Make sure your voice is heard on General Election Day, November 6th. Elections are an important way to contribute to your community and voice your opinion about your district. Research everyone running so that you can know the most about their platforms and what they believe in. If you don’t know where your voting location, go to this address www.mvp.sos.ga.gov/MVP/mvp.do, input your information and find exactly where to vote.
Mark your calendar for these important voting dates that are coming up:
- October 9th: Last day to register and be eligible to vote in November General Election
- October 15th – November 2nd: Early Voting
- November 6th: Last day to vote
- Register to vote: bit.ly/VoterRegistrationGA
We have some great candidates running in the November election. Brian Strickland from District 17, Pete Peterson from District 4, and Dale Rutledge from District 109. I support all three of these candidates and I look forward to the great things they will do for their districts.Read More
Vicki Temple, the Henry County GOP Chair, was recently honored with the Pioneer Award at the GA GOP Convention. The Pioneer Award is given to someone who is the original or amongst the first person to develop or assist in the progress of a business in the field of inquiry, enterprise, or progress. The Award highlights individuals with dedication, enthusiasm, and dedication to their endeavors, but also praises individuals who have had an impact on the Georgia Republican Party and are a strong example of that Party.
Vicki Temple embraces all of these characteristics and more. A few of her many admirable positions include the Former President of the Republican Women of Henry County, the 2nd Vice Chair of the Henry County GOP, a member of the Finance team during the Friends of Herman Cain Campaign, GA State Grassroots Co-Chair for Marco Rubio, and her current position as the Director of Safety/Education/Workforce Development at Georgia Utility Contractors Association, Inc. The Georgia Utility Contractors Association, Inc. acts as the voice for the underground utility construction industry and has been in business for over forty years. They provide education, training, and networking. They also consistently work with their community through service projects.
Vicki studied Business Administration and Management at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and has dedicated her life to her family and the Republican Party. She is well-deserving of the Pioneer Award and I congratulate her on this recognition and also thank her for her diligence and hard work!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
Rep. Andy Welch and First Lady Sandra Deal Share in State-Wide Support of Sexual Assault Awareness Month
I recently enjoyed seeing Georgia’s First Lady, Sandra Deal, share in state-wide support for Sexual Assault Awareness Month in our teal attire. The goal of Sexual Assault Awareness Month is to educate the general public on sexual violence and the prevention of sexual violence.
The theme of this year’s campaign is “Engaging New Voices,” hoping to motivate those who already know that sexual assault is a problem but are unsure how they can help. These “new voices” include coaches, faith leaders, parents, Greek Life, and bystanders. By encouraging these voices to discuss the problem of sexual assault, discovering the prevention of sexual assault will thereby follow. Prevention is only possible by identifying the source of sexual violence and the cultural/social norms that enable sexual violence to exist. By engaging new voices, it will empower bystanders to break social norm and to prevent sexual assault from occurring through interception. We can only change our culture if we use our voices and our knowledge to encourage prevention.
Sexual assault is a social and human rights issue, and the state of Georgia continues to show its support for spreading awareness of sexual assault prevention. You can learn more about this year’s campaign here, and I hope you will join us in April 2018 to raise awareness once more.Read More
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
Last week was busy, both on the House floor and in committee meetings. The legislative session is coming to a close, and many House and Senate bills are being considered by Governor Deal.
The House unanimously passed Senate Bill 364, known as the “Quality Based Education Act,” which would revise annual performance evaluations for public school teachers and state mandated testing. This bill is the result of meetings with multiple education professionals from across the state.
