Session 2017: Week 6
Session 2017: Week 6
On Tuesday, February 14th we began the sixth week of the 2017 legislative session. We are now halfway through! The House passed House Bill 44 – the Fiscal Year 2018 state budget and several other bills concerning our state’s health and future flourishing.
The General Assembly is required to pass a balanced budget and we completed that task last Friday. This budget will guide our state’s spending from July 1st 2017-June 30th 2018. This budget is our largest to date at a revenue estimate of $24.9 billion—an increase of $1.25 billion compared to the FY 2017 budget. Continue reading to view the details of this budget.
Improvements in Education
As usual, the majority of our funding will go towards education to ensure that our school’s students, instructors, administrators, facilities, and staff have what they need to do their best work.
- $162 million is allocated to give a 2% merit pay increase to teachers, bus drivers, and nutrition personnel.
- $1.6 million for Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) trainers and school climate specialists
- $2.7 million is allocated to provide one AP STEM exam for every student in an AP STEM course.
- $4.05 million will go towards funding additional school counselors as well as $445,145 for a competitive grant program for schools that have a large military population. These counselors will help children of military families.
- $1.5 million for the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement for a grant program to provide low performing high schools with a certified school counselor-graduation specialist.
My colleagues and I want to see our state’s current and future students do well, so we are happy to do all we can to support them, their teachers, and everyone else involved in their educational success.
Georgia’s Health and Wellness
Another large portion of the budget concerns the mental health and well-being of our state’s citizens as well as the 19,000+ children in the foster care system.
- $10.7 million will go towards a $10 per diem rate increase for foster parents and $14.9 million for relative foster parents.
- $25.8 million for a 19% salary increase for child welfare services caseworkers
- $2.8 million for 80 new positions in the Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS)
- $500,000 is allocated to expand the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA).
- $1.5 million for a $5 hourly rate increase for Special Assistant Attorneys General (SAAGs)-support child welfare cases
- $6 million for the creation of a Behavioral Health Crisis Center to address emergency needs for those struggling with mental illnesses. This center will provide 24/7 walk-in services and would be a less expensive alternative.
- $500,000 for the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency to match federal funds to continue providing scholarships for students with developmental disabilities.
- $2 million for Georgia Alzheimer’s Project to promote early detection and treatment
We are confident that these budget allocations will support our state’s programs that are in place to better the health of all citizens.
Military Communities and Service Members
Providing additional support for our military communities and service members who sacrifice so much for the security of our state was another big priority in the FY 2018 budget.
- $358,996 will go towards 4 veteran benefits training officers who would work with the Veterans Accountability Court to serve those who have entered the criminal justice system upon returning home from duty.
- $137,650 for a Women Veterans Coordinator position to address and support the needs of our female veterans
- $359,437 is allocated to fund the actuarially determined employer contribution for the Georgia Military Pension Fund.
HB 44 will also fund the creation of the Military Family Support Center in Marietta. This commissary will sell discounted groceries and household goods to active-duty and retired military personnel and their families. This center will help 400,000+ eligible individuals.
Health and Population Growth
We have seen substantial population growth over the years which increases the need for additional funds towards the health of Georgia’s citizens. $92 million will support Tenet settlement funds that will be matched by federal funds to address several needs-
- $38.4 million for Medicaid growth,
- $20.7 million for behavioral health services for children under 21 diagnosed with autism,
- $325,000 for an Adolescent to Adult Transition model to improve outcomes for adults with autism spectrum disorder,
- And $2.5 million for behavioral health services & other health programs for children ages 0-4
HB 44 also allocates funds for the 97 new residency slots in primary care medicine, 10 additional OB/GYN residency positions at various hospitals, and a new psychiatry residency program.
The FY 2018 budget will provide pay raises for jobs within the Department of Defense, Department of Human Services, and the Department of Public Health to provide incentives to fill spots that have high demand or turnover rates.
