5/9/2011 - We ended the legislative session a few weeks ago and I am sorry I haven’t done a review of what was accomplished and what was not accomplished during the 40 days we meet at the capitol. I will be spending the next few weeks reviewing the top 15 bills that will have the most effect on Georgians and also an article on what I learned during my first session.
FY 2012 Budget – HB 78: This is why we meet. It is the most important issue we tackle and I spent a lot of time going to various budget sub-committee and full committee meeting learning about our state budget and how it is formed.
The budget for 2012 totaled $37.7 billion (federal, state, and other funds); the state portion was $18.1 billion, an overall, reduction of $2 billion, or 5%. We have reduced the state budget over 20 % during the last 3 years.
A few highlights of the budget include: 1. the budget fully funds enrollment growth in Georgia’s public schools; 2. the budget includes $231.9 million in bonds for school construction and school buses; 3. $80 million is appropriated for water and reservoir development; 4. $32 million is appropriated toward deepening the Savannah Port; and 5. additional funds were appropriated to increase the number of revenue agents, fraud detection analysts, industry compliance investigators and auditors, and out of state auditors to insure Georgia receives the tax revenues it is legally obliged.
Overall, this is a responsible, conservative state budget that was balanced without raising taxes. It meets the needs of our citizens while doing more with less and places an emphasis on certain funding items to ensure our state has the infrastructure and resources to remain competitive. I have my copies of the budget with me so if you have any questions please give me a call.
HOPE Scholarship Re-Organization – HB 326
The Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally (HOPE) Scholarship has aided over 1.4 million high school graduates obtain a higher degree and has inspired similar programs in states all across this nation. The HOPE Scholarship is arguably the most impactful initiative Georgia has ever produced for higher education; however, it faced severe budgetary restraints caused by a dramatic increase of students utilizing the program and a 200% increase in tuition at state colleges over the past decade.
In response, the primary goal of this act was to decouple the continually rising costs of college tuition from HOPE benefits and instead make the scholarship amount dependant on accumulated lottery sales funds. Beginning the fall of 2011, HOPE Scholars will receive 90% of the FY ’11 standard tuition rate for attending public colleges and universities in the state. Recipients of the newly created Zell Miller Scholarship Program, students who earn a 3.7 GPA in addition to meeting certain minimum test scores, will receive full tuition scholarships.
This legislation preserves the pathway for students to find achievement through higher education, it can remain solvent without constant legislative fixes, and it maintains the spirit of a merit based scholarship (the ultimate intention of HOPE’s founder, Gov. Zell Miller).
Finally, even with these changes, the HOPE scholarship program is still the most generous in the nation.
Immigration Reform – HB 87
The federal government has completely failed in its fundamental responsibility to secure our nation’s borders. This has resulted in the influx of nearly 500,000 illegal aliens into the State of Georgia, according to a Pew Foundation study. This costs state and local taxpayers nearly $2.5 billion per year in subsidizing services such as education, health care, and public safety. HB 87 is a significant step forward, within the bounds of both the GA and US Constitution, to eliminate incentives for those who enter our country illegally.
The final bill includes the following:
1. any business with 10 or more employees must use the E-Verify system to verify that employees are eligible to work;
2. requires the use of secure and verifiable identification documents for any official use, including the dispensation of public benefits;
3. provides for tough new penalties for individuals using false identification to obtain employment;
4. Provides tough penalties for state and local government officials that fail to enforce the rule of law in Georgia;
5. Provides new tools for law enforcement to allow greater latitude in handling immigration issues; and
6. imposes tough criminal penalties on individuals that harbor and transport illegal aliens (specifically excludes individuals providing charitable services from criminal prosecution).
This is a good bill because it simply promotes the enforcement of the rule of law and seeks to ensure taxpayer dollars are not expended on services for those ineligible to receive them.
Human Trafficking – HB 200
This bill is a result of a cooperative effort between the legislature, the Attorney General, the Georgia Commission on Family Violence, local prosecutors and law enforcement, social service agencies, and a wide array of religious organizations. It clarifies what constitutes the offense of human trafficking, toughens the penalties for those who engage in the practice, and provides a compassionate pathway out for those victims caught by this sinister behavior. It also provides educational avenues to police officers for training in the identification and understanding of this type of criminal behavior.
A tragic by-product of our boom state’s growth has been that Georgia has become a national hub for human trafficking in general and trafficking in young people for sex crimes in particular. The victims are coerced or deceived into sexual servitude by the use of drugs, physical violence, mental abuse, and threats. We have a moral obligation to combat this horrific activity with significant force and yet not lose sight that there are victims in this crime. This legislation balances those responsibilities effectively.
Local Government Water Contracts – HB 122
This important bill will allow local governments to partner with the private sector to build water projects such as reservoirs. The bill also puts procedures into place for how private partners should be selected and allows local governments to sign contracts outsourcing management of these facilities with private companies. This bill places significant control into the hands of local governments. It also provides for participation by the Water Supply Division of the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority in certain local water reservoir, facilities, and system projects to assist in the financing of these critical projects.
That was the top five and as always I will be glad to talk with you about them or other legislation in the General Assembly. I thank you for the opportunity to serve you in the Georgia House of Representatives. To contact me, call my House office at 404-656-0188 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. also on the street when you see me.