The following changes would occur to performance evaluations for teachers:
- Student growth would account for 30 percent of the evaluation, down from the current 50 percent
- Professional growth would account for 20 percent
- The test component would be lowered from 70 percent to 40 percent
SB 364 would also do the following for public school testing in Georgia:
- Reduce number of state mandated tests from 32 to 24 for students in grades K-12
- Done by removing social studies and science milestone tests in grades 3-6 and 7
- All local school systems would be asked to move testing to end of year to ensure maximum exposure to material
- Formative testing adding to 1st and 2nd grades to measure progress and early learning
We also unanimously passed Senate Bill 402, which would pause new applications for licensure of narcotic treatments (until June 30, 2017) as well as create a commission to study the current licensure requirements. Current license holders will be able to renew their licenses during the pause. Until the pause ends, the State Commission on Narcotic Treatment Programs (established under this bill), would study the need for any changes to ensure safety in the state. The commission would be charged with the following:
- Examine the current licensure requirements for adequacy
- Assess how the current requirements and enforcement of the requirements effectively benefit patients
- Determine if the geographic service areas are reasonable and balanced between population density and service proximity
- Determine the cause and effect of hospital admittance for overdose and incidents of suicide, if any, in relation to the adequate licensure and oversight of these programs
- Hearing expert testimony on the effectiveness of nonnarcotic, medically assisted treatments for narcotic dependence and determining what legislative changes, if any, are needed
We also passed Senate Bill 350 as well as Senate Resolution 558, which would allocate funds from firework sales in Georgia to trauma centers, fire services, and local public safety purposes. SB 350 would allocate the following:
- 55% of the excise tax revenues from all state firework sales to the Georgia Trauma Care Network Commission
- 40% of the excise tax revenues from the firework sales would go to the Georgia Firefighter Standards and Training Commission (which trains state fire safety officials)
- 5% of the tax revenues would go to local governments to be used for public safety purposes and the operation of 9-1-1 systems
Senate Resolution 558 is the companion legislation to SB 350 and would amend the Georgia Constitution in order to allocate the excise tax funds, if approved by voter referendum on the November ballot.
We passed Senate Bill 193, which would make it a felony if a person commits family violence and has a prior conviction for the same in Georgia, or in any other state. Prosecutors could issue a felony instead of a misdemeanor, closing a loophole. The crime would be punishable for one to five years.
Another bill passed, Senate Bill 367, would do several things for the state’s justice system.
- Courts with jurisdiction over DUI or boating under the influence cases will be able to create a division tasked with dealing with them.
- Juvenile courts will be able to create a family treatment court division to address family issues concerning alcohol and drug abuse.
- Department of Corrections and the Department of Juvenile Justice will be allowed to operate charter schools within state juvenile justice facilities.
- Those who have suspended licenses because of criminal conviction will be able to receive their license sooner. Time spend in prison will count towards license suspension time.
- The SB will add court-mandated activities such participating in programs and accountability court to the list of limited driving exemptions.
- Ths SB bill will edit the Georgia First Offender Statute to allow courts to set a date when a defendant will be exonerated of guilt as long as the defendant cooperates with the sentence and does not become a repeat offender.
- Probation stipulations have been amended so that if an individual fails to pay a fine or report to his/her probation officer and will require them to attend a hearing in court.
Furthermore, inmates who have served sentences for certain drug-related offenses or repeat offenders of nonviolent felonies will be eligible for parole if they have completed at least 6 year of their sentence, earned a high school diploma, and have had no serious violations in the past 12 months of jail. Individuals who have been convicted of drug felonies will be allowed to apply for the SNAP benefits after their release to help them transition back to a normal lifestyle. Lastly, SB 367 will forbid professional licensing boards from refusing a license to an individual because of an arrest. The only exception is if the crime is related to an occupation they were trying to be licensed for. This bill is going to help citizens who have committed crimes to transition and be productive citizens again. We want to help and support all of our citizens while keeping our state safe.
On Monday of last week, we were honored to have Atlanta Braves legend Henry “Hank” Aaron and his wife Billye join us on the House floor, where we honored them for their work in the community. Aaron played 21 seasons with the Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves, and finished his last two seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers. He was a MLB All-Star for 21 seasons, and holds most records for All-Star selections. Aaron is most well-known for his 715th homerun on April 8, 1974 which broke Babe Ruth’s record. Since his retirement from baseball, Hank and Billye Aaron have been very active in their community, working with the Andrew Young Foundation and the Morehouse School of Medicine to advance the education of African-American citizens.
