"America is a passionate idea or it is nothing. America is a human brotherhood or it is chaos."
- Max Lerner

Legislative Update, Week 2 – January 19, 2018

My House colleagues and I returned to the Gold Dome on Tuesday, January 16, for the second week of the 2018 legislative session. This week, we began the state budget process, which is one of the most important responsibilities we have during the entire legislative session. The General Assembly is constitutionally required to pass a balanced state budget every year, and as we began the budget process, the joint House and Senate Appropriations committees met for a series of hearings to review Governor Nathan Deal’s budget recommendations. In addition to the joint budget hearings this week, the House also convened on Thursday and Friday for legislative Day Five and legislative Day Six of the session.

To kick off the budget process on Tuesday, Gov. Deal presented his comprehensive budget proposal to the members of the House and Senate Appropriations committees. Gov. Deal’s Fiscal Year 2019 (FY 2019) budget is the largest budget to be presented to the General Assembly in our state’s history. Georgia has experienced a tremendous economic boom in recent years, and because of our state’s success, we have maintained our AAA credit rating, been named the No. 1 state in which to do business for five consecutive years, invested billions of dollars in education and grown our Rainy Day Fund. Our state’s financial success and robust economy have made Georgia a national leader economically, and Gov. Deal’s budget proposals build upon these successes, as well as create new prospects for growth. During this week’s budget hearings, we also heard testimonies from several state agency heads, each of whom expressed their respective agency’s fiscal needs and answered questions from my House colleagues and Senate counterparts. The final budget will outline state funding for each of these agencies, which is why it is critical that we hear their budgetary needs as we begin this arduous process.

While our state has experienced significant growth over the past several years, Georgia’s future economic success heavily relies on a connected and efficient transportation network. Gov. Deal’s FY 2019 budget recommendations include more than $1.9 billion in annual funding to maintain and enhance our state’s transportation infrastructure, as well as an additional $100 million to repair and replace bridges throughout the state. The governor’s Amended Fiscal Year 2018 (AFY 2018) budget proposal also allocates more than $25 million to expand runways at 11 airports in Georgia to ensure that larger aircrafts can access all areas of our state, including our rural communities. Our state’s citizens, and especially our businesses, depend on a viable transportation system, which is why it is important to invest in all areas of our state’s transportation network.

Education has consistently been one of Gov. Deal’s top funding priorities, and in his final budget proposal, the governor continued his commitment to Georgia’s students by investing in many education programs and initiatives. Gov. Deal’s AFY 2018 budget includes $102.1 million for a midterm adjustment for K-12 enrollment growth and $10.7 million for growth in the Dual Enrollment program. The governor’s FY 2019 budget proposal also includes $30 million to assist low‐wealth school districts and adds $127.6 million to fund K-12 enrollment growth and training and experience for Georgia teachers. Additionally, Gov. Deal’s FY 2019 budget allots $1.8 million for the REACH Georgia Scholarship program, which would provide 226 additional scholarships statewide and expand the program into 44 new school districts. The governor also added $361.7 million for our state’s Teachers Retirement System to fully fund the state’s determined employer contribution. An investment in our state’s young minds is an investment in Georgia’s future, and our state will reap the benefits of these education appropriations for generations to come.

Healthcare has also continued to be a top priority in our state’s budget. Since 2011, our state has invested almost $240 million in behavioral health, and as a result of this investment, we have seen a significant decline in individuals civilly committed to Georgia’s behavioral health hospitals. The governor’s FY 2019 budget proposal allots $15 million to continue to fund Georgia’s intellectual and developmental disabilities waiver services and to provide supportive housing for Georgians in need. Gov. Deal’s recommendations also include $3.5 million in the AFY 2018 budget and almost $7 million in FY 2019 budget towards the Children’s Autism Initiative. Additionally, the governor’s FY 2019 budget allocates $22.9 million to fund crisis services, therapeutic foster care, Apex grants, telehealth services, suicide prevention, wraparound services, supported employment and education and opioid prevention and treatment, which were all recommendations made by the Commission on Children’s Mental Health. Georgia’s behavioral health services have helped countless Georgians to thrive in our state, and investing in such services is critically important so we can continue to assist these citizens.

Gov. Deal’s successful criminal justice reform initiatives also received additional funding in his budget proposal. One such initiative is Georgia’s accountability court system, which provides low-level, non-violent offenders with sentencing alternatives, such as rehabilitative services. Since FY 2012, our state has allotted a total of $113.9 million to establish and operate these courts statewide, and the FY 2019 budget includes an additional $5 million to continue those efforts. Gov. Deal’s sentencing reform initiatives have a proven track record and have helped low-level offenders receive the help they truly need, rather than keeping those individuals in Georgia’s prison system.

Finally, the governor’s proposed budgets provide state dollars for several essential programs and initiatives that meet the wide-ranging needs of all of our state’s citizens. The governor’s FY 2019 budget proposal provides funding for Georgia’s child welfare services, including $15.1 million for growth in out‐of‐home care utilization, $10.1 million to continue to increase Georgia’s foster parent per diem rates and $3.6 million to increase out‐of‐home care provider rates. Gov. Deal’s FY 2019 budget also allocates almost $256 million for Medicaid expense growth and to offset federal revenue and settlement loss.

These are just some of the highlights of the governor’s budget proposals. The House Appropriations subcommittees will hold hearings next week to continue to review these proposals and delve even further into the governor’s recommendations. These subcommittees will eventually pass portions of the state budget in their respective subcommittees, and those portions of the budget will then go before the full House Appropriations Committee, which will review and pass balanced budgets for AFY 2018 and FY 2019.

Other important news this week comes from our colleagues in the Senate. On Thursday, our Senate counterparts passed their version of House Bill 159.  The original bill passed the House unanimously last session and would modernize our state’s adoption laws for the first time in nearly 30 years.  The Senate amended some key provisions in the legislation and added HB 359, a bill dealing with temporary powers of attorney, which Gov. Deal vetoed last year.  We began reviewing the Senate’s changes this week, and we hope to work with them and Gov. Deal to get this measure finalized and signed into law.

Also this week, Gov. Deal made a few major announcements that I would like to share with you. On Wednesday, Gov. Deal issued a state of emergency for 83 of Georgia’s central and northern counties impacted by winter weather. As a result of the snow and icy roads, our budget hearings that were originally scheduled for Wednesday were rescheduled, and the House and Senate convened Thursday afternoon rather than Thursday morning. Despite the winter weather, my House colleagues and I continued our legislative work on behalf of all Georgians.

Gov. Deal made another major announcement on Thursday morning. After much anticipation, the governor announced that Atlanta is included on Amazon’s short list of Top 20 finalists for the company’s second headquarters. Georgia has consistently been ranked the best state in the country for business, and our state has many attractive resources and benefits that give us a competitive advantage over other states. I look forward to seeing how Georgia continues to fare in Amazon’s site selection process.

The House will be back in session on Monday, January 22, and we have another busy week ahead of us as the pace of the session continues to pick up. As we move forward, I encourage you to visit me at my capitol office, or call me if you have any questions or concerns regarding the state budget bills, the legislative process or any other measures being considered under the Gold Dome. As your representative at the Georgia State Capitol, I want to know what issues are most important to you, your family and our neighbors, and I welcome any opportunity hear feedback from my constituents. My Capitol office is 608C CLOB, my office phone number is 404-656-0298, and I can be reached via email at [email protected]  Please reach out to me any time.

Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.

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