Week 4, Ending February 8, 2019
Tuesday, February 4, marked the start of a very busy fourth week of the 2019 legislative session. The pace of the session is picking up, and this week brought about notable progress as we convened in the House Chamber for four legislative days and voted on the first bills and resolutions of the session. This week, the House passed several pieces of legislation on the House floor, including important measures like the Amended Fiscal Year 2019 budget and an adjournment resolution that sets the legislative calendar for the remainder of the session.
First House Votes of the 2019 Session
My colleagues and I cast our first vote of the 2019 legislative session for House Resolution 1 which honors former Governor Nathan Deal by naming the new state appellate judicial complex, which will house our Georgia Supreme Court and Georgia Court of Appeals, the “Nathan Deal Judicial Center.” As our Governor, Deal guided our state through difficult financial challenges, grew local small businesses, attracted top corporations from around the globe to Georgia, produced consistently balanced budgets as is mandated by our state constitution, maintained Georgia's AAA bond rating, increased the state's "rainy day" reserve fund to more than $2.5 billion and implemented investment in the state's transportation system. Arguably, one of Gov. Deal’s greatest accomplishments during his time in office was his robust criminal justice reform initiatives, which now serve as model for other states and are emulated nationwide. Because of Gov. Deal’s lifetime of public service and dedication to the State of Georgia, it seems only fitting that this building bears his name to serve as a symbol of justice in our state.
Amended 2019 Budget
As I have explained in previous newsletters, the singular function required of the General Assembly by our constitution is to pass a balance budget. As a part of that annual effort, the House Appropriations Committee reviews the current year’s budget – actual income vs actual expenses – and makes needed adjustments. On Friday, House Appropriations Chairman Terry England presented House Bill 30, the Amended Fiscal Year 2019 budget (AFY 2019), on the House floor, where it passed by a vote of 166- 8. The FY 2019 budget, approved during the 2018 special session, set state spending at $26.4 billion for the current year. The state has collected $435.7 million in new revenue since we passed the full budget, which is a 1.6 percent increase over the budgeted income projections and brings the total appropriation for AFY 2019 to $26.9 billion. The House version of the AFY 2019 budget prioritizes areas like our children’s safety and well-being through new school security grants, improving mental health services for high school students and supporting our growing foster program, which accounts for $87.7 million, or 20 percent of the total new revenue. The House’s amended budget also includes important funding for our K-12 education needs, health and human services and additional funding to support Georgia farmers impacted by Hurricane Michael.
Hurricane Michael Relief for SW Georgia
As a result of the unprecedented, generational damage caused when Hurricane Michael paid its devastating visit to southwest Georgia in October 2018, a critical item in the House AFY 2019 budget includes an additional $10 million for emergency disaster relief to aid our southwest Georgia farmers. Our House Appropriations subcommittees came together to include this funding in the AFY 2019 budget to bolster loans for our farmers. This additional funding builds upon the $55 million that was appropriated to the Georgia Development Authority (GDA) during the 2018 special session in November. Since then, the GDA has received 412 loan applications, totaling more than $100 million in assistance requests. Of those 412 applications, 124 have already been approved, and nearly all of the $55 million has been used to secure loans. Southwest Georgia landowners lost $1.6 billion in agriculture commodities, $763 million in forest products and $63 million in agricultural related equipment, and this additional funding will continue to bring much needed relief to hard-working farmers in southwest Georgia. I commend the GDA and the Department of Agriculture for their quick response and helping to secure these loans in less than eight weeks to help our southwest Georgia neighbors.