Next week will be the final week of the 2016 legislative session. On Thursday, March 24 we will convene one final time this session for legislative day 40, or “sine die,” the last day we have to pass any legislation this year. If you have any questions or wish to give me your input, feel free to reach me at my Capitol office at (404) 656-0213 or by email at Andy.Welch@house.ga.gov.
As always, thank you for allowing me to be your representative.Read More
With Crossover Day behind us, my colleagues and I shifted our focus to considering Senate Bills and watching for changes made in the Senate to House Bills and vice versa. We saw bills receiving passage in the General Assembly, meaning that these bills will be sent to Governor Nathan Deal for consideration.
The House unanimously passed Senate Bill 137, which would expand Georgia property insurance laws to allow corporations described as one or two family residential buildings to collect insurance coverage against fire damage when a building is completely destroyed by fire. This bill will further show how business friendly Georgia is!
My colleagues and I also passed Senate Bill 158, the “Consumer and Provider Protection Act.” SB 158 creates a framework for rental preferred provider healthcare networks in Georgia to increase transparency for providers and consumers. A rental network contracts with health insurers to provide access to the terms and conditions of its contract with the provider’s discount, and then sells that contract to another network without the provider’s knowledge or consent. This bill would require these networks to register with the Commissioner of Insurance, and networks will access the discounts only if a contract that states the terms of agreement is signed.
Another bill that received unanimous passage was Senate Bill 279, which would expand the voting membership of the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training (P.O.S.T.) Council to 22 members. P.O.S.T. provides the state with peace officers and criminal justice professionals (such as deputy sheriffs, county police, the GBI, etc.) who are professionally trained. Increasing the council members would see that P.O.S.T. continues to lead the way in our state, and nation, in providing criminal justice leadership.
The Senate passed House Bill 751, which is the FY2017 budget. HB 751 received passage in the House, but the Senate version varied slightly, which promoted a conference committee to be formed. When a bill is altered during the legislative process, the Speaker of the House and the Lieutenant Governor will appoint a conference committee to work out the differences. Once the committee reaches an agreement, the bill will be presented to both the Senate and House for a floor vote; once approved by both chambers, the bill will be sent to the governor.
During last weeks busy schedule, my colleagues and I took the time to honor both Calvin “Megatron” Johnson, Jr., as well as Scott Woerner. Johnson is a Georgia native, and is a former wide receiver for the Detroit Lions and Georgia Tech. Woerner is a former safety for the University of Georgia and the Atlanta Falcons. Both men have received many accolades for their talents, and both have represented the state of Georgia well, on and off the field.
If you have questions or concerns about any of the legislation that the House or Senate will be discussing, please feel free to reach out to me; I am never too busy to hear from you. Your thoughts and opinions are important to me, and as your representative, I want to make sure that I am truly representing your interests under the Gold Dome.You can reach me at my Capitol office, which is 404-656-0213, or by email at Andy.Welch@house.ga.gov.
As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.Read More
Last week was the eighth week of the 2016 session, and it also contained “Crossover Day.” This day is the deadline for legislation to be sent out from its chamber of origin to remain eligible for consideration. It is a long day, due to passing House bills to be sent to the Senate.
One bill that we passed on Crossover Day was House Bill 722, AKA, Haleigh’s Hope Act – Part II. This bill would expand the list of medical conditions permitted to legally possess cannabis oil in Georgia. It would also allow manufacturers of low tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) oil in other states to ship this oil directly to Georgians who are properly registered. And, the bill would add low THC oil into the Georgia code section related to driving under the influence to promote safe usage, administration, and also maintaining the safety of citizens.
The House also passed bipartisan legislation this week in an exciting push to bring the commercial space industry to Georgia. House Bill 734, the Georgia Space Flight Act (GSA), would define procedures for commercial space flight activity to allow Georgia to be more competitive with our neighboring states. The GSA is modeled after Texas legislation, and would protect space flight entities, and also inform willing space flight participants of their rights. It would limit a participant’s ability to sue, and would not protect against injuries suffered by non-consenting parties. Participants would have to provide informed consent and sign a waiver. This bill would make Georgia a competitor in the estimated $330 billion per year industry.
