Monday, January 23rd brought the third week of the 2017 Legislative Session. This week marked great progress in our time is Session thus far, as the House overwhelmingly passed its first legislation, the Amended Fiscal Year 2017 Budget. We also joined the Senate on Wednesday to hear the Supreme Court of Georgia’s Chief Justice P. Harris Hines deliver the annual State of the Judiciary Address. It is in this address that the House and Senate are made aware of what the judicial branch has accomplished in the last year, as well as make note of the challenges that lie ahead in the coming year.

Chief Justice Hines believes that Georgia’s Judiciary Branch is strong and on a path to a great future. 2017 brings noteworthy changes to the Judicial Branch, as Supreme Court Justices will now be serving on Georgia’s highest court. For the first time in Georgia’s history, nine justices will be serving rather than our previous standard of seven. Because of the drastic increase in population and economic needs in our state, the increase in number of judicial needs for our citizens has increased as well. In addition, our state has recently elected or appointed 32 superior court judges. I trust that the ability and giftedness of these new justices will be exactly what Georgia needs to meet the growing demands of our growing population and economy.

Another historic change highlighted in the State of the Judiciary was the progress being made in our state criminal justice system. Georgia’s criminal justice system has seen many changes over the last six years which have led to impressive progress and national recognition. Chief Justice Hines also brought attention to the alarming number of individuals on probation in the state of Georgia, some for very small misdemeanors. Because of this obviously needed improvement, he announced the new Council on Criminal Justice Reform: a bipartisan council that conducts periodic reviews of criminal laws that will work with the General Assembly to reform probation sentencing for low-risk, nonviolent offenders. This action will allow probation officers to focus their efforts on high-risk offenders, and ultimately save taxpayer dollars.

Chief Justice Hines also addressed the issue of middle or working-class Georgian’s not having the equal opportunity for legal representation. Lower class and higher class citizens either qualify for legal aid services or can afford to hire an attorney, while middle-class citizens might struggle to afford their own legal representation and therefore have to represent themselves in a court of law, therefore lowering their chances of winning their case. Because of this, Chief Justice Hines has vowed to work alongside Georgia’s State Bar and our state’s law schools to develop a program to expand the supervised practice of law students, eventually bridging the gap between who and who cannot be fairly represented legally. It is important to not that this program would not cause excess cost for the client or state.

Finally, Chief Justice Hines stressed the importance of Georgia’s juvenile court judges and their work to protect our youngest citizens. Because of this, Chief Justice Hines announced the need for independent, full-time juvenile court judges that have the proper skills and resources to accurately identify the needs of Georgia’s children. He also asked for the General Assembly’s support in creating a data exchange system for our juvenile courts. The needs of our state’s children are of the utmost importance and we must do all we can to meet their needs.

In addition to hearing the State of the Judiciary, the House also passed its first legislation: the Amended Fiscal Year 2017 budget (AYF 2017). Here are some important things to note about the AYF 2017:

  • The original fiscal year budget set state spending at $23.7 billion and was passed during the 2016 Session.
  • The AYF 2017 recognized an additional $606.2 million in state revenue, or 2.5% more than they initial Fiscal Year 2017 budget.
  • The total appropriation for the AYF 2017 is $24.3 billion.
  • The amended budget, or House Bill 43 was voted on and passed overwhelmingly by a vote of 174 to 1.

Some components of HB 43 and AYF (2017) include:

  • $108.9 million for midterm enrollment growth of .68 percent to ensure that every child has necessary resources for their education.
  • $16.7 million for Move on When Ready, a program for Georgia’s students taking advantage of dual enrollment programs.
  • $2.3 million to create the Georgia Center for Early Language and Literacy at Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville, an education and training center for developing literacy skills.
  • $25.1 million for a 20% pay increase for law enforcement officers.
  • $23.5 million for for 612 new vehicles for public safety agencies.
  • $50 million for the Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center in Augusta, a facility designed to enhance public and private cybersecurity, as well as focus on research and development.
  • $974,712 for a rate increase for Division of Family Care Services (DFCS) foster parents.
  • $5 million to the Governor’s Emergency Fund for the critical needs of many Georgians, such as the recent severe weather devastation across the southern part of the state of Georgia.

While last week was busy with making progress on legislative work, on Thursday we took time to remember and honor State Representative, Bob Bryant from Garden City. Bob passed away during last year’s Legislative Session, and he is remembered as a loving husband, father, grandfather, and veteran, and friend to all. With an enormous amount of positivity and warmth, Bob served as a State Representative for 12 years and was loved by all who knew him. In honor of his legacy, State Representative Mickey Stephens and the Savannah-Chatham Delegation, joined by the Bryant family introduced House Resolution 116 in his honor.

As legislation progresses and the pace of our work quickens, I would still love to hear questions, comments, and concerns from you, the members of District 73. You are welcome to visit me at my office located at 607-F Coverdell Legislative Office Bldg.Atlanta, GA 30334. You may also feel free to call me at 404.656.0287 or send me an email at karen.mathiak@house.ga.gov. You can also stay up-to-date by following my Facebook page.

Thank you for letting me continue to serve and represent you.

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