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!