- $55.5 million will go towards annualizing the 20% salary increases for our state’s law enforcement officers, criminal investigators, and canine officers across 16 state agencies.
- $2.6 million for public safety training to support law enforcement officers and prepare them for the challenges they face.
In addition, HB 44 will provide funds for additional Georgia Bureau of Investigation personnel—four scientist and two technical positions. This will hasten rape kit processing to address the backlog of untested rape kits.
These areas are just a few examples of how Georgia’s 2018 budget will be useful to its citizens. The entire budget includes funds for other programs and needs of our state. My colleagues and I were able to pass additional bills last week as well—
House Bill 139 was passed to increase transparency in Georgia’s public school systems. This bill will require the Georgia Department of Education to create and publish an online database with the purpose of reporting:
- the financial performance of each local school system and school in Georgia,
- the costs of materials and equipment,
- staff salaries and benefits,
- professional development,
- facility maintenance,
- new construction or renovation,
- per student expenditures for each local school,
- and the schools system’s annual budget, ratio of expenditures to revenue, and the total property tax revenue the system is authorized to collect.
HB 139 requires that every public school with a website post a link to Department of Education’s website in the most user-friendly location. We currently lack a simple way to gain access to this information, so the goal of this bill is to rectify that.
House Bill 160 was passed to support our state’s transportation infrastructure. This bill will create the Georgia Commission on Transit Governance and Funding to address our state’s growing population and offer solutions to traffic congestion. This commission will hold public meetings to gain insight from citizens and will release a report of their findings and recommendations for the establishment of a mass transportation systems as well as funding mechanisms for these systems. The commission would be co-chaired by the chairmen of the House and Senate Transportation committees and will consist of four members appointed by the governor, four members of the House appointed by the Speaker of the House, four additional members of the Senate appointed by the President of the Senate, the Georgia Department of Transportation’s Commissioner of Transportation, the Executive Director of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority and the Chief Executive Officer of the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA). Through this commission, I believe our state can learn a great deal more on how to improve our transportation systems.
Another bill we were able to pass last week concerns bringing the commercial space industry to Georgia. House Bill 1, or Georgia Space Flight Act (GSA), will define procedures for commercial space flight activity. This bill will limit a willing spaceflight participant’s ability to sue for damages concerning spaceflight activities in Georgia if the willing participant was required to give written informed consent. It would not protect against injuries suffered by non-consenting third parties. The proposed site is Spaceport Camden, located in Camden County. The goal of this bill is to make Georgia more competitive with neighboring space-friendly states, impact STEM related job growth, increase tourism, and ultimately push our state towards a better economic future.
House Bill 9 was passed with great support and will update Georgia’s invasion of privacy law. This bill would criminalize taking pictures or filming under or through someone’s clothing in circumstances where that person has a reasonable expectation of privacy. Likewise, distributing the image or recording will also be considered a felony. Current law only protects incidents that occur in private places which allows people in public places to be subject to privacy invasion. As technology progress, we must pass bills like this to protect all citizens.
The final bill I want to discuss is House Bill 43 or the Amended Fiscal Year 2017 budget. Governor Deal and other officials and legislators signed HB 43 thereby authorizing $24.3 billion for the current fiscal year. This amended budget will allow Georgia to invest in economic development initiatives, provide salary increases for law enforcement officers, address growing educational needs, and improve our state’s transportation system.
We are only a bit over a month away from March 30th—our last day of the 2017 legislative session. The General Assembly will continue our work in passing important bills concerning our present and future success. Check back here next week to learn about what bills we will pass in week 7.
You are welcome to visit me at my capitol office located at 228-A State Capitol Atlanta, GA 30334. I can also be reached by phone at 404.656.5099 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from you on how I can help serve Georgia.
For more information about me, interact with me on Facebook. You can also visit www.house.ga.gov to view live streaming of the House proceedings. Check back here next week for more updates on the current legislative session. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative!
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