Week Six Update 2017

Tuesday, February 14th marked the beginning of the sixth week of the 2017 legislative session. By the end of the week we had completed legislative day 20, marking the halfway point of the session. With only 20 days remaining, and “Crossover Day” quickly approaching, my colleagues and I are working hard to pass important bills. This week marked the passage of one of the most important pieces of legislation of this session: the Fiscal Year 2018 (FY 2018) budget, or HB 44.

House Bill 44

The General Assembly is mandated to pass a balanced budget every year, and this past Friday the House fulfilled this duty. The Fiscal Year 2018 Budget was passed on Friday, February 17 and will direct our state’s spending from July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018. The FY 2018 budget is 5.3% or $1.25 billion higher than the FY 2017 budget at $24.9 billion, making it the largest in Georgia’s history. The following allotments were made in the FY 2018 budget:

Education

The mass of the FY 2018 budget is designated to the 1.74 million students, as well as teachers, administrators, faculty and staff in Georgia. With $780.2 million budgeted towards education, the FY 2018 budget seeks to ensure that Georgia has the educational resources we need to succeed. $162 million of this is designated towards a 2% merit pay increase, incorporated into their salary schedule, for more than 126,000 teachers in Georgia.  A 2% salary increase is also included for nutrition personnel and bus drivers in our school systems. In order to promote school safety and help reduce disciplinary incidents, $1.6 million is allocated towards the addition of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) trainers and school climate specialists. $2.7 million in new and current funds is designated towards one AP STEM exam for each student taking an AP STEM course in the state. Additional school counselors for all school systems are also included in the budget, with $4.05 million allocated towards these positions. $445,145 is designated for school systems that have a large military population for the creation of a competitive grant program for the funding of counselor positions to provide support for students of military families. The Governor’s Office of Student Achievement was also allocated $1.5 million in order to provide low performing high schools with a certified school counselor-graduation specialist, giving priority to the chronically failing high schools first.

Department of Human Resources

HB 44 includes funding for several key areas found under the Department of Human Resources including $10.7 million for a $10 per diem rate increase for foster parents. This rate increase helps to aid over 19,000 young people in the foster care system. Additionally, $25.8 million is allocated for a 19% salary increase for child welfare services caseworkers. $14.9 million is designated for relative foster parents caring for our state’s children.  HB 44 includes $2.8 million in funding for 80 new Department of Family and Children Services positions that will provide support for foster parents.The Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) is allocated $500,000 in order expand and advocate on behalf of Georgia’s children. A $1.5 million allocation is also included for a $5 hourly pay increase for Special Assistant Attorneys General who support child welfare cases. HB 44 also designated $6 million towards the creation of a Behavioral Health Crisis Center, which would provide 24/7 walk-in services for individuals struggling with mental illness or substance abuse, providing an alternative to hospital care. The FY 2018 budget also includes $500,000 towards the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation agency in order to provide scholarships for students with developmental disabilities. Lastly, $2 million is designated to the Alzheimer’s Project which is dedicated to the promotion of early detection and treatment of Alzheimer’s.

Military

The allocation of funds for our military communities and services members was a priority for the 2018 FY Budget.  The legislation provides $358,996 for 4 veteran benefits training officers who would work with the Veterans Accountability court to serve those who have entered the criminal justice system upon returning from war. Additionally, the bill allocates $137, 650 to ensure the challenges facing female veterans are met through the creation of a women veterans coordinator position. $359,437 is designated to the actuarially determined employer contribution for the Georgia Military Pension Fund to continue fiscal sustainability. A commissary for active-duty and retired military personnel and their families will also be established in Marietta under HB 44. This commissary will be called the Military Family Support Center and would allow the 400,000 authorized users in Georgia to be eligible to purchase discounted groceries and household goods.

Health

The 2018 FY budget includes $92 million in Tenet settlement funds. These funds will be matched by federal funds and used to meet many needs, including $38.4 million for Medicaid expansion, $20.7 million for behavioral health services for children diagnosed with Autism  under the age of 21, $325,000 for an Adolescent to Adult Transition Model for adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder, $2.5 million for behavioral health services for children under the age of 4, and other health programs.  The budget also allocates 97 new residency slots for primary care medicine, 10 slots for OB/GYN residency and a new psychiatry residency program.

Law Enforcement

Under HB 44, $55.5 million is allocated towards the annualization of a 20% salary increase for Georgia’s law enforcement officers, as well as increases for canine officers and criminal investigators in order to attract new recruits and to reduce turnover. The legislation also includes a $2.6 million public safety training allocation, in order to ensure that local law enforcement officers are equipped to face the challenges of today’s police forces. The budget additionally includes funds for 4 scientist and 2 technical positions for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, in order to increase the rate at which rape kits are processed and to address the untested rape kits that were a result of the Senate bill 304 from the 2016 legislative session.

My colleagues and I also passed a number of other bills that will now make their way to the state Senate for consideration. The following bills were passed out of the House this week:

House Bill 139

This legislation aims to increase the transparency in Georgia’s public school systems. HB 139 aims to do this by requiring the Georgia Department of Education to create and publish an online database that reports the financial performance of the local school systems and schools in Georgia. This database would disclose the following:  the costs of all materials and equipment, staff salaries and benefits, professional development, facility maintenance, new construction or renovation, per student expenditures for each school system, the annual budget of the school system, the ratio of expenditures to revenue, and the total property tax revenue the system is authorized to collect. As it currently stands, there is no user-friendly, public way to access this information. Thus, HB 139 would also require each public school with a website to display a link to the Department of Education’s website, where the public will be able to access this compiled, aggregated, and reported financial data. It is important that Georgians know how their tax dollars are spent and this legislation seeks to bring transparency to just that.

House Bill 160

HB 160 aims to create the Georgia Commission on Transit Governance and Funding. This commission would be co-chaired by the chairmen of the House and Senate Transportation committees and would be composed of 4 members appointed by the governor, 4 members of the House chosen by the Speaker of the House, 4 members of the Senate chosen by the President of the Senate, the Georgia Department of Transportation’s Commissioner of Transportation, the Executive Director of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority and the CEO of MARTA. The commission would hold meetings that would allow for the public’s input and then compile their findings and offer recommendations for the creation of a mass transportation system, including the funding and legislation required to accomplish its proposals.  Our state’s growing population and traffic congestion needs could be addressed through the structure, knowledge base, and support of the Commission on Transit Governance and Funding.

