The House convened for the second regular session of the 154th Georgia General Assembly on Monday, January 8, 2018. The first week of session is always eventful and exciting, and this year was no exception. My House colleagues and I have a great deal of legislative business to accomplish before we adjourn Sine Die, so as soon as Speaker David Ralston gaveled the House into session on Day One, we got right to work on behalf of our state’s citizens. This week, the House convened to take up legislative business, committees began meeting to review and discuss proposed legislation and Governor Nathan Deal delivered his annual State of the State address.
On Thursday, Gov. Deal delivered his eighth and final State of the State address to a joint session of the House and Senate in the House Chamber. Gov. Deal has served as Georgia’s governor for the last seven years, and in about a year’s time, he will retire after four decades of public service to our state. In his touching address, the governor reflected on his administration’s challenges and successes, and he expressed his hopes and dreams for Georgia’s future generations.
Gov. Deal began his remarks by reflecting back to the year that he became Georgia’s 82nd governor in 2011. Since that time, our state’s unemployment rate has dropped from 10.4 percent to 4.3 percent, which is the lowest it has been in over 10 years; more than 675,000 private sector jobs have been created; our state has maintained a AAA bond rating and added to our Rainy Day Fund; and Georgia has been named the No. 1 state in which to do business for five consecutive years. In addition to recognizing the significant economic progress our state has made in recent years, Gov. Deal also touted Georgia’s booming film and television industry, as well as investments in education and criminal justice reform.
Georgia’s film industry has experienced extreme growth over the past decade. In the past fiscal year alone, the film industry had a $9.5 billion economic impact on our state. More than 200 new companies have located to Georgia to support film and television production, and this thriving industry accounts for 92,000 jobs across our state. These jobs have an average annual salary of almost $84,000, which is 75 percent higher than the national average salary. Over the past two years, about 1,900 students have taken courses at the Georgia Film Academy, and these students will make up Georgia’s future film and television production workforce. Programs such as the Georgia Film Academy will help to ensure that film is a sustainable, long-term industry in our state, and I am confident that film and television production will positively impact Georgia for years to come.
Gov. Deal continued his address by noting that since taking office, state spending on education has increased by $3.6 billion for a total of $14 billion in state education expenditures. Last year, Gov. Deal appropriated funds to establish the Sandra Dunagan Deal Center for Early Language and Literacy at Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville. This state-of-the-art training and research center opened its doors in June 2017 and provides Georgia’s educators with skills and techniques to teach reading and literacy to our state’s youngest learners. The center is named for First Lady Sandra Deal, a former teacher and champion of education in Georgia. As Georgia’s first lady and a former educator, Mrs. Deal has traveled to every corner of our state to read to students and has worked diligently to improve child welfare and educational opportunities for all of our state’s citizens. During his address, Gov. Deal recognized and thanked the First Lady for her efforts and her passion for education.
Gov. Deal went on to mention that while K-12 education is critically important, Georgia’s higher and continued education institutions and programs also play a key role in ensuring our state’s long-term economic prosperity. When Gov. Deal first took office, Georgia’s merit-based HOPE Scholarship and Grant programs, which were once some of the most substantial scholarship programs in the U.S., were close to bankruptcy, and several industries faced workforce shortages throughout the state. To combat these issues, Gov. Deal created reforms that allowed the HOPE Scholarship and Grant programs continue to help Georgians pay for college, and he established the HOPE Career Grant program to fill gaps in Georgia’s workforce. The HOPE Career Grant program completely covers the cost of technical school tuition for students who enroll in one of 17 strategic industry, high-demand fields, and 99.2 percent of students who have completed the program have found employment. Additionally, Gov. Deal has created a marketing campaign to highlight Georgia’s technical colleges. In Georgia, 30 percent of high school graduates do not to complete any type of continued education or training, but this campaign encourages high school students to pursue this type of post-secondary education. Gov. Deal’s marketing campaign has been widely successful in reaching young people across the state, and the governor concluded his remarks about our technical colleges by recommending that the General Assembly allocate $1 million in the state budget to continue this effort.
