control juvenile delinquency and providing Formula Grant funding to support these reform efforts.
Under the JJDPA, participating states are required to establish a SAG to monitor and maintain the outlined four core protections at the state and local level in order to continue receiving federal funding. The JJDPA’s four core protections include: Deinstitutionalization of Status Offenders; Removal of juveniles from adult jails and lock-ups; Sight and sound separation; and, Disproportionate Minority Contact.
Georgia’s SAG is appointed by the Governor and serves in an advisory capacity to the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC), the designated state agency for juvenile justice formula funds from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP). The CJCC serves as the supervisory role, but relies on the SAG to oversee and advise on the preparation and implementation of the state’s Juvenile Justice 3-Year Plan.
By maintaining compliance with the JJDPA, Georgia will continue to receive federal juvenile justice funds. These funds directly support Georgia’s efforts to develop and implement effective prevention and intervention programs while improving the juvenile justice system. If a state fails to demonstrate full compliance, the OJJDP will reduce the grant funding by 20 percent for each core requirement failure.
Representative Andrew Welch represents the citizens of District 110, which includes portions of Butts, Henry, and Newton Counties. He was elected into the House of Representatives in 2010, and currently serves as the Chairman to the Appropriations Subcommittee on Public Safety. He also serves on the Code Revision, Judiciary, Juvenile Justice, and Regulated Industries committees.Read More
Andy Davis, our community’s gifted artist and friend, has gone home to his creator. We will mourn his passing, and lift prayers of comfort to his family. This is all too tragic, but we will remember him daily as we observe and admire his works of art. I have no doubt that his creative genius will inspire generations to come. Fair thee well, Andy. May you rest in peace.Read More
ATLANTA — State Representative Andy Welch (R-Locust Grove) recently honored late State Representative Calvin Hill at the bill signing ceremony of House Bill 252, which was named in his honor: the J. Calvin Hill Jr. Act. Surrounded by Rep. Hill’s wife, Cheryl, and their daughter, Rep. Welch joined Rep. Michael Caldwell and Governor Nathan Deal as the J. Calvin Hill Jr. Act was signed into law on Tuesday, May 5, 2015.
“Calvin Hill was a great Georgian, and it was an honor to have served with him in the State House for three years,” said Rep. Welch. “HB 252 is unique, in that Calvin, the former Chairman of the committee on Code Revision, asked me and Rep. BJ Pak to research and assemble this piece of legislation. It was the last bill he worked on before he died in 2013. I think he would be proud of the end result, especially considering his passion for the subject.”
The J. Calvin Hill, Jr. Act is the States’ first omnibus repeal bill in recent history. HB 252 repeals portions of the Code which have become obsolete, have been declared unconstitutional, or have been preempted or superseded by subsequent laws. Born in California and raised in Arizona, Representative Calvin Hill served in the U.S. Marine Corps, and trained in engineering and demolition before moving to Georgia in 1986. A former two-term mayor of Ball Ground, Rep. Hill was first elected into the House of Representatives in 2002, serving the constituents of Cherokee, Forsyth, and Fulton counties. During his time in the House, he served as the Chairman of the Committee on Code Revision and Vice Chairman of the Appropriations Sub-Committee on Banks and Banking. Rep. Hill was diagnosed with leukemia in the summer of 2013, and passed-away on October 30 of that year due to complications.
“It isn’t often that you are able to memorialize someone so permanently by creating a law which bears his name, but I can think of no one who is more deserving of such an honor than Calvin Hill,” said Rep. Welch. “I extend my most sincere gratitude to Calvin’s family who allowed him to dedicate much of his life to public service. HB 252 is only one example of his devotion to his constituents and to the state he loved so dearly.”
For more information on HB 252, please click here.
Representative Andrew Welch represents the citizens of District 110, which includes portions of Butts, Henry, and Newton Counties. He was elected into the House of Representatives in 2010, and currently serves as the Vice Chairman on the Code Revisions Committee and the Appropriations Subcommittee on Economic Development. He also serves on the Judiciary, Juvenile Justice, and Regulated Industries committees.
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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.