House Bill 1

The Georgia Space Flight Act (GSA), or HB 1, would bring the $330 billion per year commercial spaceflight industry to our state. The bill would define procedures for commercial space flight activity and limit the ability of a willing spaceflight participant to sue for damages related to spaceflight activities occurring in this state if the participant was required to provide written consent. It would not protect against any injuries suffered by non-consenting third-parties affiliated with space flight activity. The language of HB 1 mirrors that of the federal regulations regarding liability coverage as well as industry standard used in states with space programs. The proposed site is located in Camden County and would be called Spaceport Camden. It would have a huge impact on not only Camden County’s economy, but also the surrounding counties. In terms of our state’s economy, STEM related job growth and tourism would be evident in Georgia, both growing and diversifying our economy.

House Bill 9

After the Georgia Court of Appeals ruling overturned the conviction of an individual for one count of criminal invasion of privacy for videotaping underneath a woman’s skirt in the grocery store, this legislation was introduced. HB 9 updates Georgia’s invasion of privacy law, closing the loophole found in current Georgia law. The above ruling was overturned because the defendant’s actions occurred in a public space. Current Georgia law related to the invasion of privacy is applied only to situations that occur in a “private place of viewing.” HB 9 seeks to make filming under or through a person’s clothing a felony in Georgia by criminalizing the use of a device to secretly observe, photograph, videotape, film or record underneath or through a person’s clothing to view parts of the body where the individual has reasonable expectation of privacy. The legislation would also make it unlawful to distribute the images or recordings. This bill was overwhelmingly passed by the House.

House Bill 43

Gov. Deal signed the Amended Fiscal Year 2017 Budget, or HB 43, into law this past week authorizing $24.3 billion in spending for the current fiscal year. This marks one of the first pieces of legislation in the 2017 session that has been signed into law by the governor. Governor Deal, along with officials and legislators, held a signing ceremony for HB 43 at the future site of the Georgia Cyber Training and Innovation Center in Augusta on Wednesday, February 15th. This location was significant as it is the future home of the $50 million Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center that will be a state-owned education and training center that will aim to promote innovation in cybersecurity technology.  The amended budget will also include investments in economic development initiatives, law enforcement salary increases, growing educational needs, and the improvement of our state’s transportation system.

Please continue to reach out as the remainder 2017 legislative system continues to quickly progress. You can view my committee assignments for the 2017-2018 legislative term here. You are always welcome to come and visit me at my capitol office located at 601-C Coverdell Legislative Office Bldg. Atlanta, GA 30334. Please feel free to contact me by phone at 404.656.0254, or by email at dale.rutledge@house.ga.gov.  Don’t hesitate to reach out with any opinions or questions you may have. I look forward to hearing from you!

You can learn more about me on my website www.votedale.com or interact with me on my Facebook page. To livestream House proceedings, view both live and archived committee meetings and to review legislation that my colleagues and I are considering visit www.house.ga.gov Continue to stay up-to-date on the current legislative session and check back here next week. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative!

 

Week Five Update 2017

My colleagues and I returned to the Gold Dome on Tuesday, February 7th to start another exciting week in the 2017 legislative session. This week was full of House committee activity as many bills, and their respective committees, began to make it to the House floor for a vote. This week marked the passage of several bills that will better the lives of many Georgians. The following bills were voted on this week:

House Bill 146

HB 146 is legislation that will help to protect the lives of  Georgia’s firefighters. The purpose of this bill is to require insurance coverage for Georgia’s firefighters who are unable to continue working, having been diagnosed with cancer. HB 146 would require fire departments to maintain insurance coverage for these firefighters, if they have served on-duty for 12 consecutive months. The insurance benefits would include:

  1. Lump-sum benefit: $25,000 or $6,250 based on severity of the cancer
  2. If the firefighter is unable to perform their duties due to their diagnosis they will receive a monthly benefit starting 6 months after proof of diagnosis and continuing for 3 years, a monthly benefit of 60% of firefighter’s monthly salary at the time of diagnosis, or a monthly benefit of $5,000, whichever is less.

Volunteer firefighters who are unable to work due to a cancer diagnosis would also be covered by the bill. Volunteer firefighters would receive a monthly benefit of $1,500 for the same 3 year period. Additionally, the bill allows firefighters to maintain their insurance coverage through retirement or career change, but they would be responsible for any premiums in those respective circumstances. HB 146 would allow counties and cities to use tax revenue to buy the insurance for the firefighters under this bill. Firefighters are frequently exposed to cancer-causing carcinogens. Studies have shown that firefighters tend to have higher rate of particular cancers than the rest of the population. The bill would cover the following types of cancer:  bladder, blood, brain, breast, cervical, esophageal, intestinal, kidney, lymphatic, lung, prostate, rectal, respiratory tract, skin, testicular, thyroid, leukemia, multiple myeloma or non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Firefighters selflessly work to protect our citizens, often times not considering the long-term risks that can be associated with their bravery. HB 146 was passed with overwhelming support. I was proud to vote in favor of legislation that seeks to help and support the brave men and women who fearlessly work to protect us all.

House Bills 83 and  84

HB 83 and HB 84, both in support of the Georgia Firefighters’ Pension Fund, were also passed this week. The Georgia Firefighters’ Pension Fund was established in 1955 and benefits Georgia’s firefighters and their beneficiaries through assets held in trust. Under HB 83, the Georgia Firefighters’ Pension Fund would be able to invest up to 10% of its total assets in real estate. This is currently prohibited. If the Georgia Firefighters’ Pension Fund decreases in value, it is able to retain its real estate investments if they were owned prior to the decrease in assets. Allowing the fund to invest in real estate will provide the fund additional income from rent received, as well as help secure the fund’s assets for future beneficiaries. Under HB 84, the Georgia Firefighters’ Pension Fund would be able to invest up to 10% of its total assets in alternative investments or nonconventional assets. These include privately placed invest pools, private investment funds and venture capital funds, and more. Currently, the fund can only invest up to 5% of its total assets in these alternative investments. Both of these bills seek to provide flexibility and investment opportunities for the Georgia Firefighters’ Pension Fund, in turn providing even greater benefits for Georgia’s firefighters.

