Legislative Update Week 8, March 6, 2015 - The $1 Billion Transportation Bill, a Tax Increase

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From the Desk of Representative Jeff Jones

Legislative Update Week 8, March 6, 2015 - The $1 Billion Transportation Bill, a Tax Increase

We returned to the Capitol and our Legislative duties on Monday, March 2 for the 24th day and start of the 8th week of the 2015 legislative session.  Like many State Reps, being in Atlanta is only part of the job. I usually stay busy with legislative activities pretty much all weekend, whether it’s making phone calls, answering correspondence, attending community events, and attending meetings – all of which are part of the job.

This week, we spent a few more hours “in session”, and attending committee and sub-committee hearings as legislators present their bills for consideration. This step occurs before bills move to the rules committee and a final decision on whether a bill will come before the full house for a vote. These are time consuming but vitally important steps in the legislative process as bills work their way through the General Assembly.

Transportation Bill (HB170)

Probably the most significant bill of the 2015 session, at least in terms of the dollars involved, came before the House and was passed by a vote of 123 for and 46 against.  I voted NO on the Transportation Bill.

In my view, the Transportation Bill - as passed - is bad for Georgia taxpayers, bad for Georgia consumers, bad for our local communities (counties and cities) and bad for our local school system. It is purely and simply a tax increase of major proportions.

We all agree that we must fund transportation infrastructure needs.  We all know and agree on that basic premise.  What we disagree on is how to pay for it.

In my opinion, the Transportation Committee proposed absolutely no fresh, new, out-of-the-box ideas on solving our funding problem.  The choice we were given to vote on – raise taxes.

Transportation Bill –Official Version from the House Communications Office

Transportation improvements have long struggled to match Georgia’s rapid economic progress, resulting in too many roads and bridges that are now in need of critical maintenance. HB170, or the Transportation Funding Act of 2015, is a comprehensive package of measures to address the critical and urgent need for funding for Georgia’s transportation infrastructure needs. HB170 seeks to raise just under a billion dollars for maintenance and repair of our state’s bridges and roadways, many of which have been deemed functionally obsolete and structurally deficient; therefore, these funds are crucial to guarantee that our roads and infrastructures are safe for Georgia drivers. Well-maintained roads and bridges will enhance safety and quality of life for our citizens, but these road improvements will also continue to attract new businesses to our state and create jobs for Georgians.

HB 170 provides this funding through a variety of measures, including the conversion of the state sales tax on motor fuel to a straight excise tax that will be dedicated to transportation. This excise tax will initially be set at 29.2 cents per gallon, which approximates the sales tax rate that has been imposed on gasoline using a weighted average of the price of gasoline over the previous four years. Unlike the current gas tax, which is a 4% sales tax that varies with the cost of gas, the flat excise tax will provide a more stable alternative. This tax conversion will provide a dedicated, predictable and steady funding source and a long term solution to our state’s transportation funding issues. Not only will the excise tax conversion provide the necessary funding for transportation maintenance and improvement, but it also will help ensure gas taxes remain constant between counties and through periods of high spikes in gas prices.

Additional revenue for our transportation needs will come from a significant bond package that will go towards funding for the 128 transit systems across Georgia. Funding for our transit systems will enable more communities across our state to take advantage of public transportation options.  This bond package is a practical way to provide more immediate funding for our transportation needs, while leveraging the state’s high credit, AAA bond rating to borrow at little cost to the state. 

Other funding sources in the Transportation Funding Act include the establishment of a user fee for alternative fueled vehicles of $200 for non-commercial and $300 for commercial vehicles each year.  As these vehicles do not use gasoline, their owners do not currently pay their share of taxes devoted to the maintenance of the roads they use.  This fee will provide equity among those who drive on our roads and ensure everyone pays their fair share.  HB170 will also eliminate the state tax credit for the purchase of alternative fueled vehicles, as well as the state tax credit on jet fuel, which was established several years ago in a struggling economy, where companies were in jeopardy of bankruptcy.  Furthermore, the Georgia Transportation Infrastructure Bank will allow for preference for loans to be given to tier 1 and tier 2 counties, as well as to eligible projects with local financial assistance.  

Overall, HB170 ensures that Georgia remains an attractive place for businesses and families by making our roadways safe for all drivers. I look forward to seeing the impact that this legislation will have in our district and communities, and I am proud that our body sees the value in transportation. HB170 is now in the Senate’s hands for consideration.

(Now back to my stuff)

Uber and Other Private Transportation Companies (HB190)

The House also passed another piece of legislation intended to ensure that passengers riding in private transportation services, such as Uber and Lyft, are covered with sufficient insurance for the protection of their passengers. Some would argue that passage of this bill is intended to stifle free-enterprise and entrepreneurship by forcing this new, alternative form of transportation to buy insurance.  I disagreed with that opinion and voted in favor of HB190.

Currently, many of these drivers are offering ride-share services to the public with their personal vehicles, counting on their personal auto policy, to provide insurance coverage.  In fact, personal auto coverage does not cover commercial activity when the vehicle is being used for hire. HB190 addresses this lack of insurance coverage by requiring the transportation network company or the driver to purchase a commercial motor vehicle insurance policy that maintains $1 million in insurance coverage for drivers anytime they are logged into the company system, regardless if any passengers are onboard. The legislation also requires at least $300,000 in coverage for bodily injury or death and $50,000 for property damage. HB190 takes the necessary steps to protect the many Georgians who drive or ride with companies like UBER and LYFT.

Seat Belts Now Required for 15 Passenger Vans (HB325)

You may be surprised to learn that 15 passenger vans, used by many child care centers, churches and others, are among the most dangerous vehicles in which to be a passenger because they are so long and are very top-heavy, causing then to easily roll over. House Bill 325, which passed this week, requires passengers in vans that have 15-passenger capacities to wear seat belts. Under current law, safety belts only required for vans that carry 10 passengers or fewer. According to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) study, approximately 1,111 fatalities occurred between 1990 and 2002 as a result of crashes involving 15 passenger vans, and the study found that 80 percent of those who died were not wearing seat belts.