Educational Funding in AFY 2019 Budget
Another key budgetary item, and a top priority for the governor and the House, is education funding to benefit Georgia’s most precious assets. After considering K-12 educational needs throughout the state, the AFY 2019 budget allocates 55 percent, or $238.6 million, of the total new funds to be dispersed throughout different agencies to accommodate our state’s educational needs. Specifically, the House version of the AFY 2019 budget prioritizes the safety and well-being of children at school and state facilities in Georgia by appropriating $69.4 million to provide school security grants of $30,000 for each of the 2,314 school facilities. These school security grants will establish new safety measures for Georgia schools, including charter schools, college and career academies, GNETS facilities and the three state schools. The House also included more than $38,000 in this year’s amended budget to provide security to the state’s FFA-FCCLA centers when students are present and $1 million to the Georgia School for the Blind and Georgia School for the Deaf to purchase new generators for residential students during severe weather. Lastly, I am proud to report that HB 30 will continue to fully fund Quality Basic Education (QBE).
Tackling School Violence in Georgia Schools
In his budget recommendations, Gov. Kemp also encouraged the General Assembly to tackle the growing threat of violence in Georgia schools. In an effort to prevent school violence and promote healthy behaviors for our students, Gov. Kemp and the House agreed to include $8.4 million for the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities to address mental health issues in Georgia high schools. This appropriation will help expand the Georgia APEX Program, which has piloted successful mental health services for high schools across the state by providing support counselors that engage with students to prevent dangerous behaviors. With this additional funding, the APEX program will continue to serve more than 17,000 students in 418 Georgia schools.
Medicare Waiver Options – AFY 2019 Budget
To ensure that all Georgia citizens have access to quality healthcare, the House version of the AFY 2019 budget provides $1 million in state funds, which matches $1 million in federal funds, for experts to explore, analyze and recommend new Medicaid waver options to Gov. Kemp. HB 30 also increases Medicaid funding by $35.2 million to provide coverage for enrollment growth, gene therapy drug coverage, Medicare Part B premiums and Part D Clawback payments and the addition of long-term acute care hospitals and intermediate rehabilitation facilities.
Other AFY 2019 Budget Changes
Other highlights of the House AFY 2019 budget include $3.5 million for the Georgia Student Finance Commission to assist students in the Duel Enrollment Program, nearly $26,000 for the Engineer Scholarship Program and $2.9 million from new lottery funds to meet the projected needs of the HOPE Scholarship program. HB 30 also supports the more than 15,000 children that are currently in Georgia’s foster care system by appropriating $9.8 million in additional funds to address the 7.1 percent increase in utilizing the Out-of-Home Care program. Further, the House included more than $790,000 for the Substance Abuse Prevention program to fight the growing opioid epidemic. We also celebrated receiving Forestland Protection Act grant reimbursements, making up a total of 11 percent of new revenue from the last fiscal year. These reimbursements will fund the AFY 2019 adjustments for the majority of the general government agencies in our local counties. And, lastly, the AFY 2019 budget includes more than $490,000 in one-time funding to kick-off the first full year of the new Atlanta-region Transit Link (ATL) Authority, which is a regional transit governance structure that coordinates transit planning and funding and oversees all Metro Atlanta transit activity, including planning, funding and operations.
This week, the House and Senate also adopted a second adjournment resolution that sets our legislative schedule for the remainder of the 2019 legislative session. The “adjournment resolution” is particularly important to those of us who travel four and five hours from our homes to fulfill our legislative duties so we can plan our travel and still take care of important business back home. It is also important because it sets the countdown clock for important legislative deadlines including Crossover Day. Legislative Day 40, or Sine Die, is the final day of the 2019 legislative session and will be on Tuesday, April 2. Until then, we have an aggressive schedule to tackle as we work to ensure that we pass sound public policies for the betterment of our state and its citizens.
The House and Senate will reconvene on Monday, February 11 for Legislative Day 12. I serve you and your family here on Capitol Hill. Now that session is underway, I will be working diligently on behalf of our entire district while I am at the Capitol. I hope you will take the opportunity to review updates like this to stay informed on legislative matters that affect our district and state. Our official House of Representatives website has a number of tools to help you stay up-to-date on what’s going on at the Capitol. You can watch a live stream of the House proceedings, view live and archived committee meetings and review legislation we are considering.
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 [email protected], or [email protected], and by phone at (404) 656-0177.
As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your State Representative.
With kind regards,
Rep. Jeff Jones