House Bill 176

HB 176 is legislation that seeks to ensure the efficiency of the Georgia Department of Agriculture. The bill would allow the Georgia Department of Agriculture to enter into agreements with the Food and Drug Administration, under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). Under the FSMA, various farms and packing houses are required to be inspected. Currently, the federal government is responsible for carrying out these inspections. Under HB 176, the Georgia Department of Agriculture would have the ability to conduct inspections of farms and packing houses, in addition to other regulatory actions, that would ensure the provisions of FSMA. The bill would allow the Department of Agriculture to streamline its processes by giving them the ability to enforce federal law independently of the federal government. HB 176 was passed with tremendous support.

House Bill 75

This unanimously passed bill would help to protect Georgia’s youngest citizens by allowing law  enforcement or prosecution agencies to confidentially share information regarding ongoing child abuse, neglect, or dependency investigations with the Department of Human Services and The Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) and other child protective agencies. Under current legislation, important information pertaining to these pending investigations is subject to open records requests. In an effort to protect the lives of other children, a law enforcement agency in North Georgia shared information with DFCS regarding a pending investigation into the death of a child. While this was necessary, it also allowed for those confidential law enforcement records to have the possibility of being made publically available through DFCS, no longer deeming them confidential. Thus, this bill was introduced. Law enforcement officers need the ability to privately share information with DFCS and other governmental child protective agencies when deemed necessary. The purpose of HB 75 is to ensure information like this is kept confidential until an investigation is completed in order to ensure both the safety and wellbeing of Georgia’s children.

As the legislative session continues, the House committees will be meeting more frequently to consider legislation. You can view my committee assignments for the 2017-2018 legislative term here. You are always welcome to come and visit me at my capitol office located at 601-C Coverdell Legislative Office Bldg. Atlanta, GA 30334. Please feel free to contact me by phone at 404.656.0254, or by email at dale.rutledge@house.ga.gov.  Don’t hesitate to reach out throughout the legislative session with any opinions or questions you may have. I look forward to hearing from you!

You can learn more about me on my website www.votedale.com or interact with me on my Facebook page. To livestream House proceedings, view both live and archived committee meetings and to review legislation that my colleagues and I are considering visit www.house.ga.gov Continue to stay up-to-date on the current legislative session and check back here next week. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative!

 

Week Four Update 2017

Monday, January 30th marked the start of the fourth week of the 2017 session. The committees and subcommittees were busy as we considered a multitude of bills that are making their way through the legislative process. In addition, my colleagues and I met in the House chamber to pass legislation that best serves the needs of the voters in our district, as well as the state of Georgia.

House Bill 38

This legislation was unanimously passed and seeks to differentiate three-wheeled vehicles that are controlled by a steering wheel from motorcycles. These three-wheeled vehicles, like the Polaris Slingshot, are currently seen as motorcycles under Georgia law despite their classification as automobiles under federal safety standards. Under Georgia law, drivers of these three-wheeled vehicles are required to obtain a Class M motorcycle license. House Bill 38 seeks to change this. With this legislation, drivers of three-wheeled vehicles would be required to obtain a Class C commercial driver’s license to ensure their proper education in the operation of their vehicles. The ultimate purpose of this bill is to make our roadways safer for all drivers.

House Bill 58

Also promoting roadway safety is House Bill 58. This legislation will update the reference date in Georgia law regarding the safe operation of motor carriers and commercial motor vehicles to the federal regulations. Currently, these federal regulations are effective as of January 1, 2016. HB 58 would update this date to January 1, 2017. This law was unanimously passed and seeks to keep Georgia law up to date with federal regulations.

House Bill 49

House Bill 49 seeks to protect both Georgia’s farmers and the agriculture industry, the oldest and largest industry in the state. In Georgia, livestock dealers and auction operators are required to be licensed, however, these licenses do not cost the dealers anything and they never expire. Under this bill, licensed livestock dealers and auction operators would be required to obtain a license from  the Commissioner of Agriculture. In addition to the possession of this license, the dealers would also be required to renew the license every 3 years and maintain surety requirements. Under current law, the Georgia Department of Agriculture is unable to track the number of licensed dealers and the respective financial health of those dealers. House Bill 49 would require the Commissioner of Agriculture to publish the names and locations of the licensed dealers in Georgia both online and in writing. With the introduction of online livestock dealing has come a regulatory gap in our state. This has resulted in many transparency concerns. Too frequently our hardworking farmers are taken advantage of by fraudulent livestock dealers. The legislation will also define the terms surrounding livestock dealing, including ‘livestock dealers’ and ‘surety,’ or a document that ensures the steadfast performance of the terms of contract performance. The bill will also permit the Georgia Department of Agriculture to charge a triennial fee of $25 to both livestock dealers and buyers, as well as a triennial fee (not exceeding $200) based on surety required  to livestock markets. The purpose of this bill is to further ensure consistency and transparency in our largest industry. This legislation was unanimously passed by the House.

As we devote our time to the legislative process, it is also important that we take time to honor the dedicated Georgians that we are privileged to serve.  On Tuesday, we remembered the lives of Peach County Sheriff’s Deputy Daryl Smallwood and Sgt. Patrick Sondron. These courageous officers were shot and killed on November 6, 2016 when responding to a call. State Representative Robert Dickey presented House resolutions that honored these officers to their families. We were joined by their colleagues in the House chamber as we all commemorated the lives of these brave officers. We praise the ultimate sacrifice that they made to both their community and the state of Georgia.

This week concluded with the unanimous House adoption of an adjournment resolution.  This resolution set the calendar for the remainder of the 40 day session, and marked the last day of session on Thursday, March 30. This is the 40th day of session and is known as ‘sine die.’ I am looking forward to continuing to work hard on your behalf here at the capitol. If you have any questions or concerns about current legislation being considered here, please feel free to reach out. You can view my committee assignments for the 2017-2018 legislative term here. You are always welcome to come and visit me at my capitol office located at 601-C Coverdell Legislative Office Bldg. Atlanta, GA 30334. Please feel free to contact me by phone at 404.656.0254, or by email at dale.rutledge@house.ga.gov.  Don’t hesitate to reach out throughout the legislative session with any opinions or questions you may have. I look forward to hearing from you!

