The sixth week of the 2017 Legislative Session began Tuesday, February 14th. My colleagues and I returned to the State Capitol, eager to see what the week would bring. We have officially reached the halfway point in Session this year. With “Crossover Day” quickly approaching, the House passed several bills each day this week, including House Bill 44: the Fiscal Year 2018 (FY 2018) state budget.

Georgia is constitutionally required to pass a balanced budget each year, and on Friday the House fulfilled this duty by passing HB 44. It will serve as our state’s spending guide from July 1st, 2017 to June 30th, 2018. The FY 2018 budget is set by a revenue estimate of $24.9 billion, an increase of $1.25 billion, or 5.3%, over the FY 2017 budget. This will be the largest budget in the state’s history.

Concerning Our Schools
Similar to what it has been in year’s past, the FY 2018 budget has a very large amount appropriated toward education; $708.2 million, to be exact. This ensures that students, educators, and administrators have the appropriate supplies and opportunities to thrive in the classroom. The FY 2018 budget allocates $162 million to provide a 2% merit-based increase in pay for Georgia educators. This will provide raises for more than 126,000 teachers, as well as a 2% increase for bus drivers and school nutrition personnel. An additional $1.6 million will be for Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) trainers and school climate specialists. The budget will also provide $2.7 million in new and existing funds to provide one AP STEM exam for every student taking an AP STEM course in the state to encourage students to participate in these courses. In addition, the FY 2018 budget includes $40.5 million to fund additional school counselors for all school systems, as well as $445,145 for a grant program available to schools that have a large military population. Lastly, HB 44 includes $1.5 million for the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement for a grant program to provide low-performing high schools with a certified school counselor-graduation specialist.

Concerning the Department of Human Resources
HB 44 includes funding for several services under the Department of Human Resources. The FY 2018 budget supports programs aiding over 19,000 adolescents in the foster care system statewide through the inclusion of $10.7 million for a $10 per diem rate increase for foster parents and $14.9 million for relative foster parents caring for and raising foster children in Georgia. HB 44 provides $25.8 million for a 19% salary increase for children services caseworkers, $2.8 million for 80 positions in the Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS), $500,000 to expand the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) who advocate on behalf of these children, and $1.5 million for a $5 hourly rate increase for Special Assistant Attorneys General (SAAGs) who support welfare cases. The FY 2018 budget also includes $6 million for the creation of a Behavioral Health Crisis Center which would address emergency crisis needs for individuals struggling with mental illness. The center would provide 24/7 walk-in services and would be a much more affordable options for some than hospital care would be. HB 44 also allocates $500,000 for the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency to match federal funds providing scholarship money for students with developmental disabilities and $2 million for Georgia Alzheimer’s Project.

Concerning Our Military
Our military communities and services, as well as our veterans, were another priority when considering funds for the FY 2018 budget. HB 44 designates $358,996 for four veteran benefits training officers who would work with the Veterans Accountability Court. They would work to serve veterans, who upon returning home from combat, have become part of the criminal justice system. $137,650 will be designated for a women veterans coordinator position, acknowledging the unique challenges facing our women veterans. $359,437 was allocated to fully fund the employer contribution for Georgia Military Pension Fund to continue fiscal stability. HB 44 would fund the establishment of the Military Family Support Center in Marietta, a commissary that would sell discounted groceries and household items to active-duty and retired military personnel and their families. I’m proud to support these funds to benefit our veterans and active-duty military personnel.

Concerning Our Citizens With Unique Health Needs
HB 44 includes $92 million in Tenet settlement funds. These funds will be matched by federal funds and used to meet needs, including $38.4 million for Medicaid growth, $20.7 million for behavioral health services for children under 21 on the Autism spectrum, $325,000 for an Adolescent to Adult Transition model for adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and $2.5 million for behavioral health services for children ages 0 to 4. The FY 2018 budget has also allocated funds for 97 new residency slots in primary care medicine, 10 additional OB/GYN residency slots at various hospitals and a new psychiatry residency program. These will ultimately lead to a healthier Georgia.