State ID Card Holders Can Elect to be Automatic Organ Donors (HB210)

Another potentially life-saving bill passed this week was House Bill 210, which allows Georgia citizens to designate that they wish to be an organ donor by so designating on their state issued I.D. cards.  Currently, organ donor status is listed on drivers’ licenses, but not on state issued I.D. cards.  Interestingly, changes such as this require legislation to make them happen.

Asthma Treatment for Children While at School (HB362)

In addition to passing several measures related to our state’s transportation system, the House also passed a bill to improve the health and safety of our children. House Bill 362 ensures that schools are well equipped to treat students with asthma by allowing schools to obtain and stock levalbuterol sulfate, a medication commonly used to treat asthma.  Under HB362, any school employee who is trained in recognizing symptoms of respiratory distress could administer the medication to students. Asthma has become a common and growing illness and schools should be prepared to help our children handle these types of emergencies.

Read Across Georgia Month – a Sandra and Governor Deal Reading Initiative

In a continued effort to combat illiteracy, Governor Deal and First Lady Sandra Deal this week announced Read Across Georgia Month, a campaign to make reading more fun for Georgia’s children.  As a part of the launch of this new initiative, First Lady Sandra Deal visited the House and introduced a new Pre-K book, TJ’s Discovery, written by teachers at the Rollins Center for Language and Literacy at the Atlanta Speech School. This book will be given as a gift to every student in Georgia’s Pre-K program and helps teach parents and caregivers how to make reading come alive to the children in their lives. I commend our First Lady for her diligent efforts to help Georgia’s children develop a lifelong love of reading.

On a Lighter Note

Finally, this week we took some time to recognize John Smoltz, a former pitcher for the Atlanta Braves and honoree in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. In addition to being named an eight-time All Star, Smoltz is the only pitcher in major league history to top both 200 wins and 150 saves. Smoltz was honored before the Georgia House of Representatives with House Resolution 343 for his accomplishments both on and off the field.   I’m proud that such an outstanding athlete and citizen claims Georgia as his home state.

Looking Ahead to Week 9

Next week will be an extremely busy week. On Friday, March 13, we are scheduled to complete the 30th legislative day, which is also known as “Crossover Day.” Crossover Day is the last date in which a piece of legislation must pass at least one of the General Assembly’s two chambers.  With this deadline in mind, we will work longer hours every day to pass whatever remaining legislation is out there to get it through the House chamber.

Communicating with Constituents

I hope that you will contact me during this crucial week, so that I can address any concerns you might have.  You can visit me or call my office at the State Capitol, the number is 404-656-0126.  Please also encourage your friends, neighbors and co-workers to sign up for these email updates on our website: www.VoteJeffJones.com. I look forward to hearing from you.

Thank you for your prayers and your continued support.

Sincerely yours,

JJoneSig-1.png

Representative Jeff Jones
139-358 Altama Connector
Brunswick, GA 31525
912-386-0428
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Seventh Week of Session – Ending February 27, 2015: FY 2016 Budget

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From the Desk of Representative Jeff Jones

Seventh Week of Session – Ending February 27, 2015: FY 2016 Budget

Monday, February 23 marked the 20th day and half-way point of the 40 day 2015 legislative session.  The singularly most important bill passed this week, and perhaps the entire session, was the Fiscal Year 2016 (FY 2016) budget. 

Fiscal 2016 Budget HB76

According to the Georgia Constitution, the Budget is the only piece of legislation the House of Representatives is required to pass. Some would argue that the annual budget is the ONLY piece of legislation that the General Assembly should pass!  Of course, the House must wait to see what the Senate does with the budget, and if there are differences, then those differences must be resolved so that the final budget can be passed and given to Governor Deal for his signature.

The 2016 Budget, Or House Bill 76, is the initial guide for all state spending for the fiscal year that runs from July 1, 2015 through June 30, 2016 and as passed by the House, projects a Georgia revenue estimate of $21.7 billion, a 4.5 percent increase from the Fiscal Year 2015 budget.  The projected level of 2015 state revenue is now back to 2008 levels, prior to the depression that hit Georgia, and the entire country very hard.

The total budget is set at approximately $45 billion; the difference of $23 billion is from Federal funds. So, you can see that Georgia’s, as is the case with all the states, is dependent on receipt of Federal funds – funds, I might add that originally came from the taxpayers of Georgia.

With the increase in state revenue, the House was able to fund a number of priorities in the FY 2016 budget including:

1)    Enhanced funding for education for a total of approximately $11.9 billion;

2)    Transportation which breaks down as $56 billion for general transportation needs and $266 million for the Savannah Harbor deepening project’

3)    Maintaining State Health Benefit Plan coverage for non-certificated school employees (school bus drivers, cafeteria employee and others);

4)    Support for Georgia’s rural hospitals.

Click on this link to see a chart that clearly explains how the State Budget breaks down by department.

Click on this link to see House Bill 76 - House Version Highlights

Education Funding

Of the new revenue in the FY 2016 budget, 60 percent of those funds are budgeted for K-12 education expenses.  K-12 education funds, totaling $571.9 million, will help fully fund enrollment growth, allow for additional training for teachers, provide charter system grants and State Commission Charter School supplements, increase opportunities for agricultural and career/technical education, and distribute more dollars to local school systems in hopes of eliminating furlough days and raising salaries for teachers. 

Health Coverage for Bus Drivers, Cafeteria Employees and other Non-Certificated School District Employees

Additionally, the House version of the budget takes a strong stance on continuing the State Health Benefit Plan coverage for non-certificated school employees and includes additional funds to continue coverage for these valuable school workers.

Transportation

My position on this bill – in its current version – has not changed.  Please refer to my previous Weekly Legislative Updates for more information on my position on the Transportation Bill.

