2015 Legislative Session: Week Two
This week began the important task of reviewing the governor’s budget recommendations and creating legislation that will direct the state’s spending. Through this process, we must outline two balanced state budgets:
An amended budget for the current fiscal year (AFY 2015)
A full budget for the following fiscal year (FY 2016)
As Georgia’s economy continues to improve, we have seen sustained growth in the state’s revenue, allowing for an addition of “new” funds in the budget. Georgia is expected to maintain its growth for the current fiscal year (AFY 2015) and there is even more growth expected in FY 2016. Gov. Deal’s AFY 2015 budget includes an additional $276 million in “new” funds, and the FY 2016 budget projects an additional $670 million increase.
Gov. Deal recommended that the majority of these “new” funds be used for various educational initiatives. For FY 2015, the governor designated $15 million for local governments through the Forestland Protection Grant, including $8.3 million that will go directly to local school systems. The AFY 2015 budget also includes an additional $35 million in grants designed to increase broadband internet access in Georgia classrooms.
The focus on education will continue in FY 2016. The governor’s budget for that year includes half a billion dollars in new funding for the Department of Education and our local school systems. This includes $239 million for enrollment growth and $280 million for local school systems to increase instructional days, eliminate furlough days and enhance teachers’ salaries.
In addition to K-12 education, the governor also set aside funds to restore two planning days for pre-K teachers and increase in awards for HOPE scholarships and grants. The governor also recommended an additional $6 million in low-interest loans for higher education.
Georgia’s children should also receive the best medical treatment options that are available. With that in mind, Gov. Deal allotted nearly $4.9 million for clinical trials through Georgia Regents University. These trials will study the efficacy and safety of cannabis oil in children with certain types of seizure disorders.
In addition to education and children, Gov. Deal also outlined funding initiatives for a few other important programs. The governor’s budget includes funds for an additional 175 case workers to manage child abuse and neglect cases; 11 new adult protective service caseworkers to manage reports of elder abuse; the replacement of 187 state patrol vehicles; and an expansion of accountability courts, a cost effective justice alternative to prison for non-violent, first time offenders.
With the end of the joint appropriations committee meetings, the House Appropriations subcommittees will pass portions of the budget in their respective subcommittees. Those portions of the budget will then go before the full House Appropriations Committee, which will review and pass balanced budgets for AFY 2015 and FY 2016.
There are several steps for a bill to become law.
After the House Appropriations Committee passes the budget, it will go to the Rules Committee where it will be placed on the House calendar.
It will then go to the House floor, where every member of the House will have the opportunity to voice their opinions before voting upon the state budget.
Once the budget passes the House, it will go to the State Senate and repeat this same committee process.
After making its way through the Senate Appropriations subcommittees, the Senate Appropriations Committee, and the Senate floor vote, the budget might be a bit different from its original version as passed by the House.
At this point in the process, the Speaker of the House and the Lieutenant Governor will both appoint a conference committee to work out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the state budget.
Once the conference committee reaches an agreement, their version of the budget 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 budget 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. Once signed by Governor Deal, the budget becomes law.
As legislation makes its way through the legislative system, I welcome you to reach out to me with your questions and concerns. We recently received our office assignments, and you are always welcome to visit me at my capitol office, which is located at 508-C Coverdell Legislative Office Building, Atlanta, GA 30334.
You may also call my capitol office at 404-656-0213, or reach me via email me at Andy.Welch@house.ga.gov. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.