In his speech, the governor also discussed his administration’s bipartisan criminal justice reform initiatives, which have been some of his proudest and most successful accomplishments during his time in office. Our state’s accountability courts have been a key component of Gov. Deal’s criminal justice reforms and were created to provide sentencing alternatives to nonviolent offenders. Gov. Deal praised the overwhelming success and effectiveness that these courts have had in reducing prison populations and giving Georgians a second chance. Gov. Deal noted that when he first began his criminal justice reform efforts, there were only 12 state-funded accountability court programs. Today, there are 149 such programs, and each of Georgia’s 49 judicial circuits operates at least one sort of accountability court. Gov. Deal’s criminal justice reform initiatives have positively impacted so many lives and continue to serve as a model for other states, and the House will likely see legislation this session that will further enhance criminal justice reform and public safety in our state.
Along with delivering his State of the State address this week, Gov. Deal also released his recommendations for the Amended Fiscal Year 2018 state budget and the Fiscal Year 2019 state budget. Amongst several recommendations for the amended budget, Gov. Deal proposed an allocation of $102 million for K-12 enrollment growth, $10.7 million for growth in Georgia’s Dual Enrollment program, $43.6 million for the Indigent Care Trust Fund and Medicaid, $15.1 million for child welfare services to care for children in state custody, $2.4 million for autism services for children under the age of 21, $17.6 million for Forestland Protection Act grants and $10 million for beach nourishment projects and $25.2 million for airport runway extension projects. Highlights from Gov. Deal’s Fiscal Year 2019 budget recommendations include $361.7 million for the Teachers Retirement System, $127 million for K-12 education, $30 million to assist low-wealth school systems, $28.8 million for child welfare services to fund out-of-home care growth and foster care per diem increases, $22.9 million to implement recommendations from the Commission on Children’s Mental Health, $5 million for accountability courts to implement new courts and expand existing courts, $31 million for transportation and $100 million to repair roads and bridges in Georgia. Gov. Deal’s FY 2019 budget recommendations will financially preserve Georgia’s pension system for educators, provide determined students with additional access to higher education opportunities, grow mental health services for our state’s youngest citizens and upgrade and expand Georgia’s transit system. My colleagues and I in the General Assembly will use these recommendations as a guide to further revise and craft the state’s budget in our Joint House and Senate Budget Hearings next week. I will provide you with more information regarding the state budget and the budget process next week once we thoroughly review Gov. Deal’s recommendations.
This week, the House and Senate also adopted an adjournment resolution, a measure that sets our legislative calendar through the first few weeks of session. As the session progresses, we will adopt one or more adjournment resolutions to set the remainder of the legislative calendar, and I will update you on our schedule as it evolves. Georgia is a citizen legislature, meaning that elected officials in the Georgia General Assembly are part-time lawmakers. Since my colleagues and I are not full-time lawmakers, the General Assembly has a limited amount of time to tackle issues facing our state, so it is critical that we prudently set the legislative calendar to make the most of the 40 day session.
While we spent much of this first week of session taking up legislative business, my House colleagues and I also celebrated College Football Playoff National Championship Day at the Capitol. On Monday, for the first time in Georgia’s history, our state hosted the College Football Playoff National Championship, where the University of Georgia Bulldogs played against University of Alabama’s Crimson Tide in Atlanta’s new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. On Day One of the session, the House adopted House Resolution 867 recognizing Dan Corso and commending the Atlanta Football Host Committee for organizing this great event for our state. Although our state’s flagship university lost in the final minutes of the game, it was a true honor for our great state to host the National Championship game.
Now that the legislative session has officially begun, my House colleagues and I will be working diligently to pass meaningful legislation on behalf of all Georgians. I hope that my session updates will help you to stay informed on legislative matters that impact our community and state as a whole. The House website, www.house.ga.gov, has several tools that might be useful to you throughout the legislative session: a live stream of House proceedings, live and archived committee meeting videos and detailed information on all legislation we are considering in the General Assembly.
If you ever find yourself in Atlanta during session, I encourage you to visit me at my Capitol office, and please do not hesitate to call or email me if you have any questions or concerns regarding any current or upcoming legislation. My Capitol office is 608C CLOB, my office phone number is 404-656-0298, and I can be reached via email at [email protected]
Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.