My House colleagues and I reconvened Monday, March 5, for the ninth week of the 2018 legislative session. The majority of our legislative work this week was accomplished in committee hearings as my colleagues and I reviewed bills proposed by the Senate. In addition to reviewing these bills, we also took up several pieces of legislation on the House Floor. The most important of these bills is the Fiscal Year 2019 (FY 2019) state budget.

The Georgia General Assembly is required by the constitution to pass a balanced budget each year. On Friday, March 9, the House passed House Bill 684, the FY 2019 budget. This year’s state budget is $50.85 billion and will guide our state’s spending from July 1, 2018, to June 30, 2019. The budget was determined by an estimated revenue of $26 billion, which is an increase of $1.03 billion, or 4.1%, over last year’s budget. Each portion of the budget was reviewed carefully by the House Appropriations Committee in order to guarantee that state dollars are going towards our state’s needs. Some of the most significant budget allotments in the FY 2019 budget are the following.

House Rural Development Council (RDC)

The FY 2019 budget allocates state funding towards a wide range of initiatives to assist our rural communities based on the RDC’s recommendations. Some of this funding is specifically aimed at boosting economic development in rural Georgia. These include:

  • Funding for the Department Agriculture’s Georgia Grown marketing program.
  • A downtown development attorney to help Georgia’s small towns secure redevelopment grants.
  • A deputy commissioner of rural Georgia position.
  • Two rural surgical fellowships at St. Joseph’s and Candler Hospital.
  • A statewide residency recruitment fair for rural medical facilities.
  • Insurance premium assistance for physicians who practice in underserved counties with one or less physicians.
  • 10 regional Emergency Medical Services (EMS) training positions to train EMS personnel in rural Georgia.
  • Providing funding for soft skills training and character education development for rural Georgia’s lowest performing schools.
  • A mobile audiology clinic to provide audiological care to children in rural Georgia.

I am proud that the House has prioritized the needs of our rural communities and have allocated state dollars to help support and revitalize not only these communities and to help Georgia as a whole thrive!

Education

Education is always one of our top priorities when considering the budget and this year is no exception. 55.9% of the entire state budget is allocated to education. Some details of the education portion of the state budget are:

  • $119.5 million for K-12 enrollment growth and training and experience for an additional 6,552 students and 1,869 teachers across the state.
  • $361.7 million for the Teachers Retirement System (TRS) to support 117,957 retired and 218,193 active TRS members.
  • Funding for two Advanced Placement exams, one STEM exam and one non-STEM exam, for low income students, as well as dollars for the new Chief Turnaround Officer program to help Georgia’s schools in most need of assistance.
  • $1.6 million for student mental health awareness training program. This includes response and intervention training, for students in preschool through the 12th grade.
  • $111 million for the University System of Georgia enrollment growth and increased square footage.
  • $5.5 million for the Technical College System of Georgia enrollment growth and increased square footage.
  • $27.1 million for the Dual Enrollment program.
  • $2.7 million for 1,177 additional HOPE and Zell Miller private scholarships.
  • $65.3 million for 27,832 more HOPE and Zell Miller public scholarships.
  • $8 million for school security grants to improve security in Georgia’s schools.

We take the education of our Georgia citizens seriously and I am excited to see the continued progress of our educational system!

Healthcare

Healthcare costs also make up a significant portion of the FY 2019 budget. The health and well being of our citizens is very important to us. Here are some details of the healthcare portion of the budget.  

  • The budget provides $16.9 million for a 4.3% provider rate increase for nursing homes.
  • $962,022 for increased background checks for long-term care facility owners and employees.
  • $568,057 towards the Marcus Autism Center to cover the cost of treating autistic children with the greatest needs.
  • Georgia has the highest rate of maternal mortality in the country and the budget provides the Department of Public Health $2 million to address this pressing issue.

Mental Health

The budget implements the Commission on Children’s Mental Health’s recommendations by funding child and adolescent crisis services.These include:

  • 4 new respite homes.
  • 13 new Georgia APEX Program grants to expand mental health services to students in 100 more schools.
  • Telemedicine equipment and services.
  • High fidelity wraparound services training that will impact up to 3,000 young Georgians.
  • The expansion of Georgia Crisis Access Line’s operating hours and to create a mobile application to provide mental health crisis services.
  • $2.2 million for department of Human Services care coordinator positions to improve mental health outcomes for foster care children.

Georgia’s mental health programs provide critical services to many of our state’s citizens, and we must adequately fund these programs in order to support all Georgians.

