A Race to the Finish of the 2020 Session

On June 26, 2020, the General Assembly officially and finally adjourned the 60+ day COVID-19 suspended 2020 session, after passing the only Constitutionally required piece of business – a balanced $26 billion fiscal year 2021 state budget; Georgia’s new fiscal year begins on July 1, 2020. The new budget reflects a 10% overall reduction in spending to match Governor Kemp’s 10% projected reduction in state revenue.

Each year, the budget process begins with the Governor’s revenue projections; the balanced budget is then created based on that revenue forecast. As of just 45 days ago, and before May’s state revenues started being reported in early June, the Governor was forecasting a 14% decrease in revenue to the state equating to approximately $2.8 billion revenue drop.

The 4% improvement (from a 14% to a 10% decrease) made an huge positive difference in budgeting as May's rising revenue began to be reported in early June, this as our state’s economy began to slowly gear back up.

2021 Budget (HB793)

A few highlights of the FY 2021 Budget:

EDUCATION

Education spending represents 53.2% of Georgia’s total budget, by far the single largest budget priority for Georgia and rightfully so.

PreK and the Hope scholarship - untouched (read my additional comments about Ralston and other House member’s efforts to attack the HOPE Scholarship in the Casino Gambling SR841 section of Legislation NOT PASSED below)

QBE – 10% reduction or $950 million state-wide; with available federal funds, the net reduction is forecast to be between 4 - 4.5%. The Governor, House and Senate budget offices report the majority of our school districts have been building their reserve funds in recent years in anticipation of future economic down-turns. Hopefully, the 4% reduction in QBE will have little noticeable effect on Glynn, McIntosh and Long County school district budgeting.

In Glynn County, depending upon further action by the School Board, the $20 million in taxpayer money currently sitting in reserve dedicated to the Performing Arts Center to be built on the College of Coastal Georgia campus, will be available for “qualified school projects".

Equalization Grants - fully funded using the current formulas. These grants provide much-needed financial relief to many Georgia school districts by providing extra funds to less wealthy districts to help them reach the wealthiest district's funding levels.

As I’ve previously reported, McIntosh County's equalization formula is unfair and inaccurate but efforts to correct it were rebuked by the House Education Committee.

Sparsity Grant’s - fully funded; these grants are another mechanism used to give assistance to districts that serve smaller numbers of students. These school systems are often financially inefficient compared to larger districts because they're less able to carry fixed costs associated with services that state law requires

New Student Growth – funds initially cut but fully restored

School Nutrition - funds initially cut but fully restored

School Transportation Fundsfunds initially cut but fully restored

As readers of my newsletter may recall, already thin school transportation funds have been targeted for cuts in years past. Funding to replace aging bus fleets and maintain pay and benefits for underpaid bus drivers must remain a priority for state budget writers.

OTHER NON-EDUCATION BUDGET HIGHLIGHTS

Post-Partum Care HB1114 – money was restored to fund mandates in HB1114, extending Medicaid for low-income mothers for lactation care and services, and postpartum care, from two to six months after giving birth. Although Georgia’s maternal mortality rates are much higher than they should be, this legislation will provide further support to new mothers when they need it most.

Mental Health and Addiction Services funding – funds initially cut but restored

Law Enforcement Officer “De-escalation” Training - $15 million to assist local LEO training on “deescalating” events and improving citizen interactions on the streets.  This is particularly important given the heightened tension in our neighborhoods across the state, particularly in our larger cities.

Rape Kit Processing by GBI - funds initially cut but restored

State Employee Furloughs/Constitutional Officer Pay Reduction – funds were pulled by Gov. Kemp from Georgia’s Reserve Fund balance to insure state employees are not furloughed.  Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan requested and received a 14% legislatively mandated cut in the Lt. Governor’s pay; I and other Representatives pushed for legislatively mandated pay cuts for “Constitutional Officers” that was not considered.

OTHER KEY LEGISLATION PASSED in the FINAL TWO WEEKS of the 2020 SESSION

Here is as a summary of a few key pieces of legislation passed by both the House and Senate and sent to Governor Kemp for signature:

Dissolution of the Glynn County Police Department SB38/SB317 (Do not be fooled by the bill title as SB317 was substituted into SB38, the bill that passed the House of Representatives).  I STRONGLY OPPOSE THIS BILL. This “general” bill, in direct violation of the “Home Rule” provisions of the Georgia Constitution, unconstitutionally targets a single county – Glynn County – with a “general” bill. This is a direct violation of the Georgia Constitution, which does allow for “local” bills that only affect one county.