Just as the overall transportation budget has been a major topic under the Gold Dome, funding for state transportation projects was also set as a key priority in the FY 2016 budget. HB 76 includes an infusion of $55 million in state dollars and $210 million in bonds to improve our roads, rail, airports, bridges and cargo.  This appropriation includes $3.9 million in prior-year funds; $2 million to match federal funds for traffic management and control projects; $9.6 million for the State Road and Tollway Authority, with $7.6 million specifically dedicated to funding projects through the Georgia Transportation Infrastructure Bank; and $17.1 million in debt service for $200 million in bonds for bridge repair and rehabilitation and transit projects statewide.  Maintaining and repairing our roads and bridges is vital to every part of our state, and it is our duty to ensure that our roadways continue to be safe for Georgia drivers.

Health Initiatives

Finally, the FY 2016 budget also funds a variety of health initiatives.  HB 76 includes $3 million to improve the financial health of struggling and closing hospitals in rural Georgia to leverage technology to improve patient outcomes.  Other health projects funded in HB 76 include a $250,000 start-up grant for a community health center in Wheeler County and $50,000 to support the Georgia Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center at Grady Memorial Hospital.  Additional investments were also made in our future doctors, with an increase in funds for both Mercer and Morehouse Schools of Medicine, funding for 11 additional primary care residency slots, the establishment of a rural clinical rotation for primary care students in Sandersville, and $200,000 to revive a rural dentistry program that provides debt relief with a service commitment to practice in a rural or under served area.  With these dollars, we hope to not only prepare a future generation of doctors, but to also address the shortage of health care in rural areas.

As I mentioned earlier, the Fiscal Year 2016 budget, HB 76, has been sent over to the Senate for their review and consideration.

Long County Funding for DNR Land Purchases

In order to offset the property taxes lost from land purchases made by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, $105,000 will be given to Long County annually beginning in FY 2015 through the state budget. This figure came from the appraised property tax value of the land DNR purchased. The FY 2015 money is available immediately and is important to Long County to offset the loss of property acquired DNR.  DNR began purchasing land in Long County in 1978 to serve as military buffers and for Wildlife Management Areas. DNR now owns 21,578 acres wholly or partially with conservation partners.

To receive the DNR funding, Long County is required to submit an invoice for various road work and other county assistance for DNR totaling the $105,000 amount. The FY 16 dollars are available after July 1, 2015, this process will be the same every year.

Although not included in this funding, Long County has also recently lost land that was previously on the county tax rolls that the Marines have taken for the expansion of their bombing range, the majority of which falls within Long County.

Medical Marijuana HB1

In addition to passing the FY 2016 budget, my colleagues and I passed an extremely valuable measure to improve the quality of life for Georgia’s children and adults.  HB 1 was passed overwhelmingly in the House and would decriminalize the possession of medical cannabis oil in Georgia for individuals with certain medical conditions who have obtained cannabis oil legally in another state.  Qualifying conditions under HB 1 include cancer, multiple sclerosis, seizure disorders, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease), Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, mitochondrial disease, sickle cell disease, and fibromyalgia. These individuals would only be allowed to possess cannabis oil with a maximum of 5 percent THC and a maximum amount of 20 fluid ounces of cannabis oil.  HB 1 would also require that potential patients register with the Georgia Department of Public Health and be placed on the “Low-THC Oil Patient Registry.”  These individuals would then receive a registration card to indicate that they are legally in possession of this oil, thus exempting them from prosecution in Georgia as long as the oil has been legally obtained in another state and meets the aforementioned requirements.

Because we realize that this legislation is merely a starting point, the bill also creates the Georgia Commission on Medical Cannabis to examine the possibility of future policies related to medical cannabis oil in our state.  This commission will be charged with making a recommendation for the potential regulatory infrastructure for the creation of an in-state growth/distribution model of medical cannabis, and must make its recommendations to Governor Deal by December 2015.  The members of the commission will include the Director of the Governor's Office for Children and Families, the Director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the Director of the Georgia Drugs and Narcotics Agency, the Commissioner of Agriculture, the governor’s executive counsel, members of the General Assembly, medical professionals, law enforcement officials, and pharmacists.  With the work of this commission and the other measures in House Bill 1, we hope to eventually ensure that no Georgian will ever have to move to another state to obtain medical cannabis oil to treat a debilitating illness.

Georgia Healthcare HR304

Another bill passed to improve Georgia’s healthcare this week was House Resolution 304.  This legislation encourages Georgia’s technical schools, colleges, and universities to include education on gerontology and dementia in their academic curriculum. This legislation is necessary because Georgia’s elderly population is increasing four times faster than the younger population.  In fact, the state’s population over the age of 60 years old is expected to increase by 65.8 percent between 2010 and 2030.  As the elderly population continues to rise, healthcare professionals will begin to see more and more patients with dementia and other health issues related to aging, and our healthcare professionals must be prepared to handle these cases.  HR 304 addresses this potential issue and puts Georgia at the forefront of gerontology care.

White Tail Deer Recognized as Georgia’s Official State Mammal HB70

Finally this week, we passed House Bill 70 to recognize the white tail deer as Georgia’s official state mammal. The idea for this legislation came from first-graders at Reese Road Leadership Academy in Columbus, Georgia who learned that Georgia is one of only three states that does not have an official state mammal. The children brought this to the attention of lawmakers and leaders of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and it was ultimately decided that the white tail deer become Georgia’s official state mammal. According to DNR, white tail deer bring in more than $800 million per year in hunting license fees, sporting equipment sales, food, and land leases, therefore having a significant economic impact on the state of Georgia. This legislation, however, does not grant the animal any protection from hunters or change hunting laws in any way.  I am glad that HB 70 helped teach some of Georgia’s youngest learners about the legislative process, while also recognizing an animal that has been an important economic and recreational resource for Georgians.

Now that we have passed the half-way point for the 2015 legislative session, we will soon begin to work even longer hours and vote on more legislation under the Gold Dome.  In this time I hope that you will contact me, so that I can apply your ideas and opinions to these last few weeks of lawmaking.  You are always welcome to visit or call my office at the State Capitol.  The number is 404-656 465-0126.  I look forward to hearing from you.  

Thank you for your prayers and your continued support.