Miscellaneous

The 2019 budget includes many, many more allocations designed to meet the wide ranging needs of our state. Some of these are:

  • Funding to clear hurricane debris and remove sunken vessels along the Georgia coastline.
  • $15.1 million for growth in out-of-home care.
  • $15.2 million in additional funding to increase the foster care per diem rates for relative and child placement agency foster care providers.
  • Funding for 9 additional assistant district attorney positions.
  • Appropriations for statewide transportation infrastructure, construction and maintenance.

These highlights are just some of the items in Georgia’s FY 2019 budget, and the state budget in its entirety reflects the diversity of our state’s citizens, needs and opportunities. The state budget was the biggest legislative item on the House’s agenda this week, but we also passed several other noteworthy measures on the House floor.

Senate Bill 2 –  “The FAST Act – Fairness, Accountability, Simplification and Transparency – Empowering Our Small Businesses to Succeed.” This bill seeks to enhance accountability, expedite local government permitting processes and reduce regulatory burdens on small businesses by removing certain regulations that make it more difficult to conduct business in Georgia. SB 2 would allow the Department of Community Affairs to establish “Ready for Partnership Georgia,” a voluntary best-practices certification program for each county and municipality in the state. For the past several years, the House has passed many pro-business measures, which have greatly contributed to Georgia being named the best state for business for five consecutive years, and SB 2 would strengthen our state’s business-friendly reputation and help Georgia’s businesses, and especially our small businesses, to excel in our state!

House Resolution 1225 – This resolution would benefit rural Georgia, as well as rural communities across the country. This resolution urges Congress to pass the Building Rail Access for Customers and the Economy (BRACE) Act. This act would make permanent the federal Railroad Track Maintenance Tax Credit, also known as the 45G tax credit, which would be used for rail improvement and enhancements. The 45G tax credit, which expired in December 2016, allowed short line and regional rail lines to claim 50 cents for every $1 spent, up to $3,500, per mile on track improvements. The BRACE Act would greatly benefit rural Georgia, as short rail lines provide jobs and promote economic growth in Georgia’s rural communities. Georgia’s freight rail network provides $2.4 billion in direct economic impact, and establishing a permanent 45G tax credit would incentivize continued rail maintenance and improvements and would positively impact the rural areas of our state and our country.

House Resolution 1162 This resolution was unanimously adopted for the benefit of Georgia’s schools, teachers and students. This resolution would establish the House Study Committee on the Establishment of a State Accreditation Process to explore whether a state accreditation process for Georgia’s public schools and school systems should be formed. Currently, there is no state entity that is responsible for accrediting Georgia’s primary and secondary public schools and local school systems, and as a result, most of these schools and school systems seek accreditation through private organizations. The five-member study committee would:

  • Explore the resources and structure needed for a state accreditation entity, as well as any obstacles that would need to be addressed.
  • Analyze ways to align accreditation review with charter renewal for charter systems and contract renewal for strategic waivers school  systems
  • Examine the possibility of establishing a state process to annually review system charters and contracts
  • Study potential consequences of losing state accreditation
  • Explore the possibility of establishing a school board review commission.

Should the study committee adopt any specific findings or recommendations, including suggestions for proposed legislation, the study committee’s chairperson would file a report by Dec. 1, 2018, the date upon which the study committee would be abolished. This study committee would ultimately help our state determine if a state accreditation process would be beneficial to our education system, and I am looking forward to hearing the committee’s findings next year!

House Bill 159 I am excited to tell you that on Monday, March 5, Governor Nathan Deal signed HB 159, the Adoption Bill, into law! This bill will significantly update and modernize our state’s adoption laws for the first time in nearly three decades. The new adoption laws will increase efficiencies in every aspect of Georgia adoption, and these additions and revisions to our adoption code will bring Georgia up to speed with the rest of the country. Our state’s updated adoption code will benefit every family going through the adoption process and every child in Georgia in need of adoption, and this groundbreaking legislation will go into effect on Sept. 1, 2018!

With only eight legislative days remaining until we adjourn sine die, the General Assembly is in the final stretch of the 2018 legislative session.The last day of session, is Thursday, March 29, and although we only have a few weeks left to finish our legislative business, my colleagues in the House, as well as our Senate counterparts, will be hard at work to ensure that we pass meaningful legislation for the people of our great state! Until then please feel free to contact me to voice any concerns or questions you have on any legislation up for consideration in the House or the Senate. I can be reached at my Capitol office at 404-656-0287, or by email at karen.mathiak@house.ga.gov.

As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your state representative!

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