From the Desk of Representative Jeff Jones
On Monday, January 12, 2015, we began the 153rd Legislative Session of the Georgia General Assembly. Since Monday marked the first day of the 2015-2016 term, all 180 members of the Georgia House of Representatives were sworn into office. We then promptly got to work on our first order of business: electing leaders to guide the Georgia House of Representatives through our next two years of public service. After hearing the nominations, Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) and Speaker Pro-Tempore Jan Jones (R-Milton) were both reelected to their respective positions. Governor Nathan Deal also held his inauguration in the House Chamber that day.
This week, Gov. Deal also delivered his annual State of the State address in the House Chamber on Wednesday, January 14. This annual speech before a joint legislature, judiciary, special guests and the public gives the governor the opportunity to convey his assessment of the current condition of our state government and goals for continued progress and success in the New Year.
In his address, Gov. Deal began by detailing the exceptional progress Georgia has made. The creation of 319,000 jobs and a 643 percent increase in the state’s rainy day fund are just a few examples of Georgia’s many accomplishments over the last four years. Georgia’s future is expected to become even brighter in the years ahead, as companies like Mercedes-Benz USA and Porsche North America solidify plans to re-locate their headquarters to Georgia.
While there is plenty of good news on the state of our state, there are some existing needs that will be addressed by the General Assembly in the coming months. For example, Gov. Deal called for the establishment of an Education Reform Commission to continue to better our state’s education system. This commission, which will be composed of legislators, educators, and other key stakeholders, will study a number of questions regarding our education system, such as increasing access to Georgia’s early learning programs, recruiting and retaining high quality teachers, and expanding school options for Georgia’s families. A subset of the commission will also examine the most appropriate ways to modernize our Quality Basic Education (QBE) funding formula, which was created in the 1980's.
With education as a top priority, Gov. Deal also suggested a constitutional amendment that would create Opportunity School Districts. This model, which has been successful in other states, would authorize the state to step in to help rejuvenate failing public schools. Furthermore, Gov. Deal announced that the General Assembly will continue to invest in education. In fact, this year’s budget, coupled with his proposal for next year’s budget, represents an infusion of over one billion additional dollars for K-12 education.
As we work to improve education, it is also important that we examine policies that could improve quality of life for children across the state. Gov. Deal recommended additional funds for resources and support for the Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS) caseworkers and foster parents, who care for some of the most vulnerable children in our state.
The Governor also expressed his desire to help Georgia’s children, who have become “medical refugees” in states like Colorado. Gov. Deal voiced his support for the decriminalization of medical cannabis oil in Georgia for those that have obtained it legally in another state. This action would allow families who have moved to other states to receive this treatment, the opportunity to come back to their home state of Georgia without fear of prosecution.
Gov. Deal also declared the legislature’s need to address the state’s diminishing transportation funds. Now that Georgia is the 8th most populated state in the nation, adequate transportation, and maintaining our roadways and bridges, is as critical as ever. Unfortunately, the rise of fuel efficiency vehicles has drastically cut the state’s revenue from the excise tax, a per gallon flat fee on gasoline that is used to fund transportation projects. We will be working together with Gov. Deal over the next few months to create a plan to fill in the gaps in the state’s transportation budget and to ensure the state’s transportation system is prepared to handle our growing population.
After announcing his goals in the State of the State Address, Gov. Deal released his budget proposals on Friday, January 16. Just as the governor listed education as his top priority in his State of the State address, he also made education a top priority in the state’s budget. For the Amended Fiscal Year 2015 budget for the current fiscal year, Gov. Deal designated $8.3 million to go directly to local school systems and an additional $35 million in grants to help classrooms across the state gain greater access to broadband internet. In his Fiscal Year 2016 budget, which includes state spending from July 1 to June 30 of the following fiscal year, Gov. Deal set aside more than a half a billion dollars in new funding for Georgia’s education system, including $280 million that will specially help local school systems increase instructional days, eliminate furlough days, and enhance teachers’ salaries.
These are just a few highlights from Gov. Deal’s budget proposals. I hope to provide you with more information next week, once my colleagues and I carefully review the recommendations in our Joint Budget Hearings with the Senate. These hearings are available to watch online at www.house.ga.gov. You can also visit our website www.VoteJeffJones.com/news for frequent updates, news and events, and review current legislation that is under consideration.
This week, we also received our committee assignments for the 2015-2016 legislative term. I am happy to announce that Speaker Ralston and the Committee on Assignments appointed me to serve on the following house committees: Information and Audits, Interstate Cooperation, Motor Vehicles, and Natural Resources and Environment.
I welcome you to reach out to me and share your thoughts and opinions as we move throughout the legislative session this year. I can be reached via email at jeff@VoteJeffJones.com, or by phone at 912-386-0428.
Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.
Brunswick, GA 31525