Sincerely yours,

JJoneSig-1.png

Representative Jeff Jones
139-358 Altama Connector
Brunswick, GA 31525
912-386-0428
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Legislative Update Week 6, February 20, 2015: Jobs & the Economy

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From the desk of Representative Jeff Jones

 

Sixth Week of Session – Ending February 20, 2015

On Tuesday, February 17, we began the sixth week of the 2015 legislative session. Despite a winter storm affecting areas north of Atlanta, the General Assembly continued the session as scheduled. By the end of the week, we completed legislative day 19 of the session, meaning we are just about halfway finished. As I’ve mentioned before, I now understand the importance of managing our 40 session very carefully.  With the 2015 legislative session heating up, an increasing number of bills were and will be passed out of committees and voted upon by the full body of the House. I’ll explain the General Assembly’s “committee process” in a future newsletter.

As I do each week and before I talk about other legislation and activity at the Capitol, I want to comment on a couple of pieces of key legislation.  You can access a complete list of all the bills for which I am a sponsor and or co-sponsor by clicking on this link: Sponsored Legislation...

Transportation Funding Act of 2015 (HB170)

I refer you to our Week 5 Legislative Update newsletter, in which I discuss my concerns about HB170.  The concerns I have expressed after Week 5 have not changed.  Late Friday, after the House adjourned for the week, additional changes to HB170 were passed by the Transportation Committee.  Although I have not yet seen or read an in-depth analysis of the changes that the “substitute bill’s” language makes to HB170, my understanding is that the changes positively impacted some communities in our state, but negatively impacted others.

To repeat what I said last week, I still cannot support HB170 – as I understand the latest iteration. HB170 still looks, smells and feels like a tax increase.  If it looks, acts and sounds like a duck……well, you know how the rest of that goes...

Marsh Buffer Bill (SB101)

            Nothing remarkably new to report on this important piece of pending legislation; again I refer you back to my Week 5 Legislative Update.  I am personally working on language that I hope will help more clearly define the re-establishment of a 25 ft. marsh buffer and all that doing so means.  A properly and carefully crafted Marsh Buffer Bill is intended to provide important protection of our environment, the aquatic-life that is spawned and lives in the marshes, the beauty of the marshes, while still protecting and respecting personal property rights.  As I have stated before, I believe we can achieve all of these objectives.

Early last week, a number of citizens concerned about our environment from around the state, including the 100 Miles, the Georgia Conservancy, the Southern Environmental Law Center, the Satilla Riverkeeper and other Georgia Riverkeeper organizations, plus many others, were in Atlanta to voice their concerns and support for measures pending before the General Assembly.  The issues and concerns include items such as the Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) Act, of which I am a co-sponsor; the Marsh Buffer Bill; closing the Noyes Cut, as well as other environmentally important issues.  I was given the opportunity to speak briefly to a meeting of this group. What I plainly and clearly told the group is what I stated above about the ASR, and the Marsh Buffer bill including that I believe we can satisfy both environmental and private property concerns. Both of these bills are still very much works-in-progress, but please know that I am paying close attention to these measures.

Savannah Port Harbor Deepening Project (SB5)

After a long anticipated and hard fought effort, we saw the first major bill make its way through the General Assembly. Senate Bill 5, which is vital, job-creating legislation, passed both the House and Senate by unanimous vote, and will enable the Georgia Ports Authority to accept federal dollars for the Savannah Harbor deepening project. Work on the project, which began last month, will deepen the Savannah River from 42 feet to 47 feet, allowing the port to accommodate larger container ships. The State of Georgia has thus far designated $266 million towards the project, and President Obama recently requested the appropriation of $42 million in federal funds from Congress. Thanks to the combination of state and federal funding, the project is scheduled to be finished by 2020. The Savannah Harbor has the potential to become one of the busiest ports in the world after the deepening is completed and will be a key economic driver in this state. I am proud to see this legislation finally move and am glad it and the project will now move forward quickly.  This project will have a profound impact on every county across Georgia and will bring hundreds of jobs to our great state.

Brunswick Port Channel Deepening Project

We are still working through the complicated, bureaucratic process for obtaining the funding and approval to move ahead with deepening the Brunswick Port channel, a project that is important not only to Southeast Georgia, but the entire state.  I wish I could accurately forecast when this critical, and much-anticipated project will receive the funding, and support needed to move ahead, unfortunately at this time; I cannot.

Entry Age for Children Starting Public School (HB100)

This past week, the House passed what I believe is an important measure related to strengthening our state’s education system and towards ensuring that young children are better prepared developmentally to start public school. House Bill 100, if signed into law, changes the date/age when young children can start public school for the 2017-2018 school year, requiring that a child be 5 years old by August 1 to be eligible to enroll in kindergarten; the current cutoff date is September 1.  Effective with the 2018-2019 school year and all years thereafter, the cutoff date will be July 1.  The reason for the graduated implementation date is to allow parents time to adjust to the changes this law will have on family planning and scheduling.

This change is made in recognition that many schools across our state begin their school year the first week in August. Under current law, children who are only 4 years old can enroll in and begin kindergarten. Some educators have expressed concern that many younger students are often not developmentally prepared or mature enough to begin kindergarten at age 4, hindering not only their progress but also the progress of other, older students. Since school systems go back to school earlier now than in years past, HB 100 simply aligns the age requirement date with the start date of the new school year.

I believe that this legislation will provide children with a greater likelihood for success throughout their educational careers by ensuring that they are better prepared and mature enough when they begin that important journey.

Suicide Prevention Training (HB198)

The House also focused on another very important area intended to help protect Georgia’s teens and young adults. House Bill 198, which passed unanimously in the House, hopes to help protect Georgia’s young people by increasing suicide awareness and prevention in Georgia schools. HB198 aims to lower the rate of suicide among teens by requiring two (2) hours of annual suicide prevention training for certified public school system personnel in order for them to better identify symptoms of suicide. The annual expected cost of implementation of HB198 is nothing, zero dollars. Yet, if carried out successfully, the training will teach staff when to refer students to mental health services, and how to identify resources within their schools and communities. Suicide is a very real problem among young people, and is the third leading cause of death for youth ages 10 to 24, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. My hope is that through this legislation, Georgia school employees will be better equipped to handle these unfortunate situations.

