Legislative Update Week 3, January 30, 2015: 2015 and 2016 Budgets

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From the Desk of Representative Jeff Jones

Dear Friends,

Thank you for signing up to receive email updates from me about the 2015 session of the Georgia State House of Representatives. I take my responsibilities to you, the constituents of District 167, very seriously and will work tirelessly to live up to the trust you have shown by electing me to this office.

Third Week of Session - January 30, 2015

This was another busy week for the House of Representatives.  I am beginning to have a better understanding of the hectic pace that occurs with each session of the General Assembly. State Representatives, and State Senators, are working hard to get the people’s business taken care of in a short 40 day time frame and to do so with thoughtful, careful consideration.  The last thing the people of Georgia need or want is laws, rules or budgets to be passed that have negative, unintended consequences for our citizens.

Below is an in-depth discussion of the events of this past week but first I want to share some of my thoughts of a few selected items.

Governor Deal’s 2016 Budget

Governor Deal delivered his draft of the 2016 budget to the House of Representatives this past week.  As you would expect, there is a lot of work – committee hearings, meetings, discussions, negotiations, prioritizing, number crunching, etc. – that will occur before the 2016 Budget makes its way to the house floor for a vote.

We are extremely fortunate that the Georgia Constitution requires that our state pass and maintain a balanced budget. Constitutionally, the State cannot spend more money than it receives in income, the taxes you and I pay, plus money from other sources.  Don’t we all wish our Federal government would operate under that same principle…?

Health Care Coverage-School Bus Drivers and other Non-certificated School District Employees

There are many items in many different areas of our state government that make up the budget each year.  One item in particular that rightly caught the attention of school bus drivers around the state is the Governor’s proposal to take money out of the state budget that is contributed toward the cost of health care coverage for bus drives and the other “non-certificated” school district employees.

I can assure you that it is not the Governor’s intention to leave these critical employees without health care coverage.  The Governor recognizes, as do I and the other Representatives, the important role that these employees serve in our efforts to deliver quality education to our children. It is a very tough job driving a school bus these days having to deal with all that goes on with the kids on the bus. 

Again, remember, the 2016 Budget draft is a working document.

I am pleased to report, though, that the House added an important item to the Revised 2015 budget regarding school bus driver health care (the 2015 revised budget is discussed in detail below). The provision – which I voted for and was passed overwhelmingly by the House – says that the House is to submit a study to the Governor and the General Assembly by June 30, 2015 that examines why SHBP costs are higher than other comparable state health plans for the purpose of making recommendations on the issue. The section continues on to state that “The General Assembly …finds that non-certificated employees (which includes bus drivers) are an essential part of the education delivery system and directs that any such report include an examination of options to provide health benefits to the workers.”

So, we need to wait and see how this all unfolds.  But I want to assure these employees that I will do everything I can to protect their benefits, which may include options that occur at the School District level.

Other Activities This Week

The House recognized the importance of our National Guard by a resolution and introduction of several Guard members.

I attended meetings held by the Georgia Economic Development Authority; this is the state group, for which Glynn, McIntosh and Long Counties each have local economic development authorities whose purpose is to bring good paying jobs to Georgia and to our counties/communities.

The Georgia Tourism Department unveiled their 2015 Tourism Guide which features the Golden Isles and Jekyll Island in particular. Tourism brings in well over $1 billion to the Georgia economy.  Check out my Facebook page (facebook.com/votejeffjones for pictures and further information).

Valdosta Day was celebrated on Wednesday, January 28.  Why do I mention this you are asking? Our son Brant is a freshman at Valdosta State University this year and is doing very well. My wife Lisa and I are very proud of our son.  I also had the privilege of meeting William “Bill” McKinney, the President of VSU. He is a great guy doing great things for the students at VSU.

On another personal note, I have joined the weekly House prayer group that meets early in the morning one day a week. And I also attended the annual Georgia Baptist Convention’s Prayer Breakfast for State Legislators this past week.  These are things that I believe will help me stay grounded and be a better Representative for District 167.

On January 21, I met with a representative of the Georgia Tourism Department and community leaders in Long County to try to get the development of a new eco-tourism project off the ground for the Morgan Lake area.