You can learn more about me on my website www.votedale.com or interact with me on my Facebook page. To livestream House proceedings, view both live and archived committee meetings and to review legislation that my colleagues and I are considering visit www.house.ga.gov Continue to stay up-to-date on the current legislative session and check back here next week. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative!

Week Three Update 2017

Last week marked the third week of the 2017 legislative session. This week was both busy and profitable, as several House committees and subcommittees met throughout the week to consider legislation and pass the first bill of the session: the Amended Fiscal Year 2017 budget. On Wednesday, the House convened with the Senate to hear Chief Justice P. Harris Hines of the Supreme Court of Georgia. Chief Hines delivered the annual state of the Judiciary Address, reporting the previous accomplishments and current challenges the judicial branch faces.

In his State of the Judiciary Address, the head of the judiciary, Chief Justice Hines addressed the following:

Supreme Court Expansion

2017 marks a “historic year of change” for the already strong judicial branch of our state government. Previously being comprised of only 7 Supreme Court Justices, our state’s highest court is soon to expand. For the first time in Georgia’s history the Supreme court of Georgia will now include 9 Supreme Court Justices and 32 superior court judges, marking a historic growth for Georgia. Georgia’s continued growth in economy and population requires equal judicial growth. My colleagues and I look forward to the addition of these new justices and judges, as well as the fresh perspective and coherent interpretation of the justice system that they will bring.

Council on Criminal Justice Reform

Georgia has made substantial improvements to its criminal justice system over the past 6 years, resulting in great progress and national recognition. Unfortunately, the state still has the highest rate of individuals on probation in the country. Of these individuals on probation, half are serving for misdemeanors. In hopes of continued reform, Chief Justice Hines called upon the General Assembly to work towards continued advancement in this area by announcing that the Council on Criminal Justice Reform will work together with the General Assembly in order to improve probation sentencing for low-risk offenders. The Council on Criminal Justice reform is a bipartisan council that conducts periodic reviews of criminal laws, and aims to decrease the supervision of low-level offenders. This decrease in supervision saves taxpayer dollars and allows officers to focus on high-risk offenders. I look forward to the continued reform and future legislation regarding the state’s probation and criminal justice systems.

Legal Representation for Georgians who Cannot Afford an Attorney

In the last year, Georgia courts heard over 800,000 cases in which Georgians represented themselves in court. These cases were due to a gap in legal representation for Georgians who are unable to afford an attorney. There are many working, middle-class citizens that cannot afford legal representation in Georgia. These individuals are making too much to qualify for aid, but not enough to hire a lawyer. This results in many Georgians representing themselves in court which both slows down court proceedings and decreases the likelihood of them winning. Chief Justice Hines plans to work alongside Georgia’s State Bar and our law schools to implement a program that will further the current practices of law students to cover these individuals. This year, over 1,000 law students will represent low-income Georgians who cannot afford a lawyer. This program helps our law students gain experience, Georgians who cannot afford representation, and does so without creating excess cost for the state or the citizen. Chief Justice Hines hopes to expand the current program to cover this unrepresented gap in legal coverage.

Juvenile Court Judges

Chief Justice Hines specified the need for full-time juvenile court judges who are among the best and that have the proper resources needed to recognize the requirements of Georgia’s children. Chief Justice Hines also asked for the General Assembly’s support in institutionalizing a data exchange system for the juvenile court. The system would help to ensure that the judge and the state agencies in the child’s life have the same information available to them. We must make sure that the juvenile court judges are fully able to serve the needs of Georgia’s children.

The House was particularly hard at work this week as we passed the Amended Fiscal Year 2017 budget, the first piece of legislation this session. The initial 2017 fiscal year budget was passed in 2016 and set state spending at $23.7 billion, but in order to recognize discrepancies in projected budget and actual revenue obtained the legislature also has to pass an amended state budget. The AFY 2017 budget recognized $606.2 million in additional revenue, a 2.5% increase from the FY 2017 budget. This brings the total Amended Fiscal Year budget to $24.3 billion. House Bill 43, or AMY 2017, was introduced to the House floor on January 26, after diligent work from the members of the House Appropriations Committee, subcommittees and the House Budget and Research Office. House Bill 43 was passed with a vote of 174-1. The following issues are addressed in the bill:

Improving the Georgia’s Education System

To make sure that every child in Georgia has the educational resources they need, House Bill 43 includes $108.9 million for midterm enrollment growth of .68%. The budget also allocates $16.7  million to the Move on When Ready Program, which allows eligible Georgia students to take advantage of dual enrollment and to advance at their own pace. The AFY 2017 budget also allocates $2.3 million for the  Georgia center for Early Language and Literacy at Georgia College and State University, a educational center that will educate teachers on how to develop literacy skills among children up to age 8. My colleagues and I are working hard to provide the brightest possible future for Georgia’s students.

Public Safety Officials

A 20% pay raise for law enforcement officers statewide, including both officers and investigators from the Department of Public Safety, the Department of Community Supervision and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, was included in the AFY 2017 budget. This translates to $25.1 million of the budget; additionally $23.5 million was allocated for the replacement of old vehicles with 612 new vehicles for public safety agencies. These budget items will allow our state troopers faster response times and more reliable vehicles.

Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center

The House allocated $50 million of the AFY 2017 to the governor’s proposed Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center. This state-owned facility will be developed in Augusta, and is designed to enhance both public and private cybersecurity technology as well as prepare students to combat cyber-attacks. The facility will bring both young talent and business to our state, and will help to protect our state and country from cyber-attacks.

Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS)

The AFY 2017 budget allocates $974,712 to the rate increase for the DFCS foster parents. This part of the budget is in place to expedite the 57% per diem rate increase for the foster parents, moving the effective date to April 1, 2017. Also included in the budget is a $1 per day increase for the foster care providers, amounting to $746,243.

