Legislative Update – Week 7 – 2019

t mcferrin

We started the seventh week of the 2019 legislative session on Monday, February 25, 2019. We were in session all five days this week and passed over 40 bills and resolutions on the House floor, including the Fiscal Year 2020 Budget. We are over halfway through this legislative session, and with “Cross Over Day” quickly approaching, we’ve been extremely busy.

This week, I had many visitors from Walton County and beyond.  It was my great honor to have penned the resolution inviting legendary Georgia high school football coach and Walton County resident, T. McFerrin, to the state capitol to be honored in the state legislature for his induction to the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame.  Coach McFerrin won state championships as a head coach at Jefferson and Elbert County, part of a 38-year career and a record of 340-102-4. He is the only coach to have led four schools to the state finals, five to the state semifinals and seven to the state quarterfinals. He led seven different schools to region championships and won 13 region titles overall in his career.  Governor Brian Kemp visited with Coach McFerrin along with his son Rob McFerrin, wife Jane McFerrin, and friends Judy and Tyler Adams.

My House Pages this week were Coleman, Karrigan and Tristen Malcom. They are the children of Jonathan and Kimberly Malcom of Monroe.  If your child (ages 12 and up) would like to serve as a House Page, please contact my office.

I had the pleasure of meeting with Takashi (Thomas) Shinozuka, Consul-General of Japan.  Our local industries, Hitachi Automotive Systems and Takeda Pharmaceuticals, are Japanese-owned businesses that employ 2700 in Walton County.

It was a very busy week with several important bills passing the House.  Each legislative session, the General Assembly is constitutionally required to pass a balanced budget for the next fiscal year, and on Thursday, the House fulfilled that obligation by passing House Bill 31, the Fiscal Year 2020 budget. The FY 2020 budget is set at $27.5 billion, an increase of $1.05 billion, or 3.95 percent, over the previous year’s budget. The House version of the budget highlights women’s and children’s issues including maternal mortality; education, including funding the largest pay raise in the state’s history for teachers and certified personnel; and additional funding for our most vulnerable Georgians, including the elderly and foster children.

The FY 2020 budget promotes economic development across our state through appropriations that will support our growing transit systems. The FY 2020 budget recognizes an increase of $38.6 million in new revenue for transportation, an increase of more than seven percent over the current year’s budget. The innovative Atlanta-Region Transit Link (ATL) Authority is included in this appropriation and would receive $2.48 million to establish the initial budget to plan and govern transit projects in the 13-county Atlanta region. The House’s focus on economic development stretches across various industries and issues, and I look forward to seeing the strides Georgia will make with the help of this funding.

The House remains devoted to improving educational opportunities statewide, and this commitment to K-12 and higher education is indicated in the House budget. It includes a historic pay raise of $2,775 for each certified teacher and school personnel, including counselors, social workers, psychologists, special education specialists, speech and language pathologists, media specialists and technology specialists, in our public education system, which increases the base salary pay for teachers by 8.1 percent. The House budget also appropriates $483 million for the Quality Basic Education program (QBE) and $121.9 million to the Department of Education for enrollment growth and training. Within the Student Finance Commission, the budget provides the important HOPE and Zell Miller scholarships with $74.7 million for 22,000 additional awards. This funding also increases the award amount by three percent to match the rising costs of college tuition and keep in-state colleges affordable. The House budget also ensures the longevity of dual enrollment programs by saving $4.1 million through limiting these programs to hardworking 11th and 12th graders during fall and spring semesters only. To create safer school environments for all Georgia students, and based on the recommendations of the House School Security Study Committee, the FY 2020 budget appropriates $174,000 within the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency (GEMA) to hire two school safety threat assessment trainers to work with local school systems to develop threat assessment plans. Lastly, 4-H centers throughout the state would receive $150,000 in bonds for security improvements and $747,600 to contract with local law enforcement to provide security when students are present.

