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Session 2018: Week 9

Session 2018: Week 9

On Monday, March 5, my House colleagues and I reconvened for the ninth week of the 2018 legislative session. The majority of our legislative work this week was accomplished in committee hearings as my colleagues and I reviewed bills proposed by the Senate. In addition to reviewing these bills, we also took up several pieces of legislation on the House Floor. The most important of these bills is the Fiscal Year 2019 (FY 2019) state budget.

Budget

House Bill 684 was passed by the House on Friday, March 9th. HB 684 is the FY 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 budget was determined by an estimated revenue of $26 billion, which is an increase of $1.03 billion, or 4.1%, over last year’s budget. Each portion of the budget was reviewed carefully by the House Appropriations Committee in order to guarantee that state dollars are going towards our state’s needs. Some of the most significant budget allotments in the FY 2019 budget are the following.

House Rural Development Council

The FY 2019 budget allocates state funding towards a wide range of initiatives to assist our rural communities based on the RDC’s recommendations. Some of this funding is specifically aimed at boosting economic development in rural Georgia. These include funding for the Department Agriculture’s Georgia Grown marketing program; downtown development attorney to help Georgia’s small towns secure redevelopment grants; a deputy commissioner of rural Georgia position; two rural surgical fellowships at St. Joseph’s and Candler Hospital; a statewide residency recruitment fair for rural medical facilities and more.

Education

Education is always one of our top priorities when considering the budget and this year is no exception. 55.9% of the entire state budget is allocated to education. Some details of the education portion of the state budget is that $119.5 million will be allotted 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 designated for the Teachers Retirement System (TRS) to support 117,957 retired and 218,193 active TRS members. $1.6 million of the budget will be set aside for student mental health awareness training program. $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 and $8 million for school security grants to improve security in Georgia’s schools.

Healthcare

Healthcare costs also make up a significant portion of the FY 2019 budget. The health and well being of our citizens is very important to us. Here are some details of the healthcare portion of the budget. The budget provides $16.9 million for a 4.3% provider rate increase for nursing homes; $962,022 for increased background checks for long-term care facility owners and employees and $568,057 towards the Marcus Autism Center to cover the cost of treating autistic children with the greatest needs. Georgia also has the highest rate of maternal mortality in the country and the budget provides the Department of Public Health $2 million to address this pressing issue.

Mental Health

The budget implements the Commission on Children’s Mental Health’s recommendations by funding child and adolescent crisis services.These include 4 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 the expansion of Georgia Crisis Access Line’s operating hours and to create a mobile application to provide mental health crisis services and $2.2 million for department of Human Services care coordinator positions to improve mental health outcomes for foster care children.

The 2019 budget includes many, many more allocations designed to meet the wide-ranging needs of our state. Some of these are funding to clear hurricane debris and remove sunken vessels along the Georgia coastline; $15.1 million for growth in out-of-home care; $15.2 million in additional funding to increase the foster care per diem rates for relative and child placement agency foster care providers, funding for 9 additional assistant district attorney positions and appropriations for statewide transportation infrastructure, construction and maintenance.

FAST Act

Senate Bill 2 also known as “The FAST Act – Fairness, Accountability, Simplification and Transparency – Empowering Our Small Businesses to Succeed.” This bill seeks to enhance accountability, expedite local government permitting processes and reduce regulatory burdens on small businesses by removing certain regulations that make it more difficult to conduct business in Georgia. SB 2 would allow the Department of Community Affairs to establish “Ready for Partnership Georgia,” a voluntary best-practices certification program for each county and municipality in the state.

Adoption Bill

House Bill 159 was officially signed into law on Monday, March 5, by Governor Nathan Deal. This bill will significantly update and modernize our state’s adoption laws for the first time in nearly three decades. 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, and this groundbreaking legislation will go into effect on Sept. 1, 2018.

With only eight legislative days remaining until we adjourn sine die, the General Assembly is in the final stretch of the 2018 legislative session.The last day of session, is Thursday, March 29, and although we only have 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 Georgia. Until then please feel free to contact me to voice any concerns or questions you have on any legislation up for consideration in the House or the Senate. My office phone number is 404-656-5099, and I can be reached via email at david.knight@house.ga.gov. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.

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CONTACT DAVID KNIGHT.