Governor’s Emergency Fund

Last weekend Gov. Deal declared a state of emergency in 16 South Georgia counties, as the southwest region of our state was devastated by severe weather. This horrific storm took the lives of at least 15 Georgians and injured many others, all while ravaging homes and businesses. FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, assisted 6 of these Georgia counties to make certain they received the help that they needed. The Amended Fiscal Year 2017 budget includes a $5 million allocation to supplement the federal funding received by FEMA. My colleagues and I send our condolences to these communities and families who have been affected by these tumultuous chain of events.

In addition to the legislative accomplishments we achieved this week, the House of Representatives also took time to commemorate the life of State Representative Bob Bryant from Garden CIty. Bob passed away last year during the legislative session. He is remembered as a friend, a colleague, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a veteran. On January 26, in memory of his legacy and his 12 years of  service as a state representative for the state of Georgia, Mickey Stephens with the Savanah-Chatham Delegation and the Bryant family introduced the House Resolution 116 in his honor.

As the legislative session continues, the House committees will be meeting more frequently to consider legislation. You can view my committee assignments for the 2017-2018 legislative term here. You are always welcome to come and visit me at my capitol office located at 601-C Coverdell Legislative Office Bldg. Atlanta, GA 30334. Please feel free to contact me by phone at 404.656.0254, or by email at dale.rutledge@house.ga.gov.  Don’t hesitate to reach out throughout the legislative session with any opinions or questions you may have. I look forward to hearing from you!

You can learn more about me on my website www.votedale.com or interact with me on my Facebook page. To livestream House proceedings, view both live and archived committee meetings and to review legislation that my colleagues and I are considering visit www.house.ga.gov Continue to stay up-to-date on the current legislative session and check back here next week. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative!

 

Week Two Update 2017

Tuesday, January 17th began one of the most important weeks of the 2017 legislative session. Starting this week, the House and the Senate Appropriations committees held a chain of joint budget hearings. With the intent of turning them into actual legislation, committees and subcommittees began the process of reviewing Gov. Nathan Deal’s budget recommendations for the amended current and upcoming fiscal years. It was a busy week as we worked rigorously to ensure that we allocate our state revenue to best serve the needs of all Georgians.

Under the Georgia constitution, we must pass a balanced state budget during each legislative session. My colleagues and I will begin drafting two budget bills, based off of Gov. Deal’s budget proposals:

    1. Amended Fiscal Year 2017 (AFY 2017) Budget: an amended budget for the current fiscal year (ends June 30, 2017). Makes use of a more accurate estimate of state revenue, and accounts for any discrepancies between the projected estimate and the actual revenue acquired.
    2. Fiscal Year 2018 (FY 2018) Budget: a budget that uses estimated state revenue to guide state spending for the 2018 fiscal year (starts July 1, 2017).

The joint House and Senate Appropriations Committee members began budget hearings with a more in-depth presentation of Gov. deal’s budget recommendations. In addition, presentations were given by various state agency heads, explaining their budgetary needs. It is important to hear from these agencies, as the final versions of the budgets will specify how much state funding they will receive.

Due to Georgia’s recent economic growth and success, Gov. Deal’s AFY 2017 budget includes approximately $606 million in ‘new’ revenue. In addition, the governor has included a state appropriation of $25 billion in total funding for the full fiscal year in his FY 2018 budget recommendation. The governor made a point to say that these budget proposals are created in an effort to continue the state’s well-established successes, and to provide new opportunities for further growth and prosperity.

The governor included the following opportunities for growth in his amended fiscal year 2017/2018 budget proposals:

Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center

Located in Augusta, the state-owned-facility would serve to enhance American cybersecurity in both public and private settings. The governor appropriated $50 million for the center in his 2017 fiscal year budget proposal. The center would promote innovation in cybersecurity technology in order to defend our state against potential threats. The public and private collaboration the center will attract include both entrepreneurs looking for startup opportunities as well as a young demographic interested in cybersecurity.

Statewide Law Enforcement Improvements

In an effort to further support the safety and well-being of those who call Georgia home, Gov. Deal included the appropriation of $27.3 million for a 20% salary increase for law enforcement officers, and additional increases for public safety trainers and criminal investigators in his 2017 budget recommendations. The governor also proposed additional funding in the budget for vehicles/equipment for law enforcement officers as well as investigative and bomb response vehicles/forestry equipment for aid during wildfires. These funding increases are meant to reduce turnover and improve recruitment in these areas. I applaud Gov. Deal’s effort to recognize these often under recognized heroes in our communities.

Juvenile Justice Incentive Grants

Gov. Deal has made it his mission to recognize public safety issues and implement improvements to our criminal justice system. His criminal justice reforms help to give offenders second chances, while saving our taxpayers money and promoting offender rehabilitation. In his FY 2018 budget, the governor hopes to continue this reform through the allocation of $4.2 million to the expansion of the state’s Juvenile Justice Incentive Grants and accountability courts. Both the grants and courts aim to provide community-based rehabilitation as an alternative to sentencing. In addition, the governor included a $3.7 million allocation to the continued education and vocation assistance programs for inmates to help prepare for their success upon release. Georgia has a successful history of implementing effective criminal justice reform initiatives and we desire to continue it.
Division of Family and Children Services

In an effort to further ensure the health and safety of our children, Gov. Deal included $25.9 million allotment toward the Division of Family and Children Services in his FY 2018 budget proposal. The funds would go towards the recruitment and retention of the most qualified caseworkers and salary increases for current DFCS staff. The need for more DFCS  caseworkers is an indication that our programs and initiatives have worked to benefit Georgia’s children. Call volume and reported cases have increased due to our initiative to stress the importance of reporting cases of potential child abuse or endangerment. There is a need for additional caseworkers not only because of the increase in cases, but also in an effort to reduce the average caseload per worker. This will allow our caseworkers to better serve our state’s children.

Out-of-home Care

With the statewide population growth, a rise in the number of children in out-of-home care also occurred. This has resulted in a 62% increase in costs to the state since 2013. To address this increase, the governor has allocated both $28.6 million in his AFY 2017 budget and $30.9 million in his FY 2018 budget proposal. In an effort to address the rising number of children in in out-of-home care looking forward, Gov. Deal included a $3.9 million increase in per diem reimbursements for DFCS foster parents and $2.9 million for additional support in the recruitment and retention of foster families in his FY 2018 budget. These budget recommendations help to ensure the welfare of our youngest citizens.