The Glynn County NAACP opposes the bill as well as the seven member Glynn County Board of Commissioners, and the five member Brunswick City Commission including the elected Mayor of the City of Brunswick.

The Association of County Commission Governments (ACCG), in testimony opposing the bill said:  "Policing is one of the inherent powers of our constitution, and this bill would appear to give the legislature the power to go around the county in abolishing a police department."

Glynn County Commissioner Allen Booker wrote a letter to the House Black Caucus and the Rules Committee that was totally ignored by House member in their cavalier vote to take away “local control” from Glynn County Citizens.

In his letter, Commissioner Booker said:

  1. “Earlier this year, Glynn County conducted a Citizen Survey in which citizens were asked about their satisfaction with the County departments and services that we provide. This survey was statistically valid and demographically representative of our population. Seventy-seven percent of citizens surveyed responded as having the highest satisfaction or next highest level of satisfaction with the GCPD.”
  2. “Furthermore, a Republican ballot initiative on the June 9, 2020 ballot reflected the lack of support for the State to dictate the structure of the County government. Nearly 77% of Glynn County voters who voted in the Republican Primary said, “No,” the State should not dictate the structure of the County government. Georgia has deep roots as a “home rule” state.”

In the coming days, I will publish a feature story article that clearly explains the origins of this unconstitutional bill, and how Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney Jackie Johnson’s troubled past, and the Federal Department of Justice’s investigation of DA Johnson for “prosecutorial misconduct” are a direct political reason for Sen. Ligon (SD3) and Rep. Don Hogan (HD179) sponsorship and pushing for passage of this bill.

Hate Crimes Bill HB426 - On Friday, June 26, 2020, Governor Kemp signed HB426, Georgia’s version of hate-crimes legislation that the House passed in 2019 and the Senate passed just this week. This historic bill extends protections to individuals who are targets of hate crimes.

On Friday, June 26, 2020, the Brunswick News published an article:  State hate crimes law 'a great first step', in which my statements about its passage were partially quoted.

Here is my full quote:

While I voted yes on HB426, “I have a fundamental problem with regulating thought. What mortal person can truly know what motivations exist in another person's heart or mind?  Any crime against another person or their property, if intentional, has to be rooted in hate.  Who in their right mind, murders, burns a church, commits rape, and the list goes on, does so out of an act of love? Conversely such crimes must by their very nature be born of hate. Murder is murder and should be prosecuted fully on the crime committed, the act itself.”  I will add that Hate by any person is in itself a Sin.  Governments cannot outlaw Sin; so, to think a Hate Crimes law will stop Sin is a totally unrealistic expectation.

Nonetheless, in today’s volatile social and political climate, I did not see any way that the State of Georgia could not pass Hate Crimes legislation – so I voted YES for its passage. Of similar legislation I have studied from other states, Georgia’s version is about as palatable as we are going to get. I believe the measure should have also protected political speech, because all citizens have the right to voice their political views without persecution – left, right and middle - but this language was stricken in the process of negotiating the final version.

Reducing Mandatory Milestone Testing in Public Schools SB367 – School administrators and teachers have argued for years that Georgia requires too many much testing of students, taking away valuable classroom time and creating an atmosphere of “teaching to the test.  SB367, which passed this week, eliminates five mandatory Milestones tests, targeting mostly high school testing, to help Georgia teachers get back to what they do best - teaching students.

“Surprise Billing” HB888 – A bill to end, or greatly reduce, what has become commonly called “surprise billing, passed the Senate and moves on the Governor for his signature.  “Surprise billing” is when a patient/insured receives a bill for services they thought was covered by insurance, only to find out that an ancillary provider, such as the anesthesiologist, is not “in-network”. The result - an outrageous “surprise bill” for these charges. This bill will lessen the cost of healthcare in our state benefiting all Georgians. This bill passed with overwhelming support in the House and unanimously by the Senate.

Standards and Labeling of Food Prepared/Served by Non-Profits SB345 - The House passed SB345 after the Senate passed it earlier in the session. This legislation allows non-profits who follow Department of Public Health guidelines to prepare food for distribution in Georgia. This important legislation will help ensure that Georgia students who are home for the summer can continue to have access to quality food.  There have been some problems in our state regarding poor food quality by a small number of non-profits that this bill will hopefully resolve,

Amending state minimum standards to allow tall mass timber construction types HB777 - The Senate passed the bill which the House passed earlier this year to allow review and changes to Georgia building codes bringing state building codes in line with international standards for the use of mass timber in construction. This is an important bill to support Georgia’s construction and timber industries, two incredibly important segments of our state’s economy.

