2018 Legislative Session Week Nine
The House reconvened for Legislative Day 30 on March 5th, beginning the ninth week of the 2018 legislative session. Since we are now past Crossover Day, much of our legislative work this week was accomplished in committee hearings as my House colleagues and I reviewed Senate bills. We also took up several pieces of legislation on the House floor this week, including one of the most important bills that we will pass all session, the Fiscal Year 2019 state budget.
Fiscal Year 2019 State Budget
- House Bill 684 – The Georgia General Assembly is constitutionally required to pass a balanced budget each year, and the House took a step in fulfilling this constitutional obligation by granting initial passage to House Bill 684, the Fiscal Year 2019 budget. This year’s state budget is $50.85 billion and will guide our state’s spending from July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019. The FY 2019 budget was determined by a revenue estimate of $26 billion, which is an increase of $1.03 billion (4.1%) over last year’s budget.
The House Appropriations Committee carefully reviewed each portion of the budget and meticulously allocated state dollars towards our state’s needs. Most were specifically aimed at boosting economic development in rural Georgia including:
- Funding for the Department of Agriculture’s Georgia Grown marketing program
- A downtown development attorney to help Georgia’s small towns secure redevelopment grants
- A deputy commissioner of rural Georgia position
- Center for Rural Prosperity and Innovations
- Two rural surgical fellowships at St. Joseph’s/Candler Hospital
- A statewide residency recruitment fair for rural medical facilities
- Insurance premium assistance for physicians who practice in underserved counties with one or less physicians
- 10 regional Emergency Medical Services training positions to train EMS personnel in rural Georgia
- Rural Health Systems Innovation Center
- Soft skills training and character education development for rural Georgia’s lowest performing schools
- A mobile audiology clinic to provide audiological care to children in rural Georgia
- Birth-to-five literacy and numeracy in rural Georgia
I am proud that the House has prioritized state dollars to support and revitalize our rural communities, and these allocations for our rural communities will help rural Georgia, as well as our state as a whole, to thrive.
Education funding is always one of the largest budget items in the state budget, and this year is no exception, with 55.9 percent of the entire budget allocated to education. The FY 2019 budget includes:
- $119.5 million for K-12 enrollment growth and training and experience for an additional 6,552 students and 1,869 teachers across the state
- $361.7 million for the Teachers Retirement System to support 117,957 retired and 218,193 active TRS members
- Two Advanced Placement exams, one STEM exam and one non-STEM exam for low-income students, as well as dollars for the new Chief Turnaround Officer program to help Georgia’s schools in most need of assistance
- $1.6 million for a student mental health awareness training program, including response and intervention training for students in preschool through 12th grade
- $111 million for the University System of Georgia enrollment growth and increased square footage
- $5.5 million for the Technical College System of Georgia enrollment growth and increased square footage
- $27.1 million for the Dual Enrollment program
- $2.7 million for 1,177 additional HOPE and Zell Miller private scholarships
- $65.3 million for 27,832 more HOPE and Zell Miller public scholarships
- $8 million for school security grants to improve security in Georgia’s schools (added to the budget in light of one of the deadliest school shootings in recent history)
In addition to education funding, health care costs also make up a significant portion of the FY 2019 budget.
- $16.9 million for a 4.3 percent provider rate increase for nursing homes and $962,022 for increased background checks for long-term care facility owners and employees
- Essential autism services, such as funding for a program coordinator position and to develop capacity in the Department of Community Health and the Department of Public Health to provide behavioral health services to autistic children under the age of 21
- $568,057 towards the Marcus Autism Center to cover the cost of treating autistic children with the greatest needs
- $2 million to the Department of Public Health to address why Georgia has the highest rate of maternal mortality in the country
- Critical funding for several mental health programs that will benefit our state’s citizens.
- Child and adolescent crisis services, including four new respite homes
- 13 new Georgia APEX Program grants to expand mental health services to students in 100 more schools
- Telemedicine equipment and services
- High-fidelity wraparound services training that will impact up to 3,000 young Georgians
- Expansion of the Georgia Crisis Access Line’s operating hours
- $2.2 million for Department of Human Services care coordinator positions to improve mental health outcomes for foster care children
The 2019 budget also includes allocations designed to meet the wide-ranging needs of our state, such as funding to clear hurricane debris and remove sunken vessels along the Georgia coastline and dollars to implement several economic development projects across the state. The budget also includes an extra $15.1 million for growth in out-of-home care and $15.2 million in additional funding to increase foster care per diem rates for relative and child placement agency foster care providers. It also provides funding for Georgia’s highly successful accountability courts, as well as for nine additional assistant district attorney positions and nine assistant public defenders to support juvenile courts across the state. Finally, the budget includes appropriations for statewide transportation infrastructure construction, maintenance and improvements.
House Resolution 1162
On Friday, March 9, we unanimously adopted a resolution for the benefit of Georgia’s schools, teachers and students. House Resolution 1162 would establish the House Study Committee on the Establishment of a State Accreditation Process to explore whether a state accreditation process for Georgia’s public schools and school systems should be formed. Currently, there is no state entity that is responsible for accrediting Georgia’s primary and secondary public schools and local school systems, and as a result, most of these schools and school systems seek accreditation through private organizations. The five-member study committee would explore the resources and structure needed for a state accreditation entity, as well as any obstacles that would need to be addressed and how such an entity would interact with existing private accreditation agencies. The study committee would also analyze ways to align accreditation review with charter renewal for charter systems and contract renewal for strategic waivers school systems; examine the possibility of establishing a state process to annually review system charters and contracts; study potential consequences of losing state accreditation; and explore the possibility of establishing a school board review commission. Should the study committee adopt any specific findings or recommendations, including suggestions for proposed legislation, the study committee’s chairperson would file a report by Dec. 1, 2018, the date upon which the study committee would be abolished. This study committee would ultimately help our state determine if a state accreditation process would be beneficial to our education system. I look forward to hearing the committee’s findings next year.
House Bill 159
On Monday, March 5, Governor Nathan Deal signed into law one of the House’s most important bills this session, House Bill 159. This bill will significantly update and modernize Georgia’s adoption laws for the first time in nearly three decades. HB 159 will streamline and expedite all types of adoptions in Georgia. State Representative Bert Reeves (R-Marietta) spent nearly two-and-a-half years refining the bill, which has been a top priority in the House for the past two legislative sessions. It has passed the House unanimously three times. The new adoption laws will increase efficiencies in every aspect of Georgia adoption, and these additions and revisions to our adoption code will bring Georgia up to speed with the rest of the country. Our state’s updated adoption code will benefit every family going through the adoption process and every child in Georgia in need of adoption. This groundbreaking legislation will go into effect on Sept. 1, 2018.
The General Assembly is in the final stretch of the 2018 legislative session. The last day of session (Day 40) is March 29, with only a few weeks left to finish our legislative business. My colleagues in the House, as well as our Senate counterparts, will be hard at work to ensure that we pass meaningful legislation for the people of our great state. Call or email me if you have any questions or concerns regarding any current or upcoming legislation. My Capitol office is located at 220 State Capitol Atlanta, GA 30334, my office phone number is 404-656-5912, and I can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.