Probate Judges Granted Additional Authority for Disclosing Certain Information to Law Enforcement (HB119)

The House also passed legislation (HB119) intended to help protect our law enforcement officers because it authorizes probate judges to disclose to them if a patient - who is being held in their custody and is legally determined to be mentally ill -  has AIDS. By allowing judges to provide our law enforcement officers with this important information, our men and women in uniform can take appropriate health safety precautions when faced with these scenarios. Our law enforcement officers already many sacrifices to keep us safe, and I believe it is important that we arm them with the necessary information to protect their well-being while on the job.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

If you have questions or concerns about these bills or any other pieces of legislation, I hope that you will contact me.  I am your state representative, and my job is to represent your thoughts and opinions in Atlanta.  Please stop by and visit if you are in Atlanta during the legislative session, or call my office at the State Capitol and let me know what I can do for you and your family. The phone number is (404) 656-0126.

Thank you for your prayers and your continued support.

Sincerely yours,

JJoneSig-1.png

Representative Jeff Jones
139-358 Altama Connector
Brunswick, GA 31525
912-386-0428
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Legislative Update Week 5, February 6, 2015: Key Legislation

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From the desk of Representative Jeff Jones

 

Fifth Week of Session – Ending February 13, 2015

We returned to Capitol Hill on Monday, February 9 for the fifth week of the 2015 legislative session. Bills are beginning to make their way out of committee to receive a vote from the entire House of Representatives.

Before I talk about other legislation and activity at the Capitol, I want to comment on a couple of pieces of key legislation:

Transportation Funding Act of 2015 (HB170)

While there are portions of this bill that are positive, there are many parts of this bill that continue to be troubling. Despite claims otherwise, I see this bill, as currently crafted, to be a tax increase to the people of Georgia and specifically to the taxpayers of Glynn, McIntosh and Long Counties.  I have received Resolutions opposing passage of HB170 from the Glynn County Board of Commissioners, the City of Brunswick, and the Glynn County Board of Education.  I have also heard from McIntosh County and Long County officials also expressing real concern about the negative impact that passage of this bill will have on local communities and our local taxpayers.

As part of my effort to understand and educate myself about this bill, I attended a two hour hearing of the full Transportation Committee late last week. I did not learn anything new in that hearing that changed my concerns about this bill.

I simply cannot support passage of this bill in its current form.  Of course, I cannot speak for other State Representatives, but this is the same sense get from speaking to other members in the House.

Several of us are working on ideas for alternative transportation funding sources that will mitigate, if not eliminate, the negative impact to the vast majority of Georgia’s citizens.  I will keep you posted on further developments.

Marsh Buffer Bill

The issue of setting and enforcing an appropriate marsh buffer is of significant importance to Coastal Georgia for many reasons. Briefly, the 25 foot marsh buffer rule that has been in effect for a number of years was deemed unenforceable as law by EPD Director, Jud Turner and the Attorney General in April, 2014.  Since that date, the whole marsh buffer issue has been up in the air.

Senator Ben Watson of the Savannah area, has drafted a Marsh Buffer bill that I do not believe has been dropped.

NOTE: As an important note, the term “dropped” means that a bill draft has been submitted as an official bill which then begins the official process of Sub-Committee and/or full Committee review. If a bill makes it out of Committee, then begins the process of bringing the bill the either the Senate or House floor (depending on where the bill originated) for discussion and a possible vote.

While Sen. Watson’s bill has some very good portions, I am not sure that this draft of the Marsh Buffer bill clearly defines the rules of how the 25 ft. buffer rule is to be interpreted and enforced, or how exceptions or variances are to be handled or processed.  The challenge is to balance both private property rights with the goal of properly protecting our beautiful coastal marshes and the coast itself.  I personally believe that we can satisfy both of these interests.

There are several Coastal Representatives, myself included, that are working on this issue and a House version of the bill.  I will keep you posted on progress.

OTHER LEGISLATION

I voted YES on each of the following bills and am in favor, at this point, of the Opportunity School District discussed below.

Solar Free Market Financing Act

We kicked off our fifth week of session by passing the Solar Power Free Market Financing Act, or House Bill 57. This legislation, which was passed unanimously by our body, will make it easier and more affordable for Georgians to put solar panels on their rooftops by allowing individuals to fund solar power installations through third-party financing plans. With the option to finance, more homeowners and small business owners can avoid financial barriers and pay for the use of these systems over time. If approved by the Senate and Governor Deal, this measure will provide our citizens with more energy options and the opportunity to take advantage of this innovative technology, while ultimately lowering their power bills.

Georgia Adult and Aging Services Agency Act

The House also passed a measure this week to improve the quality of life for Georgia’s rapidly expanding aging population. House Bill 86 creates the Georgia Adult and Aging Services Agency, which will take on the responsibility of improving services, and ensuring that services are properly and effectively administered to meet the needs of older adults and people with disabilities. The bill would move the current Division of Aging Services out of the Department of Human Services, which is responsible for many other initiatives. Creating this new agency would also allow the state to better focus on its services for those individuals dealing with Alzheimer’s and dementia, which affects numerous individuals and families across the state. This important bill ensures that our seniors receive the full care and attention that they deserve, and I look forward to seeing this legislation make its way through the Senate.

Bill Allowing Some Students to Be Granted High School Diplomas

We also continued to focus much of our attention this week on Georgia’s education system and its students.  As I have written in previous weeks, education is a top priority in the General Assembly, and the unanimous passage of House Bill 91 in the House this week further speaks to that point. This legislation would make it easier for some deserving students to obtain high school diplomas. HB91 retroactively allows former high school students who failed the Georgia High School Graduation Test, an assessment that was phased out in the 2011-2012 school year, the chance to receive a diploma. Although the graduation test has not been used as a graduation standard for several years, it still remains a barrier for some who attended high school when graduation was partly contingent on the passage of this exam. HB91 allows those students who met all other requirements for graduation to petition their local school board where they were last enrolled to obtain a degree from their high school. HB91 will tremendously benefit these individuals by giving them the option to pursue post secondary education and thus helping them succeed in Georgia’s workforce. I hope that this legislation can help many citizens across the state obtain the degree that they have rightfully earned.