Citizen’s Rights to Sue the Government HR1023 - The Senate passed HR1023 which will place a constitutional referendum on the ballot this fall for Georgians to consider, which, if passed will allow Georgians to sue state and local governments to stop laws that are unconstitutional. Heretofore, citizens had to get approval by the government to sue the government. In most cases, citizens efforts were blocked by the very government they sought to sue.

NOTE: In an interesting twist, SB317, aka SB38, if signed into law by Gov. Kemp, which is an unconstitutional measure regarding dissolution of the Glynn County Police Department, may be able to be challenged in court by citizens using HR1023

HB317/HB38 is a “general bill” that targets a single county for action by the General Assembly.  Such “general bill” measures are expressly defined to be in direct violation of the “Home Rule” provisions of the Georgia Constitution.  It is my hope that Governor Kemp will veto this unconstitutional measure, killing this political move intended solely to divert attention away from the troubles of embattled District Attorney Jackie Johnson. DA Johnson is currently being investigated by the Federal Department of Justice for “prosecutorial misconduct.”

In a matter of days, I will be publishing a feature article that spells out the history and birth of this unconstitutional, politically motivated effort by Sen. Ligon and Rep Hogan.

KEY LEGISLATION that WAS NOT Brought Up for a House Vote

Often, members of the House of Representatives are able to block legislation by lobbying against the bills. This blocking effort is often MORE important than bills we voted on, whether Passed or Defeated.

Casino Gambling SR841 – this Resolution, which originally had nothing to do with “casino” gambling (so don’t be fooled by the title if you look it up and it does not seem to match casino gambling), was hijacked by Casino-supporting Senate leadership and turned into a Constitutional Amendment resolution to legalize casino gambling in Georgia.

To make matters worse, SR841 would have meant the beginning of the end of the wildly successful HOPE Scholarship program that Casino proponents falsely claim their gambling effort were going to help.  So, do not be fooled by the outright lies being told by supporters of SR841 that the measure would not kill the HOPE.

By design, if passed, the Governor would not have been able to VETO SR841 because the bill would have passed by a 2/3 majority which this veto proofs the bill.

I and many other Republican House members oppose expansion of casino gambling in Georgia for a long list of reasons (listed below.  We were able to build opposition to SB841 preventing House Speaker Ralston from bringing the bill for a vote on the House floor since he knew it would be defeated.

Here a couple of excellent articles by Erick Erickson, conservative radio host, (which I often listen to on the I-Heart Radio app) describing House and Senate Republican Leadership’s efforts to sneak in the Casino Gambling bill at the last minute on Day 40, and how the bill would have killed the HOPE Scholarship 1) Here’s How Georgia Republicans Plan to Kill the HOPE Scholarship  2) Georgia Republicans Kill HOPE.

The Jekyll Island Authority recently voted unanimously that they do not support casino gambling being brought to Jekyll Island; Jekyll Island has been mentioned as one of the site supporters of casino gambling have suggested would be an ideal place for a casino.  Next time you see a JIA Board Member, tell them “Thank You for looking out for Georgia and our community by not supporting casino gambling!

My fellow conservative Republican House members and I recognized the danger that SR841 would have had on the HOPE Scholarship and on Georgia. We successfully mounted an internal lobbying campaign and killed SR841 preventing Speaker Ralston from bring it before the House for a vote.

Here’s a succinct summary of what the SR841, the Casino Constitutional Amendment Resolution and Casino gambling in general would have done to Georgia, Georgia communities, and to the HOPE Scholarship:

  • Every major study shows casinos reduce the income to lotteries; Georgia’s lottery currently funds the HOPE Scholarship;
  • Members of the legislature who pushed the new Casino gambling bill in the legislature falsely claimed money from this casino bill would go to HOPE but the law would have actually reduced money going to HOPE;
  • SR841 would have barred casino and horse track funds from funding HOPE;
  • House Republicans falsely claim casino sports betting money would go to HOPE; SR841 stipulated that only sports betting that does not take place in casinos will go to HOPE;
  • Sports betting in casinos, casino revenue, and pari-mutuel gambling revenue will go to a new “Opportunity Fund” that is means-tested and NOT to fund HOPE.

Why is Casino Gambling bad for a community?