- House Bill 131 (or The End to Cyberbullying Act)- This bill strives to provide our children with a safer, healthier learning environment by expanding public school policies on anti-bullying to include any bullying that occurs over the internet, also known as “cyberbullying.” HB 131, would prohibit bullying through the use of technological equipment such as cell phones, wireless communication devices, computers, email, instant messaging, etc. The End to Cyber-bullying Act would apply to any case of cyberbullying, regardless of whether the act originated on school property, using school equipment, or off campus through personal cell phones and social media websites. With the popularity and increased use of technology, this legislation is necessary to address a common problem among our youth. According to the National Crime Prevention Council, 43% of teens were victims of cyberbullying last year, and another study found that cyberbullying victims were almost twice as likely to have attempted suicide compared to those who had not experienced it. Because cyberbullying has such a profound impact on the happiness and health of our students, it is necessary that we take precautions to combat this detrimental act
- House Bill 17 (or the Hidden Predator Act)- A bill aimed at reforming the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse victims. Under current Georgia law, a child sex abuse victim may only bring action against his or her abuser within five years after the victim turns 18 years old. Current law also bars the victim or their guardian from accessing police and other investigation records in which the victim is the subject of a reported child sexual abuse investigation. HB 17 would provide a 30 year extension to the civil statute of limitations for child sexual abuse claims. The legislation would also allow for a retroactive “window” that would provide a two-year time frame for sexual abuse victims, whose civil claims were blocked by the statute of limitations in the past, to file a case against their perpetrator. Additionally, the legislation would amend current Georgia law to allow victims, or their legal guardians, to access police and other investigation records. Not only will HB 17 ensure that justice is served, but it will also help law enforcement officers catch predators.
- House Bill 225– This legislation ensures proper licensing requirements for drivers in app-based ridesharing companies, such as Uber and Lyft, which utilize a digital network to connect passengers to rideshare drivers as a form of for-hire transportation. HB 225 is aimed at addressing public safety concerns by creating oversight and putting these rideshare services under the same regulations as taxis and limousines. Unlike rideshare drivers, traditional taxi and limo drivers must go through a state issued background check with fingerprinting to obtain a “chauffeur endorsement,” which indicates that the driver is authorized to operate a vehicle to transport passengers for pay. HB 225 clarifies this discrepancy by requiring rideshare drivers to secure similar “for-hire license endorsements,” and go through background checks. These ride share companies would be permitted to conduct their own background checks and will be subject to state audit. The legislation also requires the companies to obtain the same levels of liability insurance as taxi and limo drivers and either pay state sales taxes or an annual fee for each car in its network. I feel confident that HB 225 strikes a great balance of ensuring public safety, while also supporting an environment that is conducive for popular, innovative ride sharing businesses.
- House Bill 48– This bill honors our brave men and women in uniform by allowing law enforcement officers, firefighters, and other first responders who have sustained a major injury on the job to receive special license plates. Currently special license plates are also available to the family members of fallen service members, and HB 48 extends that privilege to brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law. Another measure in HB 48 allows disabled veterans to receive free license plates for cars or motorcycles. These heroes and their families make enormous sacrifices for our country, and I am glad that HB 48 provides them with this extra recognition
- House Bill 110– This legislation will legalize the sale of fireworks in the state of Georgia. Currently fireworks are sold in four of our five neighboring states, but Georgia businesses are currently only allowed to sell sparklers. These restrictions lead many Georgians to drive across state lines to buy their fireworks. HB 110 opens the profitable firework market to Georgia business owners, allowing more dollars to stay at home and creating new jobs as these stores open. The money from firework sales will not only boost local economies, but it will also generate new tax revenue. If approved by the Senate and Governor Deal, I look forward to seeing the positive economic impact of HB 110.
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
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!
I had the privilege to speak on how to amend the Constitution to balance the federal budget using Article V of the Constitution. As one of the sponsors of HB 794 I was asked to participate in a lecture for college students on the subject matter.
From the Henry Herald:
Georgia State University associate professor Dr. Robert Baker, left, and state Rep. Andy Welch (R-McDonough) met Thursday before a lecture hall of students in a constitutional discussion at Clayton State University about ‘How to amend the Constitution to balance the federal budget using Article V of the Constitution, a strategy not used since James Madison.’ The discussion was part of Clayton State’s Constitution Week activities. (Staff Photo: Johnny Jackson)Read More