2/20/2017 - I returned to the State Capitol and went back to work on Monday, February 13, to complete legislative day 20 by the end of the week, meaning we reached the halfway mark of the session. We have 20 legislative days remaining to complete our business, and “Crossover Day” is rapidly approaching.
As I have said many times, we are constitutionally required to pass a balanced budget, and on Friday, the House did just that by passing House Bill 44, the Fiscal Year 2018 Budget. The following is a brief description of what we passed in the budget. Please call or email and I will be glad to send you a more detailed description of what is in the budget we passed.
Much like in years past, the bulk of our funding, $780.2 million in HB 44, is budgeted for education to ensure that each of the nearly 1.74 million students in Georgia have the educational resources they need to thrive. First and foremost, the FY 2018 Budget allocates $162 million to provide our dedicated teachers with a 2 percent merit pay increase as well as a 2 percent salary increase for bus drivers and school nutrition personnel. The FY 2018 Budget also includes $1.6 million for Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) trainers and school climate specialists to help reduce disciplinary incidents and promote school safety. In addition, the budget provides $2.7 million in new and existing funds to provide one AP STEM exam for every student taking an AP STEM course in the State as a way to encourage participation in AP STEM courses. The FY 2018 budget includes $4.05 million to fund additional school counselors for all school systems.
HB 44 includes increased funding for several key services under the Department of Human Resources. The budget supports our 19,000 young people in the foster care system by adding $10.7 million for a $10 per diem rate increase for foster parents and $14.9 million for relative foster parents caring for and raising Georgia’s foster children. Moreover, HB 44 provides $25.8 million for a 19 percent salary increase for child welfare services caseworkers, $2.8 million for 80 new positions in the Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) to provide support services for foster parents, and $500,000 to expand the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) to advocate on behalf of our children.
Our State has seen tremendous population growth over the past several years. To address health concerns, HB 44 includes $92 million in funds which will be matched by federal funds and used to meet a variety of needs, including $38.4 million for Medicaid growth and $20.7 million for behavioral health services for children under 21 who are diagnosed with Autism. The FY 2018 Budget also acknowledges the unique medical needs of Georgia’s citizens by allocating funds for 97 new residency slots in primary care medicine, 10 additional OB/GYN residency slots at various hospitals, and a new psychiatry residency program, all to keep doctors in Georgia.
One key highlight of the FY 2018 Budget designates $55.5 million for 20 percent salary increases for those who risk their lives daily to ensure the safety of our State’s citizens: our law enforcement officers; as well as additional increases for criminal investigators and canine officers to attract new recruits and reduce turnover, impacting officers and criminal investigators across 16 state agencies.
We passed a number of other important bills that will now be considered by the State Senate. One significant measure was House Bill 139, a bill that would increase transparency in Georgia’s public school systems. The Georgia Department of Education will create and publish an online database reporting the financial performance of each local school system and school in Georgia, including the costs of all materials and equipment, staff salaries and benefits, professional development, facility maintenance, new construction or renovation, per student expenditures for each local school system, the school system’s annual budget, ratio of expenditures to revenue and the total property tax revenue the system is authorized to collect. Currently, there is no user-friendly method for the public to access this information, and HB 139 aims to make our school systems’ financial information more readily available to the public.
In an exciting effort to bring the commercial space industry to Georgia, the House also saw the passage of a measure this week that would establish the groundwork for this industry in our State. House Bill 1, the Georgia Space Flight Act (GSA), would define procedures for commercial space flight activity, allowing Georgia to be more competitive with neighboring “space friendly” states. The GSA would improve our state’s competitiveness in the estimated $330 billion per year space industry, with the proposed site to be located in Camden County.
House Bill 9, which passed the House overwhelmingly, would update Georgia’s invasion of privacy law, making filming under or through a person’s clothing a felony in Georgia. HB 9 criminalizes the use of a device, such as a camera or mobile phone, to secretly observe, photograph, videotape, film or record underneath or through a person’s clothing to view intimate parts of the body in circumstances where that person has a reasonable expectation of privacy. HB 9 was introduced in response to a Georgia Court of Appeals ruling that overturned the conviction of an individual for one count of criminal invasion of privacy for recording cell phone video underneath a woman’s skirt at a grocery store. The court found that the defendant’s actions did not violate Georgia’s current invasion of privacy law because the incident occurred in a public space. Current Georgia law related to the invasion of privacy only applies to activities that occur in any “private place out of viewing.” Therefore, HB 9 would close this loophole by prosecuting those who commit this violating practice.
Now that we have passed the annual budget and are halfway through the 2017 legislative session, we will continue to vote on many more important bills each legislative day under the Gold Dome through the remainder of the session. During this time, I hope that you will contact me with your ideas and opinions so that I can apply your thoughts to my work throughout these remaining 20 legislative days. You are always welcome and encouraged to visit my Capitol office in Atlanta. My Capitol office phone number is 404-656-7857, and my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your State Representative.