  • Every reliable study shows that casino gambling has a negative effect on the host community after casinos are legalized;
  • The casino industry consciously and intentionally exploits the predictable weakness of the most vulnerable of our citizens – the poor, the elderly, the less educated, and the psychologically vulnerable;
  • Casinos do not create jobs as promised;
  • Nearby merchants, who expect increased foot traffic, are sorely disappointed because money that comes to the casinos, stays in the casinos and is not spent in the host community;
  • Liquor stores, cash-for-gold outlets and pawn shops typically sprout up on nearby streets after casinos open, squeezing out traditional retail and restaurants;
  • Casinos impact on local property values is "unambiguously" negative;
  • Casinos do not revive or bolster local economies; they act as parasites upon them;
  • Communities near casinos suffer higher rates of home foreclosure and other forms of economic distress and domestic violence.

Bottom line – every citizen must stay vigilant to opposing the legalization of casino gambling in Georgia.

ALERT: Since I will not be a member of the House of Representatives in 2021-22, be on the lookout for Speaker Ralston and his Southeast Georgia supporters (elected officials who are beholding to the Speaker for their election or their leadership positions) to support passage of casino gambling.

Leadership PAC HB264 – We lobbied to kill a very bad bill, preventing Speaker Ralston from even bringing it for a vote, which was pushed by House and Senate Leadership. The measure would have created a new Leadership PAC which would have allowed almost unlimited contributions to a fund that the Speaker of the House and the Lt Governor could control to contribute money to their supported candidates and causes.

THANK YOU FOR ALLOWING ME TO SERVE AS STATE REPRESENTATIVE FOR DISTRICT 167 (Glynn, McIntosh and Long Counties) FOR THE PAST SIX YEARS.

Together, we have accomplished much in the past six years. Some minor victories and some major, always with principal and integrity, and always looking out for your best interests. Perhaps, in the near future, I will itemize these accomplishments just so you know what has been accomplished in our District on your behalf.

If you do not know about these accomplishments, then I guess shame on me for not “blowing my own horn” more loudly. But that’s just the way I am – I tend to believe that my work on your behalf will be recognized on its own merits, without the filter of local and state political powers spinning things to satisfy their personal political agendas.

Speaker Ralston Must Go #ReplaceRalston

Suffice it to say, House Speaker David Ralston, who I believe is a blight on the good people of D167 and the entire State of Georgia, must be replaced as Speaker of the House before the 2021-22 session convenes on January 11,2021.  If the Republicans lose the House majority, then Ralston will be gone as the Democrats take over the House and elect their Speaker.

Should Republicans retain the House, Ralston’s replacement as Speaker will depend on the strength and will of House Republicans. Will Republicans finally stand up to the heavy handed, tyrannical style of leadership Ralston uses to stay in power? House members know that if they oppose Ralston and he remains Speaker, then their precious leadership positions are in jeopardy.

Speaker Ralston is simply elected as a State Representative, just like I am, for his north Georgia district of Fannin County/Blue Ridge, Georgia of approximately 56,000 voters. Yet, despite representing a small portion of Georgia’s population from his small North Georgia district, Ralston sets the legislative policy priorities for the entire state, including our state budget, by virtue of his selection as Speaker by the House Republicans.

Ralston – and it may surprise you - is in many ways the most powerful political figure in our state exceeding the power of the Governor. Yet his election is just by his District voters and the Majority House Republicans. But he controls the entire state!

When members of the Majority Party – currently the Republican Party – relinquish their convictions and the values of the people they represent back home to the “brass ring” that a political powerhouse and bully like Ralston represents, then the best interests of the citizens of our great state suffer.  That is what is happening today in the Georgia House of Representatives – power and policy are relinquished to a single, powerful Speaker of the House.

Speaker Ralston may think he has silenced me by orchestrating my defeat by the vote tally in Long County but he is sorely mistaken.  Look out Ralston – the citizens of Georgia are coming for you, seeking your defeat as Speaker of the House.

But, for now, thank you for entrusting me to represent your values and your needs in Atlanta at the State Capitol, in the Georgia General Assembly, without regard to the personal political fortunes or retribution!

STAYING IN TOUCH DOWN TO THE WIRE

My service as your D167 State Representative does not end until Sunday, January 10, 2021. Until then, I will continue to represent your interests both here at home and at the State Capitol. You may call my capitol office at (404) 656-0178. You can also reach via email at jeff.jones@house.ga.gov.

Again, thank you for allowing me the opportunity to serve as your State Representative.

Representative Jeff Jones


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