Improving Georgia’s Education System

In an effort to better equip our educators with the skills they need to teach reading and literacy, the governor allocated portions of his AFY 2017 and his FY 2018 budgets to the development of the Georgia Center for Early Language and Literacy. The facility will be located at GCSU in Milledgeville and would allow our educators to be trained on how to address literacy obstacles in the classroom. We need to ensure that Georgia’s colleges of education are properly preparing our future teachers to handle a wide range of educational needs. Gov. Deal’s FY 2018 budget proposal also includes a 2% merit pay increase for teachers. For this purpose, an additional $160 million in combination with other funding would bring the new total of additional funding for k-12 education to more than $2.017 billion over the past 4 fiscal years. It is crucial that we invest in those who devote their careers to the state’s leaders of tomorrow.

In order to become a law, all of the proposed legislation must go through the following process:

Legislative Process

  1. As the joint appropriations committee meetings have concluded, the House Appropriations subcommittees will further address the governor’s budget proposals.
  2. The budget will then go to the full House Appropriations Committee to be reviewed and passed.
  3. After the  House Appropriations Committee has passed the budget, it will move to the Rules Committee to be placed on the House calendar.
  4. The budget then goes to the House floor, where every member has the opportunity to voice their opinions before voting.
  5. Once the House passes the budget, it will go to the State Senate to go through the same process.
  6. The budget will likely differ from the original version passed by the House, and the Speaker of the House and the Lieutenant Governor will both appoint a conference committee to resolve any differences between the House and Senate versions.
  7. When the conference committee reaches an agreement, their final version will return to both the House and Senate for a final floor vote.
  8. If approved by both the House and Senate, the legislation will be sent to the governor’s office where he can sign or veto.
  9. When Gov. Deal signs the budget, it will then become law.

You can view my committee assignments for the 2017-2018 legislative term here. You are always welcome to come and visit me at my capitol office located at 601-C Coverdell Legislative Office Bldg. Atlanta, GA 30334. You can reach me by phone at 404.656.0254, or by email at dale.rutledge@house.ga.gov.  Please feel free to reach out throughout the legislative session with any opinions or questions you may have. I look forward to hearing from you!

You can learn more about me on my website www.votedale.com or interact with me on my Facebook page. To livestream House proceedings, view both live and archived committee meetings and to review legislation that my colleagues and I are considering visit www.house.ga.gov Continue to stay up-to-date on the current legislative session and check back here next week. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative!

 

Week One Update 2017

Monday, January 9, 2017 marked the first day in 154th Legislative Session of the Georgia General Assembly and  the first day of the 2017-2018 legislative term. All 180 members of the Georgia House of Representatives were sworn in and leaders were elected to guide the House through the term. On Wednesday, January 11th, Governor Nathan Deal delivered his State of the State address presenting both the current conditions of our state and our government’s goals moving forward.

The following are just some of the highlights from Georgia’s remarkable progress since 2011:

  1. Our unemployment rate has dropped from 10.4 percent to 5.3 percent,
  2. Rainy Day Fund increased from $116 million to approximately $2.033 billion
  3. We have maintained a AAA bond rating,
  4. We have set new records in trade, film production and tourism,
  5. We have new private sector jobs reaching more than 575,000,
  6. Lastly, we have been named the No. 1 state in the country to do business.

Basing them on the strong foundation we currently have, Gov. Deal addressed the following goals moving forward:

Statewide Law Enforcement Improvements

In his Fiscal Year 2018 budget recommendations, Gov. Deal included a 20% pay raise for state-level law enforcement officers. In addition, the governor addressed officer training courses that would focus on deescalating violence, alternatives to deadly force, and providing our local law enforcement with access to Crisis Intervention Training, in addition to continued support for existing programs.

Better Quality of Life for Georgia’s Veterans and Active Duty Military Personnel

Did you know that Georgia is home to 61,288 active military members, 27,233 reservists and 752,000 veterans?  Among these brave Georgians, almost 1 in 4 active military personnel show signs of a mental health condition. Gov. Deal addressed the importance of providing a better quality of life for these men and women by providing access to quality healthcare services. In order to do this, he encouraged the allotment of funds by the General Assembly that would go towards training state and federal employees to assist and to improve our veterans access to mental health services. The governor also called for the creation of a Women Veterans Coordinator position to work with female veterans who have suffered military sexual trauma. The governor hopes to secure funding in the state budget for the construction of a rehabilitation facility for veterans suffering from  traumatic brain injuries or post-traumatic stress disorder. I look forward to, along with my fellow lawmakers, ensuring that these men and women have the access to the health care that they need.

Improving Healthcare Benefits for Children

My colleagues and I were encouraged to consider legislation that would allow Medicaid and State Health Benefit Plan coverage for treatments of those with autism up until the age 21, and the expansion of current coverage to treat children with behavioral and mental health issues from birth until age 4. Presently, Medicaid and PeachCare members are offered behavioral health services for ages 4+. This legislation would allow for children to be diagnosed and treated in the earliest stages of behavioral and mental health issues.

Georgia’s Drug Monitoring and Prevention

Last month, Gov. Deal signed an executive order directing the Department of Public Health to allow pharmacists to prescribe naloxone over the counter. This was in response to the growing statewide opioid addiction epidemic in Georgia. The governor also requested that the Georgia Board of Pharmacy remove naloxone, which reverses the effects of opioid overdoses, from the dangerous drug list. My colleagues and I were encouraged to continue Gov Deal’s efforts and pass legislation that supports Georgia’s drug monitoring program.

Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center

Gov. Deal unveiled his plans for the development of a $50 million facility state-owned facility. The Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center would be designed to promote innovation in cybersecurity technology. This facility, in accordance with the Department of Defense and the National Security Agency,  would help to facilitate  the education and preparation of students to combat cyber-attacks. Also located within the facility, would be a cybercrime lab operated by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

Improving the Georgia’s Education System

Gov. Deal discussed his legislative agenda to continue to improve our state’s education system.  The governor addressed the 64.7% to 79.2% increase in Georgia’s graduation rate since 2011, and commemorated our hardworking teachers. In his budget recommendations, the governor included a 2% salary increase for all teaching positions, built into the pay scale, as well as a 3% merit increase for teachers during the current fiscal year. Gov. Deal suggested that legislation to combat Georgia’s failing elementary schools will likely resurface during this legislative session.

