Greetings from the Georgia House of Representatives!
We began the second session of the 152nd General Assembly on Monday, January 13, 2014. With a goal to get back home to our constituents by April, we hit the ground running.
On Wednesday, January 15, Governor Nathan Deal jump-started the session by revealing his goals for the year in the State of the State Address.
In his address, Gov. Deal detailed the exceptional progress Georgia’s economy has made since the Great Recession. The state’s unemployment rate is at its lowest since 2009, and 217,000 jobs have been created in the past three years. Lower unemployment means more Georgians are back at work, and state revenues are returning to pre-recession levels. Gov. Deal presented his ideas on how to best allocate state revenues in his amended budget for the Fiscal Year 2014 (AFY 2014), the mid-year spending plan, which helps fund the final few months of the current fiscal year, and full budget for Fiscal Year 2015 (FY 2015), the state’s budget from July 1 to June 30. He projects that revenues for AFY2014 and FY2015 will total $20.2 billion and $20.8 billion respectively. Both figures are a slight increase from the $20 billion that was originally forecast for FY2014 last session.
Georgia’s education system ranked at the top of Governor Deal’s priority list in his address. Among his goals for education was an increase in internet access at schools across the state, expanded online learning programs, and the creation of a new Zell Miller Hope Grant for technical college students who maintain a 3.5 GPA. The Governor then delivered his budget proposal, detailing the funding for these, and other, state projects.
In his budget summary, Gov. Deal recommended that Georgia’s education system obtain the largest budgetary increase in the past seven years. With a partnership between school systems, such funds have the potential to restore instructional days that were cut during the economic downturn and provide teachers with a much-needed and long-awaited pay raise.
Also included in the Governor’s budget proposal is funding to increase caseworkers for the Division of Family and Children Services, so that reports of child abuse and neglect obtain the attention they deserve. Other objectives for the state include funding to deepen the Savannah port and the continuation of a three year plan for criminal justice reforms, which could help reduce recidivism and crime in Georgia. Finally, the Governor’s budget proposals also increased funding for the juvenile justice system with the intent to improve the retention rates of juvenile corrections officers.
In addition to the State of the State address, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees began the process of reviewing the Governor’s budget recommendations and turning them into the actual legislation that will ultimately guide all state spending. The process started on Wednesday, January 16th with a joint Appropriations Committee meeting. Governor Deal led the presentations by detailing the major highlights of his budget proposals. The Governor was then followed by the leaders of our state agencies, each of whom explained their agency’s budget and answered questions from House and Senate members.
Another milestone for the week was the House and Senate’s final passage of House Bill 310. This legislation moves state and partisan county primary elections from July to May 20, so that the state elections will coincide with the federally mandated elections that were recently moved to May. If this fix had not been made, as voters we would have to vote at separate times to decide who we were going to send to Washington and who we were going to send to Atlanta. The change in dates also provides troops overseas with more time to vote via absentee ballot. For information about election dates and your voter registration status, visit the Georgia Secretary of State’s website, www.sos.ga.gov.
Finally, we also took some time this week to remember two great colleagues who passed away last year: Representatives Calvin Hill and Quincy Murphy. Rep. Hill, from Canton, and Rep. Murphy, from Augusta, both served in the House for more than 10 years. Their families visited the Chamber on Tuesday, January 14, to hear the readings of House Resolutions 1050 and 1051, which recognized the lives and accomplishments of the two representatives. Reps. Hill and Murphy will be greatly missed, but their legacies will live on through their contributions to the state of Georgia.
Now that session has begun, I want you to know that I will be working hard every day we are in session in Atlanta. I hope you will take the opportunity to review updates like this one to keep you informed about legislative matters. You can also stay in touch by visiting our website at www.house.ga.gov to watch the House in action, view live and archived committee meetings, and review legislation that we are considering. I also hope to hear from you on your ideas and opinions regarding the issues facing our great state. Please call my office at the State Capitol in Atlanta and let me know what I can do for you. The phone number is 404-656-0177. Thank you for your time.