We unanimously passed House Bill 862, which updates current laws allowing disabled veterans to qualify for the homestead exemption on ad valorem taxes. This will allow veterans to qualify for the exemption by meeting either, rather than both, of the standards. Veterans honorably discharged as being 100 percent disabled or compensated at the 100 percent level would qualify, as well as any veteran entitled to receive a statutory award from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for loss of one or both feet, loss of one or both hands, or loss of sight in one or both eyes may also qualify for the exemption.
Another bipartisan measure unanimously passed was The Fallen Heroes Bill, or House Bill 54. This bill would honor public service officials killed in the line of duty and their families. The bill would provide cost free college tuition to children of those who have fallen. This would supplement the existing Georgia Law Enforcement Personnel Dependents Grant. Georgia taxpayers would be able to voluntarily contribute to the program.
Both House Bill 934 and House Bill 957 will continue our efforts to aid Georgia kinship care providers. HB 934 would allow the Department of Human Services to provide a dedicated section on their website for kinship givers. This would provide information, applications, and knowledge about resources for the children in their cate. HB 957 would require judges and clerks of the probate courts to publicly post notice of the availability of the affidavit of indigence, which is a court document excusing an individual from paying court fees at the time if they can prove they do not have the funds. This would ensure kinship caregivers are aware of this resource when filing for guardianship with the probate court.
Now that Crossover Day is behind us, we will be spending time in committee hearings as we take time to carefully review Senate Bills. There are only nine legislative days left to complete our work for the 2016 legislative session, so if you have any questions about the bills I mentioned, or about any that will be considered by either chamber, I hope you will reach out to me in the remaining days. As your representative, your thoughts and opinions on these important issues are essential to my decision-making process, and I appreciate your input. If you are nearby, you are always welcome at your State Capitol, and I would be happy to serve as your host. You can reach me at my Capitol office, which is 404-656-0213, or by email at Andy.Welch@house.ga.gov.
As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.Read More
The seventh week of session began on Monday, February 22. The House had a busy week, convening on the floor every day, working hard to pass legislation ahead of Crossover Day.
A meaningful and possibly life-saving bill was passed, House Bill 965 (“The Honorable Jimmy Carter Cancer Treatment Act”). This bill would provide patients diagnosed with stage four metastatic cancer increased treatment, and any health benefit plan issued in Georgia cannot deny coverage for a drug covered by the USFDA if a patient does not have a previous history of failing to respond to initial cancer treatment medications.
The House unanimously passed House Bill 831, or the “Protecting Guardsmen’s Employment Act.” This bipartisan legislation will provide employment protections to Georgia workers called into service by the national guard of a neighboring state. This legislation will ensure reemployment to National Guardsmen who are called into service.
Another bipartisan bill passed in the House this week was House Bill 614, the Landon Dunson Act. With this bill, video monitoring camera equipment would be installed, as a safety measure, in self-contained classrooms that provide special education services. Participation would be voluntary, and consent from parents would be needed. Camera footage access would be strictly limited to school administrators for educational and safety monitoring purposes. The Department of Education has final approval of the schools that opt-in, but each school is responsible for providing their own equipment.
The House passed House Bill 768, known as the Georgie Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act. The bill would include the following:
- ease financial strains on disabled individuals, allowing them to save private funds in tax-exempt accounts without becoming Medicaid ineligible
- Georgia ABLE Program governed by board of directors (appointed by the Governor)
- The board would have several duties/tasks
- oversee the operations (including tax-free savings account criteria)
- establish insurance policies to protect assets of the funds
- Office of the State Treasurer would ensure proper management of funds and bank accounts
- The following state departments will work with the board of directors to define qualified ABLE applicants and program material:
- Department of Community Health
- Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities
- Department of Human Services
- Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency
- Department of Education
House Bill 962 was a bipartisan measure, and would create the position of Kinship Care Enforcement Administrator at the Department of Human Services. A kinship caregiver is a relative of a child (other than a child’s parent), that raises the child. Anywhere from 100,000 to 300,000 children are in kinship care in Georgia. During last year’s session, House Resolution 474 was passed to develop a study committee, which investigated the state’s kinship services. The study resulted in HB 962. The Kinship Care Enforcement Administrator would be appointed by the Commissioner of Human Services to monitor, facilitate, and ensure compliance with all federal and state laws related to any programs available to kinship caregivers or the children in their care.
