1/30/2017 - Hi, Friends, So sorry I have not begun these articles until this week. I do appreciate the opportunity to be your voice in the Capitol during this legislative session. The past two weeks have been very busy, meeting new people and moving offices and all that stuff, in addition to session and committee meetings. I have been very honored to be selected to be the Chairman of the Higher Education Committee. In short, this committee oversees policy for our Technical Colleges and Colleges and Universities. Big job, as it touches nearly everyone in the State working to better themselves through education. We just finished the second week of the 2017 session.
On Wednesday we convened for a joint session with the Senate to hear the Supreme Court of Georgia’s Chief Justice P. Harris Hines deliver the annual State of the Judiciary Address, which reports what the judicial branch has accomplished and the challenges it faces in the year ahead. Several of our local Judges were also in attendance at the Capitol.
Chief Justice Hines, who serves as the head of the judiciary, reported that Georgia’s third branch of government, the judicial branch, is strong and on a path towards an even greater future. Chief Justice Hines noted that 2017 marks a “historic year of change” for Georgia’s judicial branch with the expansion of the number of Supreme Court and Appeals Court Judges serving on our State’s court. This expansion was both historic and necessary, as Georgia has seen immense growth in its population and overall economy in recent years, considerably increasing and intensifying the judicial needs of our citizens.
Another historic change that Chief Justice Hines highlighted in his address is the substantial progress our State has made in the criminal justice arena. Chief Justice Hines called upon the General Assembly to continue to make improvements by pointing out that our State has the highest rate of individuals on probation in the country, and about half of those individuals are on probation for simple misdemeanors. To address this area of concern, Chief Justice Hines announced that the Council on Criminal Justice Reform, a bi-partisan council that conducts periodic reviews of criminal laws, will work with the General Assembly to reform probation sentencing for low-risk, non-violent offenders.
On Thursday, January 26, following two weeks’ budget hearings and the work of the members of the House Appropriations Committee, subcommittees, and the House Budget and Research Office, the Amended Fiscal Year 2017 Budget was presented on the House floor and passed overwhelmingly by a vote of 174-1. So what’s in the amended budget? We all know that investments in our children and in the State’s education system are always large and essential components of any budget; therefore, HB 43 includes $108.9 million for midterm enrollment growth of .68 percent to ensure that every child has the educational resources they need. This year’s amended budget also accounts for the growing needs of our education system, including those needs of our institutions of higher learning. The AFY 2017 budget allocates $16.7 million to meet the projected needs of Move on When Ready, a program allowing eligible Georgia students to take advantage of dual enrollment and progress at their own pace, and $2.3 million to create the Georgia Center for Early Language and Literacy at Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville, an education training center for developing literacy skills among children from birth to age 8 throughout the state. Investments in education are investments in Georgia’s future. Additionally, the House supported Gov. Deal’s budget recommendation to support our public safety officials by appropriating $25.1 million in the amended budget for a pay raise for these dedicated state law enforcement officers. This increase impacts officers and criminal investigators across 16 state agencies, including the Department of Public Safety, the Department of Community Supervision and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. The AFY 2017 budget also includes $23.5 million for 612 new vehicles for public safety agencies to replace high mileage or old vehicles..
As an important investment for Georgia, the House agreed with the Governor’s recommendation and appropriated $50 million for the Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center in Augusta in the AFY 2017 budget. This spending will enhance the 2 Billion the US Army is currently spending at Fort Gordon for National Cyber security work. This state-owned education and training center will be designed to enhance both public and private cybersecurity, focus on research and development, promote innovation in cybersecurity technology, and prepare students to combat cyber-attacks..
We also funded a number of critical financial needs in the Amended Fiscal Year Budget, including the immediate need for a rate increase for Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) foster parents. The Amended 2017 Budget provides $974,712 to expedite the 57 percent per diem rate increase for these foster parents by moving the effective date to April 1, 2017. The budget also provides $746,243 for a $1 per day increase for the relative, or kinship, foster care providers also effective April 1, 2017. Every little bit can help these families and caregivers who play such a vital role in the lives of these young children in their care.
Lastly, in the Amended 2017 Budget we appropriated $5 million to the Governor’s Emergency fund for the critical needs of many of our fellow Georgians. Last weekend, severe weather devastated communities in the southwestern region of our state, taking the lives of at least 15 Georgians, injuring many others and ravaging homes and businesses. Due to this unforeseen natural disaster, the AFY 2017 budget appropriated these funds to supplement federal funding received from FEMA to aid in rehabilitating communities damaged by the storms.
As the 2017 legislative session progresses and the pace quickens, our House committees will be meeting more frequently to consider legislation. I am currently serving on the Higher Education (Chairman), Public Safety and Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, Agriculture and Consumer Affairs, Human Relations and Aging, and Appropriations committees, and I welcome your input on any bills that come before these committees or before the House for a vote. Your input and comments help guide the decisions I make at the Gold Dome, as my goal is to best serve and represent my constituents. Therefore, I encourage you to call my office at the State Capitol in Atlanta at 404-656-7857 to tell us your thoughts, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As always, thank you for allowing me the opportunity to serve as your State Representative.