You can watch all House proceedings and committee meetings on-line using this link: http://www.house.ga.gov/communications/en-US/VideoBroadcasts.aspx

House Recap

During the third week of the Georgia General Assembly’s 2015 legislative session, my colleagues and I passed one of the most important pieces of legislation of the year: the 2015 amended fiscal year budget (AFY 2015). This budget, which is a mid-year adjustment of state spending through June 30, 2015, was first introduced by Governor Deal at last week’s Joint Appropriations hearings. Since then, the AFY 2015 budget has been carefully reviewed and edited through a series of Appropriations Committee meetings. Thanks to the committee’s diligent work, the House version of the Amended Fiscal Year 2015 (AFY 2015) budget was packaged into House Bill 75 and was voted on and passed unanimously by the House on Thursday, January 29.

The House version of the AFY 2015 budget is very similar to Gov. Deal’s initial budget proposal. The amended budget includes an addition of $276 million in “new” funds, with 70 percent of that going towards education. Of the new education dollars, $128.5 million will go towards K-12 enrollment growth and $35 million will be added for local school systems to expand their wireless broadband internet connectivity. The House version of the budget also designates $7.4 million for equalization funding grants that will provide additional funds to K-12 systems that qualify based on per student wealth rankings. Higher education was also set as a budget priority, with funds designated for new engineering and military scholarships and the creation of the Georgia Film Academy. Lastly, the amended budget also includes $750,000 to support the Governor’s newly created Education Reform Commission. I am happy to see our state continue to put money into our school systems, as our children are our most precious resource.  

While investing in the quality of our children’s education is a primary focus in HB 75, there are also several significant additions for economic development in our state. As we strive to ensure that Georgia remains the number one state in the country to do business, the House version of the AFY 2015 budget appropriates $20 million in grants towards job-creating economic development projects through the OneGeorgia Authority, as well as $20 million for Regional Economic Business Assistance grants. OneGeorgia and Regional Economic Business Assistance are two of our state’s most effective economic development tools for attracting new jobs to Georgia. In addition, $1.5 million is set aside to keep Xpress buses running in 13 metro counties, and $4.5 million will go to support routine maintenance in the Department of Transportation. By financing transportation and economic development projects such as these, we can make Georgia an even better place for business for years to come.

With a thriving economy comes an increase in our state’s population, and it is crucial that we take measures to ensure the good health and safety of all citizens. More than $5 million in the AFY 2015 budget is allocated for driver education programs to improve safety on Georgia’s roads. Funds are also set aside to expand the length of the Department of Corrections’ Residential Substance Abuse Treatment program from six to nine months, and the Board of Regents is issued $4.8 million to provide clinical trials on Cannabidiol for children with medication resistant epilepsy. These programs, among others, will make Georgia healthier and safer for families across the state.

In addition to passing the amended budget, we also took time to recognize some outstanding citizens across our state. On Monday, January 26, the House celebrated Georgia National Guard Day in honor of our brave Georgians in uniform. Dozens of airmen and soldiers visited the State Capitol and were recognized for their accomplishments on the House floor with House Resolution 27. We also had the honor of witnessing a new member of the Georgia National Guard be sworn into the Army National Guard by our colleague and veteran, Representative John Yates. It was an honor to meet this new soldier, as well as the many others who make such tremendous sacrifices for our freedom and safety.

On Tuesday, January 27, we had the privilege of meeting another group of courageous Georgians in honor of National Holocaust Remembrance Day. On this day, we paid special tribute to the Holocaust witnesses of liberation. These heroic Americans served in the U.S. military during World War II, and therefore witnessed some of the worst atrocities in world history. They were each recognized in the House Chamber for their contribution to history preservation and the role that they played in the liberation of the Holocaust. Our colleague, Representative John Yates was among the six honorees that were recognized before the House.

Finally, this week we welcomed members of the Atlanta Hawks basketball team to the Gold Dome.  Hall-of-Famer Dominique Wilkins, CEO Steve Koonin, coach Mike Budenholzer, shooting guard Kyle Korver, and forward Elton Brand all visited the capitol on Tuesday, January 27. After a recent16 game winning streak, the Hawks were recognized before the House for their sportsmanship, citizenship, and positive economic impact on the city of Atlanta.

As the 2015 legislative session moves into its fourth week, committees will be meeting more frequently to discuss specific legislation. Your input on any bill that comes before the house is extremely helpful, your comments and opinions help guide my decisions. I encourage you to call my office at the State Capitol in Atlanta at 404-656-0126, or reach me via email at jeff@VoteJeffJones.com or visit our website www.VoteJeffJones.com for frequent legislative updates news and events. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to serve as your state representative.

Sincerely yours,

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Representative Jeff Jones
139-358 Altama Connector
Brunswick, GA 31525
912-386-0428

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