We took the time to recognize the University of Georgia’s new head football coach, Kirby Smart. Smart is a Bainbridge, Georgia native who played four years at UGA. Before coaching at our state’s flagship university, Smart coached at the University of Alabama, where he helped the Crimson Tide gain four National Championships.
We were honored to have Presidential candidate, Governor John Kasich, join us last Tuesday. He reminded my colleagues and I to uplift each other, and reminded us that we are Americans before we are Democrats and Republicans.
The House, and the state, lost a true public servant last week. State Representative Bob Bryant from Garden City passed away last Thursday. Bob was a loving husband, father, grandfather, veteran, and friend to all. He served his constituents with grace and humility as their voice under the Gold Dome for 12 years, and the positive impact he made on the House chamber and in his community will not soon be forgotten.
We are gearing up for another extremely busy week at the Georgia State Capitol next week. On Monday, February 29, 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 to be considered for final passage this legislative session. If you have any questions, you may reach me at my Capitol office at 404-656-0213 or by email at Andy.Welch@house.ga.gov.Read More
After last week, we are more than six weeks into the 2016 legislative session. “Crossover Day” is approaching fast, so we are beginning to pass crucial pieces of legislation every day of session. Last week saw the passing of several bills, including one of the most important pieces of legislation: House Bill 751, the Fiscal Year 2017 (FY2017) state budget.
The General Assembly has one constitutional obligation each year: to pass a balanced state budget. This budget will serve as a spending guide for the state beginning July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2017. The FY2017 budget is the largest budget in our state’s history at $23.7 billion.
Education spending accounts for more than half the annual budget. The FY2017 budget includes the following:
- $300 million for K-12 education for local school boards to give salary increases, eliminate furlough days or increase instruction days
- $5.1 million for a 3 percent pay raise for the following groups: teachers in Agriculture Education and Tech/Career Education programs, school bus drivers, lunchroom workers, nurses, and Regional Education Service Agency (RESA) employees
- $28.6 million in funding for Pre-K teachers for salary increases up to three percent, as well as increasing salaries for assistant teachers
- $59.1 million for FY2017 for Zell Miller and HOPE Scholarship recipients
- $29.4 million in funding to the Move on When Ready dual enrollment program
- $1.2 million to the North Georgia Military Scholarship Grants program
- Two new service loan programs ($100,000 each) for large animal veterinarians and the Georgia National Guard to address the need for skilled individuals in those fields
- $44.4 million for formula earnings based on enrollment and increased square footage at both the University System of Georgia and the Technical College System of Georgia
I also wanted to note that college students will not experience a tuition increase next fall due to the diligence of the Board of Regents to keep college affordable and the work of the governor and General Assembly to provide adequate formula funding.