Just as HB91 opens doors of opportunity for former high school students, legislation introduced in the Senate this week is aimed at providing improvement opportunities for schools in Georgia.

Opportunity School Districts – Constitutional Amendment Discussion

This week Governor Deal, along with Senator Butch Miller, introduced a senate resolution to create “Opportunity School Districts.” This model of education, which has proven to be successful in several states, allows the state to temporarily step in to assist chronically failing schools. Under the governor’s proposal, a school is considered to be chronically failing if it scored below 60 on the College and Career Performance Index (CCRPI), the Georgia Department of Education’s accountability measure, for three consecutive years.  If deemed an Opportunity School District, the state would then temporarily assume supervision, management, and oversight of that school. This measure, which would require a constitutional amendment and referendum from Georgia voters, would ensure that all children have access to the outstanding education that they deserve. I am eager to learn more about the governor’s proposal and the ways that we can address the critical problem of underperforming schools in our state.

Adjournment Resolution

Finally this week, we passed an adjournment calendar that sets the legislative schedule through the remainder of the 2015 legislative session. Based on this adjournment resolution, the 40th legislative day, marking the conclusion of session, will be on April 2.  I hope that you will contact me before that day to provide feedback and way in which I can better serve you and your family.  Please stop by and visit if you are in Atlanta or call my office at the State Capitol. The phone number is (404) 656-0126.

Thank you for your prayers and your continued support.

Sincerely yours,

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

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Legislative Update Week 4, February 6, 2015: Gas Tax

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From the desk of Representative Jeff Jones

 

Fourth Week of Session – February 6, 2015

On Monday, February 2, 2015, we returned to the Gold Dome for another important and busy week.  My colleagues and I spent much of our time this week in committee and subcommittee meetings to review various pieces of legislation that have been introduced in the House.

 I now have a better understanding of how important it is that we carefully “manage” the 40 days the General Assembly is in session to avoid making hasty decisions resulting in poor legislation with unintended consequences.  There is important legislative work that needs to be taken care of that affects us both state-wide and locally that must be completed including:           

1) transportation funding;  2) passing a 2016 balanced budget that deals appropriately with the myriad of issues facing our state and our local communities; 3) re-establishing an appropriate marsh buffer that also protects personal property rights; 4) protecting our pristine Floridan Aquifer, and 5) reigning in the whole Common Core issue.  And these are just a few of the issues the General Assembly must deal with this session.

Transportation Funding Act (TFA) of 2015

Last week, the Transportation Funding Act of 2015 (HB 170) was unveiled by Transportation Committee Chair Jay Roberts. While there are actually a number of good provisions in the proposal, there are also several provisions that are troubling.  The most troubling portion of the proposal, as currently drafted, appears to put our local school boards, cities and counties in the difficult situation of having to increase local taxes to make up for the loss of local sales tax revenue being generated from the sale of motor fuel;  this tax revenue can currently be spent on items other than transportation.  This is going to take some careful analysis and some different answers before I will agree to this provision.

Rep. Jason Spencer, District 180, has prepared a chart (below) that attempts to analyze how the TFA proposal calculations are really derived. The chart analyzes the excise tax conversion that the proposed excise tax of 29.2 cents/gallon is calculated based on a $3.39 four year look back average. However, that average did not exclude state taxes. As the debate continues, we will get a clearer understanding of the impact of the proposal.

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**Proposal is based on an average 4 year look back on the price of gas/gallon. However, the total average price of $3.39 does not exclude state sales tax, local sales tax and state excise tax when included in the conversion. Therefore, the 4 year look back average price is actually $3.097 ($3.39 - $ all included state taxes.) when you remove the state and local sales tax from the stated 4 year look back average of $3.39. Using $3.097 (GA Dept of Revenue number) as the 4 year look back average, then the total excise conversion is a result of additional 2.8 cents per gallon. However, it would result in a 7.7 cent per gallon gas increase with today’s lower gas prices. It is unclear as to why a 2.4% statewide local sales tax average is used in some calculations and not in the proposal. If a 3% statewide local sales tax average is used, then it becomes a 6.4 cent per gallon increase in gas under today's current average prices, rather than a 7.7 cent increase. Similar calculations have not been crunched on diesel, but it stands to reason that the arithmetic would result is a similar increase in the price per gallon of diesel.

Local governments and school systems have voiced their strong opposition to the current proposal. This opposition will likely result in changes to the bill as it goes through the committee process. Rep. Spencer also noted that “There is a constitutional question that is raised as to whether taxes collected by the state on motor fuel can be applied to public transit and rails as proposed in HB 170. Under The motor fuel provision in the Georgia Constitution Article III, Section IX, Paragraph VI (b), it states that an amount equal to all money derived from motor fuel taxes received by the state…is hereby appropriated for the fiscal year beginning July 1, of each year following, for all activities incident to providing and maintaining an adequate system of public roads and bridges in this state…” 

There will be a great deal more information coming out that I will share with you regarding transportation funding. To help you understand some of the issues, we have posted a link to a Transportation Funding Act (TFA) of 2015 “fact sheet” Click here.

Joint Session – State of the Judiciary Address

The House and Senate went into a joint session on Wednesday in the House Chamber for the State of the Judiciary delivered by  Chief Justice Hugh Thompson wherein he proceeded to update us on the current state of our judicial system in Georgia. These types of events are important traditions and procedures for how we run our state. Georgia’s judicial system is sound and strong, according to the Chief Justice and head of the state’s judicial branch of government.  In his address, Chief Justice Thompson applauded the successful expansion of specialty courts in Georgia.  A specialty court, also known as an accountability court or problem solving court, is a cost-effective criminal justice alternative for non-violent offenders.  Specialty courts, such as drug and mental health treatment courts, hold offenders accountable through court-supervised treatment programs.  In his speech, Chief Justice Thompson shared success stories from some specialty courts in our state.  He recognized Superior Court Judge Reuben Green, who oversees a veteran’s court in Cobb County that matches participants with supportive volunteers who are dedicated to keeping our veterans out of jail and mentor them through the program.  I was pleased to hear that the 116 Georgia specialty courts have helped guide more than 5,000 Georgians towards the right path by avoiding incarceration.  It is great to see the positive effects that our criminal justice system has had on many Georgians, and I look forward to hearing more success stories out of our specialty courts in the years to come.

