The Georgia General Assembly returned to the Gold Dome on Tuesday, February 18th for the sixth week of the 2020 Legislative Session. It was a busy week and my colleagues and I met for four days in the House Chamber to cast our votes on several pieces of Legislation. Here is a short summary of what we accomplished this week.
Fiscal Year Budget for 2020
On Wednesday, February 19th, we passed House Bill 792, to amend the state budget for the current fiscal year. This bill would reduce the previous proposed FY 2020 budget from $27.5 billion to $27.3 billion; for an overall reduction of $159 million. My colleagues and I carefully crafted the amended budget to include funding for important initiatives, such as expanding mental health and crisis intervention services and increasing access to quality health care across the state. Here are some changes that are reflected in HB 792.
- Restoring important funding for programs and services related to criminal justice, public safety and the court systems including a restored $801,000 of Gov. Kemp’s proposed reductions to GBI to allow the agency to hire up to eight forensic scientists and two lab technicians to process more DNA evidence to combat the growing backlog of evidence kits.
- New funding of more than $1.2 million for the GBI’s gang database and taskforce to help local law enforcement agencies combat gang violence
- Restored $1.7 million for the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council and completely restored $1.34 million for our accountability courts.
- Reinstated more than $1.85 million to the Georgia Public Defender Council to allow the council to hire 16 attorneys to reduce the average caseload from 148.8 to 138 per public defender, and these positions would fill vacancies that left eight Georgia counties without a state public defender.
- Restored $281,000 for the Department of Agriculture for five food safety inspectors and two animal industry inspectors to aid with the rapid growth across our state in the number of grocery stores, discount stores, and gas stations that sell food products.
- Reduced proposed cuts to the Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service in the Board of Regents by more than $2.8 million to allow these programs to continue to support Georgia agribusinesses without interrupting services
- Restored $2.6 million for public health grants to county health departments, which provide basic health care services, programs, and resources to local communities, especially in rural Georgia.
- Restoration of $150,000 to the Sickle Cell Foundation of Georgia for training, education programs, and mobile unit testing.
- Restored more than $761,000 for the residential treatment of addictive diseases to increase the bed count by 22 statewide.
- Restored $750,000 to the Marcus Autism Center which would result in fewer children being on waitlists for intensive and critical services and would prevent a decrease in the number of patient care days in the intensive day programs.
- Lastly, as Georgia’s Alzheimer’s population grows, the House restored $164,800 in funding to the Department of Human Services for the Georgia Memory Net to allow the five established memory clinics to continue to meet the growing demand for Alzheimer’s patients.
Robert Argo Disaster Volunteer Relief Act
My colleagues and I also unanimously passed House Bill 487, or the Robert Argo Disaster Volunteer Relief Act, to provide a greater opportunity for more of Georgia’s state employees to volunteer after declared natural disasters occur. In recent years, Georgia has experienced many natural disasters, and after these disasters occur, selfless Georgians, including state employees, volunteer their time and energy to rebuild our impacted communities. Under HB 487, state employees who are certified volunteers of the Civil Air Patrol United States Air Force Auxiliary would be granted paid leave for up to 15 workdays per year for volunteering after certain natural disasters in specialized emergency services operations for the Civil Air Patrol. This legislation, which is named in honor of former Georgia State Representative Robert Argo who was active in the Civil Air Patrol during World War II, would extend the same courtesy to state employees who are members of the Civil Air Patrol that is currently provided to state employees who are members of the American Red Cross. Georgia’s wing of the Civil Air Patrol is one of the largest in the nation, and these volunteers provide a vital service to our state.
The House also passed several other measures during the sixth week of the session, including:
- House Bill 195, which would increase the death benefit for members of the Georgia Firefighters’ Pension Fund from $5,000 to $10,000;
- House Bill 292, which would repeal the requirement for an accrued liability to be paid to the Teachers Retirement System (TRS) of Georgia on behalf of participating Regent’s Optional Retirement Plan members and the normal contribution rate resulting from employees who cease to be members of TRS;
- House Bill 538, which would require courts and the Georgia Tax Tribunal to decide all questions of law regarding the proper interpretation of revenue and taxation-related statutes or regulations without deference to the Department of Revenue’s interpretation of the statute or regulation in dispute;
- House Bill 716, which would require any carrier that issues a health benefit plan in Georgia through an agent to pay a commission to that agent and file their proposed commission rates with the Department of Insurance;
- House Bill 758, which would allow motor carriers to implement, require or deploy a motor carrier safety improvement program for individuals without affecting the individual’s status as an employee or independent contractor;
- House Bill 759, which would authorize the annual drug update to comply with federal regulations and would capture new synthetic drugs, such as spice and bath salts;
- House Bill 765, which would increase the minimum salary and compensation of magistrates and clerks by providing a cost-of-living adjustment and a five percent raise;
- House Bill 777, which would require the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) to review the tall mass timber provisions in the 2021 International Building Code and consider whether amendments should be made to the minimum standard codes;
- House Bill 780, which would allow the State Properties Commission to use a written appraisal of value for the conveyance of a property that solely and directly benefits the state;
- House Bill 781, which is the annual legislation brought by the Department of Banking that would update and modernize Georgia’s banking code;
- House Bill 786, which would allow for an additional superior court judge in the Flint Judicial Circuit;
- House Resolution 1023, which would provide for a constitutional amendment that would allow Georgia citizens and corporations domiciled in Georgia to seek declaratory relief.
Next week, we will reach Legislative Day 20, which is the half-way point of the 2020 legislative session, and our days will get even longer as we vote on more legislation on the House floor. I hope that you will contact me in the coming days and weeks so that I can hear your ideas and opinions on legislation that could impact our communities. You are always welcome to visit or contact my office at the State Capitol. My phone number is 404-656-0298 and my email is firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from you.
As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your state representative!