Due to tremendous population growth, the FY2017 budget also focuses on healthcare for our citizens. Therefore, the FY2017 budget has allocated $66.7 million to offset Medicaid enrollment growth. We also want Georgians to be in close proximity to quality healthcare, which is why the House version of the FY2017 budget includes the following initiatives to ensure basic services:
- $200,000 to maintain the rural dentistry loan program
- $100,000 to establish a loan repayment program for physician assistants and advance practice registered nurses
- $100,000 for the Georgia South Family Medicine Rural Residency Training Program
- $200,000 for OB/GYN physicians who want to return to practice in underserved areas
- One-time start-up grant of $250,000 for the Champions for Children program, also known as the “Katie Beckett waiver” (provides grants to families with medically fragile children who do not qualify for Medicaid)
Georgia has been at the forefront of criminal justice reforms, causing state juvenile justice facilities to see a 25 percent population decrease. In his State of the Judiciary, Chief Justice Hugh Thompson credited accountability courts with reducing crime by 45 percent, and saving the state more than $51 million in 2015. To maintain this progress, FY2017 includes the additional funding to continue progress:
- $3.8 million to expand the state’s accountability courts
- $5.6 million to support educational initiatives in the state prison system, including operational costs for two charter high schools and expansion of GED fast track, vocational, and general education programs (Georgia’s recidivism rate is at its lowest in 30 years, and these types of programs assist with this rate)
The final portion of the FY2017 budget I would like to highlight is the inclusion of hundreds of millions of new transportation dollars to improve our state’s transportation infrastructure. As a result of House Bill 170, the Transportation Funding Act of 2015, FY2017 appropriates $825.6 million in new state general and motor fuel funds to help improve the state’s roads and bridges to keep freight and our commuters moving safely and efficiently. The following are included in those funds:
- $543.1 million budgeted for capital construction and maintenance projects
- $204.7 for routine maintenance
- $41 million in Local Maintenance and Improvement Grants (LMIG)
- $1 million in bonds allocated for the repair, replacement, and renovation of our state’s bridges to ensure safety
Along with passing the FY2017 budget, the House passed a number of important bills that are now being considered by the state Senate. House Bill 34, known as the “Georgia Right to Try Act,” will allow for terminally-ill patients to more quickly access experimental drugs/procedures. Full FDA clearance takes three phrases (up to ten years). HB34 will allow patients to try drugs/procedures that have passed the first phase (meaning treatments have met all safety precautions). Physicians would be required to provide written documentation for eligible patients stating the following:
- patient has a terminal illness
- patient considered all other treatment options
- patient received recommendation by the physician
- patient has given written informed consent
Manufacturers of certain experimental drugs will not be required to offer or charge for the treatment, and health benefit plans have the option to provide coverage to investigational products, but will not be required to cover the costs. Any medical physician, who recommends, prescribes, or treats an eligible patient with investigational drugs, would not be held liable by the Georgia Composite Medical Board under HB 34.
House Bill 798 received overwhelming support. HB 798 would change HOPE and Zell Miller Scholarships to consider home schooled students and students from previously ineligible or non-accredited high schools. Eligibility would be determined by standardized college admissions tests, such as the SAT and ACT, which are available to all students. Students who fall in the two above groups who score in the 75th percentile or higher nationally would be eligible for the HOPE Scholarship; students who score in the 93rd percentile would be eligible for the Zell Miller Scholarship. The bill also changes the Zell Miller Scholarship eligibility for students graduating from eligible high schools by requiring a score in the 80th percentile or higher on the ACT or the SAT, in addition to maintaining a minimum 3.7 GPA.
House Bill 879 is another education bill that passed out of the House this week. This bill creates the “Georgia Seal of Biliteracy” to recognize high school graduates who are proficient in speaking, reading, and writing one or more languages in addition to English. Students may qualify to receive the Georgia Seal of Biliteracy by doing the following:
- Scoring four or higher on a foreign language advanced placement exam
- Scoring five or higher on a foreign language international baccalaureate exam
- completing a four-year high school course in a foreign language with an overall GPA of 3.0 or above in that coursework
- Passing the SAT II foreign language exam with a score of 600 or higher.
The Georgia Department of Education would provide the insignia to be attached to qualifying students’ diplomas. Each local school system could choose to opt-in to the program but would not be forced to participate or expend resources. It is our duty to encourage our students to broaden their horizons, and the Georgia Seal of Biliteracy will not only promote the study of foreign language, but it will certify their knowledge for future college and job applications.
Finally, my colleagues and I unanimously passed House Bill 561, which would make the “adoptable dog” the official state dog of Georgia. This bill brings awareness to the importance of adopting animals from shelters, where they face a high risk of being euthanized, and will help save the lives of many shelter animals.
You are always welcome and encouraged to visit my office at the State Capitol.My Capitol office number is 404-656-0213 and my email is Andy.Welch@house.ga.gov. I look forward to hearing from you.
And as always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.Read More