Budget Recommendations

Amended Fiscal Year 2017 Highlights

  1. $50 million for the new Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center in Augusta
  2. $27.3 million for a 20% increase in salary for law enforcement officers

Fiscal Year 2018 Highlights

  1. $300 million for salary increases for Georgia’s critical personnel including: law enforcement officers, teachers, criminal investigators,(DFCS) caseworkers and environmental health personnel

You can view my committee assignments for the 2017-2018 legislative term here. You are always welcome to come and visit me at my capitol office located at 601-C Coverdell Legislative Office Bldg. Atlanta, GA 30334. You can reach me by phone at 404.656.0254, or by email at dale.rutledge@house.ga.gov.  Please feel free to reach out throughout the legislative session with any opinions or questions you may have. I look forward to hearing from you!

You can learn more about me on my website www.votedale.com or interact with me on my Facebook page. To livestream House proceedings, view both live and archived committee meetings and to review legislation that my colleagues and I are considering visit www.house.ga.gov Continue to stay up-to-date on the current legislative session and check back here next week. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative!

Holiday Light Spectacular at Atlanta Motor Speedway

Holiday Lights at Atlanta Motor Speedway

The Atlanta Motor Speedway is full of fun year-round and the holiday season is certainly no exception. I hope you’re prepared for some festive fun because the Holiday Light Spectacular will stop you in your tracks. There are so many activities that you will be able to find something to please everyone you bring along.

Start your night off by driving through the giant winter wonderland light display. Here you can expect everything from giant reindeer flying above your head to long lighttunnelsof over three million lights. After the grand entrance, head down to the Village for your kids to meet Santa and tell him all of the things they are wishing for this Christmas. After that, head down to my personal favorite part: the carnival. If you love Ferris wheels, carousels, games, face painting, and delicious holidaytreats, this is the spot for you. With a wristband, you will have unlimited rides all night! Don’t worry mom, there is plenty for you to enjoy too. Santa’s Village has tons of shopping at local business vendors so you can get all of your holiday shopping done and maybe even buy a little something for yourself. After all of the fun, I know your stomachs will be growling so I recommend heading to Tannery Row Ale House to sit back, relax, and enjoy an exceptional dining experience. If you’re still hungry at the end of the night, you can sit by the open fire to warm up and enjoy frees’mores.

Need even more reasons to race down to the speedway? This Friday just so happens to be Cookies for a Cause where you can #DecorateforDonations alongside local Metro Atlanta Chefs. One hundred percent of the proceeds will benefit Speedway Children’s Charities and will remind you and your family what this season is really all about. If you can’t make it on Friday, plan to head over on Saturday for a showing of The Polar Express. All of  this fun is waiting for you in Henry County at Atlanta Motor Speedway. I hope you get the chance to enjoy celebrating at this great local attraction with your loved ones.

The Holiday Light Spectacular is open every day until Wednesday, December 30th this year, except on Christmas Day. Show hours are from 6:00 pm until 10:00 pm through the end of the month.

Source: Holiday Light Spectacular Info and Atlanta Motor Speedway

Photo Credit: Holiday Light Spectacular Info

Two Henry County Students Chosen to Serve on State Superintendent Advisory Council

Andrea Augustine from Eagle’s Landing High and Kelsey Snell from Union Grove Middle

Have you heard the terrific news? Some of our very own students have been chosen to be on State School Superintendent Richard Woods’ very prestigious Student Advisory Council. What an honor to have 2 of the 110 students on the council from Henry County.

In an application pool of over 1,200 entries, seventh grader Kelsey Snell from Union Grove Middle and high school junior Andrea Augustine from Eagles Landing High School surpassed the competition with their answers to essay questions concerning ideas for public education and improving their own education. Kelsey and Andrea were chosen to be a part of the advisory council that meets to discuss different issues that affect them and their classmates with Superintendent Woods. Not only will they have the opportunity to impact big decisions, but also they will be ambassadors for thesuperintendentat their schools. It is an honor for both of these ladies to be able to learn and interact with something of such a big scale.

“We are proud to have great representatives from Henry County Schools serving in such an important capacity with State School Superintendent Woods,” said Henry County Schools Superintendent Rodney Bowler to Henry Daily Herald. Superintendent Bowler continues by saying, “Having young people involved in the process of influencing decisions that directly impact them is a great learning tool and opportunity to be role models to their peers. This is one way to build solid relationships between our district and the state department of education while engaged in relevant work.”

Continue to make an impact on Henry County students by volunteering and setting a good example. By doing this, we will continue to see our students achieve!

Source: Henry Daily Herald

The Race To Be The Republican Nominee Continues

The Race To Be The Republican Nominee Continues
Republican Nominee

After the First Republican Presidential Primary Debates, Contenders Looked to Gain Momentum at the 2015 RedState Gathering. 

The weekend of August 6-8, we welcomed 10 GOP presidential candidates and dozens of other leading conservative voices to our state for the 2015 RedState Gathering. This event was started in 2009 by Erick Erickson, who is also the creator of the conservative political website RedState.com, hence the event’s name.

At this year’s RedState Gathering, Erickson invited some of the top 2016 contenders, like Carly FiorinaChris ChristieMarco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and several others. Amongst those not invited were Ben Carson and Donald Trump. After seeing Carson speak at a veterans event, Erickson felt that he was not a serious candidate because he appeared to only care to talk about himself. Erickson has since come forth and said that he made a mistake not inviting Carson to this year’s RedState Gathering. Donald Trump, on the other hand, was initially invited, but after his remarks towards Megyn Kelly in the Fox News-Facebook Republican presidential primary debate, Erickson rescinded the invitation.

Many topics were discussed during this year’s Gathering, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, ObamaCare, foreign policy, and of course, Hillary Clinton. This year’s race is tight, and all of the candidates bring so many different things to the table, from their backgrounds to their opinions. I’m looking forward to seeing how they progress in the race. How about you? What are your thoughts on the 2016 GOP candidates at this point?