While Chief Justice Thompson touted the state’s judiciary achievements over the last year, he also spoke of the challenges that lie ahead.  One challenge that we face in Georgia  is access to justice.  He reminded us that six counties in Georgia are without a single lawyer and 20 counties have fewer than five lawyers.  As a result, judges are seeing a growing number of people who come to court without a lawyer and attempt to represent themselves.  Chief Justice Thompson explained that when people are unrepresented in court, their interests are not championed because judges do not have the information they need to make just decisions.  All Georgians deserve to have access to justice, regardless of their place of residence, or socioeconomic status.

To address this challenge and expand access to justice in our state, Chief Justice Thompson asked for support of newly introduced legislation to encourage attorneys to work in underserved rural areas of Georgia.  This legislation would create a pilot program in which a small number of law school graduates would receive college loan payment assistance for agreeing to work in an underserved county for at least five years.  This bill was introduced in the House this week as HB 236 and will now make its way through the legislative process.

Education Measure Affecting Military Families Plus Other Education Issues

We saw several bills pass out of their respective committees this week.  The House Education Committee voted ‘do pass’ on an important measure in House Bill 62.  This legislation waives certain residency requirements so that children of active duty military personnel in Georgia have the ability to receive special needs scholarships.  Military families are often required to relocate across the country, and these children should not be denied certain educational opportunities as a result.  House Bill 62 honors our men and women in uniform by allowing their children the chance to obtain the world-class education that our state has to offer.

Another piece of legislation that passed out of the Education Committee this week was House Bill 65.  This legislation is designed to increase transparency in local school boards by requiring the boards to hold at least two public meetings before adopting any budget.  This would give parents and taxpayers the opportunity to see how their education dollars are being put to work and to provide input.  Both HB 62 and HB 65 will now be sent to the Rules Committee before making their way to the House floor for a vote.

While the House Education Committee was busy passing these important bills, our colleagues in the Senate passed another bill that will strengthen our education system. Senate Bill 2  passed the Senate unanimously and would provide high school students with alternative ways to earn their high school diplomas.  SB 2 would allow high school students who have met the necessary requirements to enroll in college courses upon completion of their freshman and sophomore year coursework.  Under this bill, students can earn their high school diplomas and start their postsecondary degrees simultaneously.  Now that this legislation has passed the Senate, it will go through the committee process in the House as my colleagues and I review the details of the bill.

Savannah Harbor Expansion Project

Finally this week, we received some exciting news out of Washington D.C. about the future of The Savannah Harbor Expansion Project.  In his 2016 budget proposal, President Obama requested that Congress designate $42 million for dredging the river channel that cargo ships use to reach the Port of Savannah. This funding, in addition to the $266 million from the state of Georgia, will help the expansion stay on schedule to be completed by 2020.  This investment in the Port of Savannah will ultimately boost our economy and bring hundreds of jobs to our great state.

In the coming weeks, we will be reviewing even more pieces of legislation in committees and on the House floor.  If you have concerns or questions about proposed legislation, I hope that you will contact me.  I am always eager to hear from you, so that I can better understand what issues are most important you and your family. Please stop by and visit me at the capitol if you are in Atlanta during the legislative session, or call my office at the State Capitol and let me know what I can do for you. The phone number is 404-656-0126 or you can reach me by email at jeff.jones@house.ga.gov.

Thank you for your prayers and your continued support.

Sincerely yours,

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

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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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Cumulative Legislative Update Week Ending Jan 23, 2015

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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 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.

First Week of Session - January 12, 2015

The first four days of the 2015 forty day session were a whirlwind of activity, with the swearing in of Governor Deal for a second 4-year term, plus the swearing of all of the State Senators and State Representatives - yours truly included. Our web page,  www.VoteJeffJones.com has additional pictures and information on these activities.

Late in the week, we received notice of our committee assignments, office assignments and seating on the House floor. I am proud to report that I was named to three committees:

1) Natural Resources & Environment, 2) Motor Vehicles, and 3) Interstate Cooperation.

During the week, I attended a couple of committee meetings, attended our Coastal Caucus meeting, and attended several meetings to discuss key legislative items (2016 budget;  transportation & infrastructure funding; marsh buffers; medical marijuana; and religious freedom) that the House and Senate will deal with in 2015.

Second Week of Session - January 19, 2015

Neither the House or Senate were in session this week so I was back at home in Glynn County, working at our business and working/meeting on several matters with citizens and officials in Glynn, Long and McIntosh counties on issues facing these counties. After celebrating the Martin Luther King Holiday on Monday, January 19, the House conducted meetings on the revised 2015 budget, which I watched on-line from Glynn County.

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

Budget Hearings and Meetings

This is an in-depth discussion of the budget hearings and meetings that took place this past week:

During the second week of the Georgia General Assembly’s 2015 legislative session, the House and Senate appropriations committees held a series of joint budget hearings. This week we began the important task of reviewing the governor’s budget recommendations and creating legislation that will direct the state’s spending. Passing a balanced state budget is the only task that the General Assembly is constitutionally required to complete each legislative session. Through this process, we must outline two balanced state budgets: an amended budget for the current fiscal year (AFY 2015) and a full budget for the following fiscal year (FY 2016). The full fiscal year budget uses a projected state revenue estimate to guide state spending from July 1 to June 30. The amended budget uses a more accurate estimate of state revenue and accounts for any discrepancies between the projected estimate and actual revenue obtained. These joint budget hearings provided us with an opportunity to closely examine the recommendations and hear testimonies from various state agencies, each explaining their budgetary needs and answering questions from House and Senate members. 

