2/9/2018 - Wow! What a busy week! The highlight was a group of young students from Pickens County Middle School visiting us for the day. Mrs. Gent teaches the 8th grade Ga. history class and has a dedicated volunteer, Lee Raudonis. Lee has bee involved in the legislative process for a long time and is sharing his knowledge with the students. The chaperones brought them down for the session and observation and visiting with us. How fun it was! I had my interns from the office share with them their experiences, and we fed them lunch and answered questions. It was a highlight for all of us. Thanks for bringing them down.
We also met with Firefighters including Cherokee Chief Tim Prather from Pickens County, Agriculture, Technical School Leadership, Big Canoe, Miller Leadership institute, Magistrate Judges, Elderly and Aging, Credit Union, and Horse folks to name a few. It’s good to see folks take the time to come to the Capitol to let us know what they think and need and even don't need from the legislature. Saturday I went to the FFA alumni livestock show, and it was fun to see some very familiar faces and kids with their calves, pigs, goats, and sheep. Great involved parents and dedicated teachers and interested folks attending. The State Livestock show is right around the corner.
We were busy with one of the most significant pieces of legislation of the entire session – House Bill 683, the Amended Fiscal Year 2018 (AFY 2018) budget. We have been working on the Governor’s recommendations for about a month in our appropriations committees. I serve on the Higher Education Appropriation committee.
The original State budget for fiscal year 2018, which was approved during the 2017 legislative session, set State spending at $24.9 billion. Since the Fiscal Year 2018 (FY 2018) budget was determined by estimated State revenue, we must pass an amended budget each year to account for any differences between estimated and actual State revenue. The AFY 2018 budget recognizes $306.7 million in additional State revenue, The amended version of the 2018 budget focuses this new revenue on mostly on the required growth in education, healthcare, and human services, and also provides targeted funding for key initiatives recommended by the House Rural Development Council (RDC) designed to spur development and to meet needs in rural communities throughout Georgia.
Funding for education and related initiatives makes up some of the largest investments in the AFY 2018 budget. The budget provided funding for an estimated number of full-time enrolled students, and the amended budget provides $102.1 million for enrollment growth for 7,515 additional students (Georgia is growing). The AFY 2018 budget also includes $15.5 million to purchase 200 new school buses for school systems statewide. In addition to funding for K-12 education, the amended budget also contains appropriations for higher education in our State, such as $10.7 million to meet the needs of 4,720 new Dual Enrollment students. Finally, the AFY 2018 budget includes $8.1 million in additional lottery funds to keep up with the growing demand for HOPE and Zell Miller scholarships and $75,000 to plan for the Center for Rural Prosperity and Innovations, as recommend by the RDC.
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I will highlight a few of the bills we passed this week I think might be of interest. We overwhelmingly passed House Bill 700, a military-friendly measure that would update and expand the National Guard Service Cancelable Loan program to cover the cost of graduate degree programs for National Guard members. HB 700 would ensure that these loans, which are used to repay the cost of tuition in exchange for National Guard service, do not exceed the cost of tuition and to require two consecutive years’ service upon graduation. This program is a proven tool that helps our State recruit and retain National Guard members.
We also passed another military-friendly measure this week, House Bill 699. This would allow firefighters who have served as members of the armed forces to be exempt from firefighter basic training. Current law requires all firefighters to successfully complete a basic training course within one year of their hire date, and the Georgia Firefighter Standards and Training Council determines the content and duration of this course. HB 699 would allow individuals who have trained as a member of the United States Armed Forces, United States Coast Guard, Georgia National Guard, or Georgia Air National Guard to present documentation of such training to the council and receive a firefighter basic training certificate of completion. This bill would make it easier for Georgia’s veterans to begin a career as a firefighter as a result of their service and the sacrifices they have made for our Country and for Georgia.
In an effort to address Georgia’s current opioid crisis, the House overwhelmingly passed House Bill 701 on Monday, February 5. HB 701 would update Georgia law by allowing our state to test candidates for all forms of opioids during state employment drug testing but would not affect those with valid and legal opioid prescriptions. The federal government recently added opioids to federal drug testing laws, and HB 701 would modify state law to reflect this national change.
We are almost halfway through the 40-day legislative session. As your Representative under the Gold Dome, your thoughts and opinions are important to me, and I want to know which issues are significant to you and your family. If you find yourself in Atlanta during the legislative session, please feel free to visit my Capitol office. You may also call my Capitol office at 404-656-7857, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Each morning when I walk into the quite Capitol I thank you for the opportunity to be your Representative.