Sources: FoxNews.com and RedState.com

 

 

 

2015 Legislative Session Weekly Wrap-up: Week Twelve

Dale RutledgeWe completed our last day of session Thursday, April 2, also known as “Sine Die,” a Latin term meaning “without assigning a day for further meeting.” We worked late into the night to ensure the passage of important legislation related to transportation and education in our state. I would like to bring attention to a few key pieces of legislation that were passed to improve the quality of life for all Georgians.

House Bill 76
This bill establishes the state budget for Fiscal Year 2016. HB 76 was given final approval during the last week of session through a House and Senate conference committee. As the only piece of legislation that we are constitutionally required to pass, the Fiscal Year 2016 budget passed unanimously and will guide all state spending from July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2016. The majority of new funds will go to K-12 education, an investment in our children that accounts for 55 percent of the state budget. This will allocate more dollars to local school systems in hopes of eliminating furlough days and raising salaries for teachers. Additionally, the final version of the budget ensures that non-certificated school workers will continue to receive coverage under the State Health Benefit Plan.
The FY 2016 budget also prioritizes health and public safety. HB 76 funds new primary care residency slots and includes $3 million to improve the financial health of struggling and closing hospitals in rural Georgia. Public safety is also a key component to the FY 2016 budget, with $100 million dedicated to repairs for Georgia bridges.
House Bill 170
The Georgia General Assembly gave final passage to House Bill 170, or the Transportation Funding Act of 2015 this week, providing further funding for transportation infrastructures. This final version converts the state sales tax on motor fuels to an excise tax of 26 cents per gallon on gasoline and 29 cents per gallon on diesel fuel. The rate will be adjusted annually based on an aggregate of fuel efficiency standards (CAFÉ) and the Consumer Price Index begins on July 1, 2016. After July 1, 2018 the Consumer Price Index will no longer be used and the index will be based only on CAFÉ Standards. Not only will the new excise rate help raise the necessary funds for Georgia’s transportation infrastructure, but it will also help stabilize gas prices for Georgia’s consumers.
Under HB 170, local option sales taxes (LOST), homestead option sales taxes (HOST), municipal option sales taxes (MOST), special purpose local option sales taxes (SPLOST) and education special purpose local option sales taxes (ESPLOST) are left untouched. The local sales taxes will not be levied on any price per gallon above $3.00, and the legislation also authorizes counties to seek voter approval for transportation SPLOST of up to 1 percent. These measures ensure that local counties and city governments can continue to generate revenue to provide necessary services for their constituents.
HB 170 adds an annual fee for drivers of alternative fuel vehicles, who currently pay less for Georgia’s roads and bridges because they buy little to no gas for their vehicles. The fee totals $200 for non-commercial vehicles and $300 for commercial vehicles. The tax credit for low emission or zero emission vehicles is also eliminated, in recognition of the tax advantage that those drivers already receive from their limited need for gas. Another measure implemented by HB 170 is a fee for heavy vehicles, which cause more wear and tear on Georgia’s roads. Required upon registration, the heavy vehicle fee will be set at $50 for vehicles weighing between 15,500-26,000 pounds and $100 for vehicles 26,000 pounds +. HB 170 also eliminates a tax credit given to commercial airlines and institutes a $5 per night tax on hotel stays, with an exception for extended stay lodging.
HB 170 requires the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) to provide the Georgia General Assembly with a ten year strategic plan, outlining their use of resources for the upcoming years. The Georgia Transportation Infrastructure Bank must also meet a set of requirements to make every effort to balance any loans or other financial assistance equally among all regions of the state. The Georgia Transportation Infrastructure Bank may give preference to eligible projects in tier 1 and tier 2 counties. Additionally, Preference for grants and other financial assistance may be given to eligible projects which have local financial support. Overall, HB 170 ensures public safety on Georgia’s highways and bridges, while also making Georgia a more attractive place for businesses.
Senate Bill 76
One measure in SB 76 requires drivers to stop at crosswalks that have flashing beacons. Other provisions in SB 76 update our state laws for bicycles and motorcycles. One section of the bill will change the existing state law on handle bar height, while another section allows cyclists and bikers to proceed through a traffic light, in the event that the lightweight design of their bike has caused the traffic light to become inoperable. In these situations, the driver must follow all other traffic rules and must ensure that the intersection is clear of oncoming traffic.
Senate Bill 132
Senate Bill 132, also known as the “Move on When Ready Act,” which is a companion bill to Senate Bill 2 that was passed last week, would allow all high school students, whether in public or private school, to apply to a postsecondary school in order to take one class or more. If accepted, the student could then earn credit for the class at both the student’s high school and the postsecondary institution. This legislation allows students with unique career paths and interests to move at an accelerated pace.
Senate Bill 89
The “Digital Classroom Act,” SB 89, would allow local boards to use digital and electronic software instead of physical textbooks. The bill also encourages local boards to purchase all instructional materials in digital or electronic format and provide electronic devices for students starting in 3rd grade by July 1, 2020. SB 89 ensures Georgia’s children have access to the most cutting edge advancements in education.
Senate Resolution 7 / Senate Bill 8
Senate Resolution 7 and its companion legislation, Senate Bill 8, address the needs of these youth by establishing a Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Fund Commission and toughen the fines and penalties against sex traffickers. The Safe Harbor would provide a physical and emotional refuge for children to rebuild their lives after experiencing sexual exploitation. Additionally, human traffickers would be required to register as sex offenders, and pay into a new Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Fund to help victims with housing, healthcare and other services. Funding for the harbor will be derived from penalties and fees on strip clubs, an industry known to participate in human trafficking.
House Bill 429
HB 429, which was originally introduced as Senate Bill 1 and passed unanimously in the House, requires insurance companies to cover up to $35,000 for autism treatment for children 6 years of age or younger.
Governor Deal will now begin reviewing legislation that passed both chambers. If approved by him, these bills will become state law in the coming months. If you have any questions about these potential changes to state code or if you have any suggestions for future legislation, please reach out to me. You can contact me at my office at 678-438-7181 or by email at dale.rutledge.house.ga.gov. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.