As Georgia’s economy continues to improve, we have seen sustained growth in the state’s revenue allowing for an addition of “new” funds in the budget. Georgia is expected to maintain its growth for the current fiscal year, AFY 2015, and even more growth is expected in FY 2016. In fact, Gov. Deal’s AFY 2015 budget includes an addition of $276 million in “new” funds, and the FY 2016 budget projects an additional $670 million increase. This increase in state revenue and state spending will help our great state prosper for years to come.

In order for our state to continue to prosper, it is fundamental that we invest in a strong education system. Therefore, Gov. Deal recommended that the majority of these “new” funds be used for various educational initiatives. For FY 2015, the governor designated $15 million for local governments through the Forestland Protection Grant, including $8.3 million that will go directly to local school systems. The AFY 2015 budget also includes an additional $35 million in grants designed to increase broadband internet access in Georgia classrooms across the state. 

The investment in Georgia’s education system can also be seen in the Governor’s FY 2016. The governor’s budget for that year includes a half a billion dollars in new funding for the Department of Education and our local school systems.  This will include $239 million for enrollment growth and $280 million for local school systems to increase instructional days, eliminate furlough days and enhance teachers’ salaries. 

We must not forget about the education of our youngest learners and our students in our higher education school systems. In addition to K-12 education, the governor also set aside funds to restore two planning days for pre-K teachers and increase in awards for HOPE scholarships and grants. The governor also recommended an additional $6 million in low-interest loans for higher education.  It is crucial that every student, from our youngest to our oldest, be fully prepared with skills for success.

In addition to education, it is important that we ensure Georgia’s children receive the best medical treatment options that are available. With that in mind, Gov. Deal allotted nearly $4.9 million for clinical trials through Georgia Regents University. These trials will study the efficacy and safety of cannabis oil in children with certain types of seizure disorders. I am happy to see that Georgia is at the forefront of studying new and recent trends in medicine.

In addition to education and children, Gov. Deal also outlined funding initiatives for a few other important programs.  The governor’s budget includes funds for an additional 175 case workers to manage child abuse and neglect cases; 11 new adult protective service caseworkers to manage reports of elder abuse; the replacement of 187 state patrol vehicles; and an expansion of accountability courts, which are a more cost effective justice alternative to prison for non-violent, first time offenders.

 Now that this week’s joint appropriations committee meetings have ended, the House Appropriations subcommittees will delve even further into the governor’s budget proposals and eventually pass portions of the budget in their respective subcommittees. Those portions of the budget will then go before the full House Appropriations Committee, which will review and pass balanced budgets for AFY 2015 and FY 2016.

After the House Appropriations Committee passes the budget, it will go to the Rules Committee where it will be placed on the House calendar.  It will then go to the House floor, where every member of the House will have the opportunity to voice their opinions before voting upon the state budget.

Once the budget passes the House, it will go to the State Senate and repeat this same committee process. After making its way through the Senate Appropriations subcommittees, the Senate Appropriations Committee, and the Senate floor vote, the budget might be a bit different from its original version as passed by the House. At this point in the process, the Speaker of the House and the Lieutenant Governor will both appoint a conference committee to work out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the state budget.

Once the conference committee reaches an agreement, their version of the budget then goes back to the House and Senate for a final floor vote. Both chambers must vote on the conference committee’s version of the budget to ensure that all contents are completely agreed upon by both chambers. Finally, if approved by both House and Senate, the legislation is sent to the governor’s desk for consideration. Once signed by Governor Deal, the budget becomes law. All legislation must go through this process before becoming law.

Please Contact Me with Your Questions and Concerns

As legislation makes its way through the legislative system, I welcome you to reach out to me with your questions and concerns. We recently received our office assignments, and you are always welcome to visit me at the capitol office, which is located on the fourth floor of the Cloverdale Legislative Office Building, room 411-F. You may also call my capitol office at 404-656-0126, or reach me via email at jeff@VoteJeffJones.com. Please visit our website www.VoteJeffJones.com for frequent legislative updates news and events. I am honored to serve as your representative, and I look forward to hearing from you on the issues that matter most, thank you.

Sincerely yours,

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

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PRESS RELEASE: Rep. Jeff Jones Receives Committee Assignments for the 2015-2016 Legislative Term

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, January 16, 2015
Contact: Betsy Lynch
404-656-3996

Rep. Jeff Jones Receives Committee Assignments for the 2015-2016 Legislative Term

ATLANTA – The Georgia House of Representatives’ Committee on Assignments named State Representative Jeff Jones (R-Brunswick) to the Information and Audits, Interstate Cooperation, Motor Vehicles, and Natural Resources and Environment committees. 

“On behalf of the constituents of Georgia State House District 167, I am both honored and humbled to have been selected to serve on such important committees,” said Rep. Jones.  “Certainly, the Natural Resources Committee has looked out for Coastal Georgia over the years, and my selection to this committee ensures representation by a House member who calls the Golden Isles home, and I am particularly honored to have been selected to this committee. I look forward to working with my distinguished colleagues serving on these committees, and on the upcoming legislative issues so important to all Georgians.” 

The House Committee on Assignments, chaired by House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge), is charged with making all House committee assignments for the members of the Georgia House of Representatives. 

For more information about the Committee on Assignments and a complete list of all House Committee assignments, please click here.

Representative Jeff Jones represents the citizens of District 167, which includes portions of Glynn, Long, and McIntosh counties. He was first elected into the House of Representatives in 2014, and currently serves on the Information and Audits, Interstate Cooperation, Motor Vehicles, and Natural Resources and Environment committees.

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ICYMI: State Legislators Discuss Transportation, Medicaid, Marsh Buffer, and More

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...William Ligon and Representative-Elect Jeff Jones, who represent the citizens of McIntosh County. Jones was elected to represent District 167 during May's Primary Election, with no Democratic opposition in November. He said...
last updated 1/14/2015 6:00:00 AM

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153rd Legislative Session of the Georgia General Assembly

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From the Desk of Representative Jeff Jones

Dear Friends,

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.

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