The House emphasized funding for health care in HB 31. In order to provide better access to quality health care in Georgia, the FY 2020 budget includes $78.4 million in the Department of Community Health for Medicaid growth, as well as an additional $68.3 million to replace federal funds in the Medicaid programs due to a reduction in the Federal Medicaid Assistance Percentage. HB 31 also appropriates $5.9 million for the Medicaid budget for gene therapy drug coverage, $6.8 million for Medicare Part B premiums and $3.2 million to include seven additional long-term acute care hospitals. Furthermore, the budget allocates $500,000 for a Center of Excellence on Maternal Mortality to advance maternal health and more than $1 million for additional maternal health support to screen, refer and treat maternal depression and related behavioral disorders in rural and underserved areas. Georgia has a high rate of maternal mortality, and this appropriation seeks to combat this issue in our state.

The House FY 2020 budget includes funding to tackle the opioid epidemic, which is devastating communities and burdening Georgia’s workforce. The House is fighting back by including $4.9 million for the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities to invest further in residential treatment of addictive diseases, which would add six new facilities across the regions in Georgia. The House recognizes an additional $29 million in behavioral health services to increase bed capacity and outpatient services, as well as annualize the cost of crisis centers that serve our communities.

HB 31 adds funding to a variety of programs and projects that assist some of the most vulnerable Georgians. HB 31 includes $1.4 million for home-delivered meals for an additional 665 Georgians and $1.3 million to fund 17 additional adult protective services caseworkers, bringing the total to 172. With more than 13,000 children in the state’s foster care program, we must provide adequate resources for these children. The budget includes $9.8 million for Out of Home Care and $940,000 to implement a pilot program recommended by Governor Brian Kemp that would follow-up on closed foster care cases to continue to look after these children.

Finally, the House’s version of the budget allocates $563,380 to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to help solve the crime lab backlog, $780,690 for six positions for the GBI unit at the Cyber Crime Center and $500,000 to implement a GBI Gang Task Force to help local governments prosecute gang activity. HB 31 also includes an addition of $2.1 million to expand the state’s highly successful accountability courts within the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council.

In addition to the budget, my colleagues and I passed House Bill 213 in an effort to help Georgia’s farmers.  In response to the enactment of the federal farm bill this past December, which makes growing hemp in the United States legal again, this bipartisan legislation would allow for the cultivation and processing of hemp and hemp products in Georgia and would also authorize colleges and universities in the University System of Georgia to conduct research on hemp. Approved producers would  have to meet specific requirements to obtain permits and would pay an initial fee of $100,000 for a permit and $25,000 annually to renew the permit. The Department of Agriculture would oversee this program and would administer tests to ensure that the hemp grown in-state contains less than .30 percent THC. This will allow Georgia farmers to profit from hemp cultivation and production and compete with the 41 other states that have already created safe and effective avenues to grow and produce hemp.

This week, we overwhelmingly passed another bipartisan bill that would provide greater access to mental health services for all Georgians. If signed into law, House Bill 26 would enter Georgia into the Psychology Interjurisdictional Compact (Psypact), which is an interstate compact to allow psychologists from other states participating in the compact to use telecommunication technology to practice in multiple states using one license. Under HB 26, an individual admitted to practice under this compact could practice telepsychology and/or temporary face-to-face psychology in Georgia after passing a background check.. HB 26 would  provide greater access to mental health services in rural areas and benefit Georgia schools that do not have fulltime psychologists on staff. HB 26 is an important piece of legislation that reflects the House’s dedication to mental health initiatives this legislative session.

The House also passed two measures this week to protect Georgia children from situations that could hinder their success or jeopardize their safety. First, we passed House Bill 228 to raise the minimum age of marriage in Georgia to 17 years old and require any person who is 17 years old who wishes to be married to provide proof of emancipation by law. This bipartisan measure would protect minors from abusive or exploitive relationships that could become sanctified through a marriage license and allows Georgia to join the growing movement to stop child marriage. Additionally, the House passed the Protecting Military Children Act, which seeks to protect our most vulnerable population from abuse and neglect. HB 64 mirrors similar legislation that has passed in eight other states, and the bill calls for child welfare agencies, such as the Department of Family and Child Services, to notify a military installation’s family advocacy program when there are allegations of child abuse or neglect involving an active-duty military parent or guardian. Requested by the Department of Defense, HB 64 would help the military track these cases across state lines and would create a safeguard for military children.

The “Cross Over Day” deadline is next week, and I encourage you to contact my office with questions or concerns regarding any issues or legislation that may interest you. My Capitol office number is 404-656-5024, and my email address is bruce.williamson@house.ga.gov. As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your state representative.

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