Concerning Pay Raises For Our State Workers
The FY 2018 budget appropriates pay raises for certain job specifications within the Department of Defense, Department of Human Services, and Department of Public Health. The intention behind this is to fill jobs within these agencies that require high demand and have a high turnover rate. FY 2018 designates $55.5 million to annualize 20% salary increase for individuals who risk their lives daily to ensure the safety of our citizens, our law enforcement officers, as well as increases for criminal investigators and canine officers. This will impact officers across 16 state agencies. HB 44 also includes $2.6 million for public safety training for state and local law enforcement officers. Finally, HB 44 provides funds for more Georgia Bureau of Investigation personnel, including four scientist and two technical positions, to help expedite rape kit processing to address the backlog of untested rape kits as a result of Senate Bill 304 from the 2016 legislative session.

In addition to passing the FY 2018 budget, the House also passed several important bills this week that are now being considered by the Senate.

House Bill 139 – This legislation would increase transparency in Georgia’s public school systems. HB 139 would require the Georgia Department of Education to create and publish an online database reporting the financial performance of each school and school system in Georgia. This would include the cost of all materials and equipment, staff salaries and benefits, professional development, facility maintenance, new construction or renovation, per student expenditures to revenue, and the total property tax revenue the system is authorized to collect. Each school would also be required to maintain a website to post a link in a prominent location to the Department of Education’s website where this information would be compiled and accessible. Because education funding accounts for more than half the annual budget, it is imperative that this information remains transparent for Georgia citizens to know how their tax dollars are being spent.

House Bill 160 – This bipartisan legislation would assess Georgia’s need for mass transportation systems and potential funding sources for mass transit by creating the Georgia Commission on Transit Governance and Funding. The commission would hold public meetings that would provide opportunities for public input. The commission would then release a report of its findings and offer recommendation for the potential establishment of a mass transportation system and funding for such systems. This commission would be co-chaired by the chairmen of the House and Senate Transportation committees and would be made up of four members appointed by the governor, four additional members of the House appointed by the Speaker of the House, four additional members of the Senate appointed 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 Chief Executive Officer of the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA). Mass transit systems could be a solution to our traffic congestion and meet the needs of Georgia’s growing population.

House Bill 1 – HB 1, or the Georgia Spaceflight Act (GSA), would define procedures for commercial spaceflight activity, allowing Georgia to be more competitive with neighboring “space friendly” states. The GSA would limit a space flight participant’s ability to sue for spaceflight activity-related damages occurring in this state if the willing participant was required to give written informed consent and would not protect against injuries suffered by non-consenting third parties affiliated by spaceflight activity. GSA would improve our state’s competitiveness in the estimated $330 billion per year space industry, with the proposed site to be located in Camden County. This would have a tremendous impact on Camden County’s economy.

House Bill 9 – This legislation was passed with overwhelming support. HB 9 would update Georgia’s invasion of privacy law, making filming under or through a person’s clothing a felony in Georgia. It would also criminalize the use of a device, such as a camera or phone, to secretly observe, photograph, videotape, film, or record underneath or through a person’s clothing. HB 9 would also make it unlawful to disseminate images or recordings that were obtained this way. This legislation was introduced in response to a Georgia Court of Appeals ruling that overturned the conviction of an individual for one count of criminal invasion of privacy for recording cell phone video of underneath a woman’s skirt at a grocery store. The court found that the defendant’s actions did not violate Georgia’s current invasion of privacy law because the event occurred in a public place. HB 9 would close this loophole.

House Bill 43 – This legislation is the Amended Fiscal Year 2017 budget. This was one of the first pieces up for consideration in the 2017 session, signed into law by Governor Deal. On Wednesday, February 15th, Governor Deal met with various officials at the future site of the Georgia Cyber Training and Innovation Center in Augusta for a signing ceremony of HB 43, authorizing $24.3 billion in spending for the current fiscal year. The location of this signing was significant because the Amended Fiscal Year 2017 budget includes $50 million to establish the Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center, a state-owned education and training center. It will promote cybersecurity technology to defend our state and country against hackers and other cybersecurity threats.

As we have passed up the halfway mark of session, we will continue to vote on many more legislations through the remainder of our time together. It is an honor to serve District 73 as my colleagues and I discuss legislations with the citizens of Georgia in mind.

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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