National Day of Prayer Service - First UMC Brunswick Sanctuary - Brunswick, GA
Thursday, May 07, 2015 at 12:00 PM
Dear Heavenly Father,
We come before you today, humbly, on bended knee and in your honor, on this National Day of Prayer. It is a privilege to come before your throne of grace.
We are here to give thanks to You for this Nation’s very founding and for those courageous men who, so many years ago, believed in You so completely as they worked to structure our country on Godly, Christian principals – Your principals Father.
In 1789, George Washington spoke these words:
“It is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God."
It is truly amazing and humbling, Father God in Heaven, the wisdom and courage of these men who staked their very lives on founding this country in Your name, that they deliberately and purposefully included the words “in God we trust” on our currency, and used the words “one nation, under God” in our Pledge of Allegiance to our flag and our country.
Today, we must ask ourselves Father the question posed in Psalms 11:3 – “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?" One important way, Father, is what we are doing here today – praying to You, our Almighty God.
We beseech you Father in Heaven to guide our leaders, both elected and appointed, to hear Your Word and to act upon them in their roles as leaders.
We thank you and praise you, Lord, for the many blessings You have bestowed on this, our Country, the United States of America, a nation established in Your mighty name.
However, as the years have marched by, Father, we – your people - have forgotten the God our founders knew to be the Creator who endowed us with life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We took prayer out of our schools, Father. People in our country have allowed the aborting of babies, babies who are gifts from You. Dear Father, we have divided our country by rich and poor; the have and have not’s, by the color of our skin, by those who are power-hungry and those who are power-less. Our dearest Father, we have not treated each other with respect or been civil with each other as You command us. We have forgotten the Golden Rule, to treat others the way we want to be treated and to do so in your Holy, mighty name. We have blurred the lines between right and wrong, and we live our lives today in a “grey area” calling it the truth. However, Dear Father, these things are not the truth, not Your truth. Your truth, Father, is the only truth.
Forgive us, God, for our many sins and yet, as sinners all, we humbly pray for you to bring unity to our nation Father, and we ask for your peace to be among us, that You will to talk to us, to whisper into our ears reminding us that Your voice is the only one that matters and to follow Your direction. We have been greedy and selfish, afraid to speak the truth in our love for You. Forgive us, oh God. We ask you to set our country back on a Godly path.
You promised in your Word, 2 Chronicles, 7:14:
“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” We claim that promise today, Lord, and believe in You for the results.
We pray for our President and those he brings close for advice, that there be Godly wisdom in their decision-making as they lead the country.
Father, we beseech you to bestow upon our President, and all of our leaders, Your wisdom, guidance and direction. Proverbs 1:7 says “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge …… but fools despise wisdom and discipline.”
Embolden our Congress, Father, to do what is right for the country and to truly be servants to the people, looking to You, our God in Heaven, for vision and wisdom. Help them to seek Your face, your blessing, your guidance --- not the approval of men.
Our Supreme Court even now is debating an institution established by You, Father, so important to the very fabric of our society. Give these men and women Your blessed wisdom, Dear Father, to act with integrity, following your direction, Father. We pray that the right decision will be made, a decision based in Godly principals.
We pray for our Governor, and for our State and Federal Senators and Representatives, and other State and Federal leaders, that they will honor You, Father in heaven, by the decisions they make for the citizens of Georgia and for our great country.
We pray that our Local officials will act in a righteous manner honoring You, Father in Heaven, in every decision and action they take.
We pray for our pastors in these trying days to preach your Word boldly and with conviction in the face of pressure to stray from a Godly path. We know this is hard, Father, but we know You are there with them in their service to You and the people of this great nation.
God, we pray for our military men and women. Give them, and their families’ courage and strength as they protect and defend us. We are grateful for their sacrifice and willingness to give their very lives for our freedom. Keep them in the palm of Your hand, Lord.
Thank you, Father, most of all for your Son, Jesus Christ, that you sent Him to us to save us, all we have to do is accept Him. What an incredible gift.
Father, all of these things we humbly ask and pray in your mighty name.
From the Desk of Representative Jeff Jones
Legislative Update Week 11, March 27, 2015 - Crunch Time!
We returned to Atlanta and reconvened the House of Representatives on Monday, March 23, 2015. This is quite literally crunch time as legislators in both the House and Senate work to get legislation they have sponsored pushed through the process and on to the floor of the House and/or Senate for a vote.
It’s interesting to see the types of bills that come before the General Assembly anywhere from mundane, but necessary, laws to bring Georgia tax code in line with Federal tax code, to a bill allowing the non-traditional zero-emission Tesla automobile to be sold in Georgia not following the traditional auto manufacturer-franchised dealer network (current Georgia law prevents vehicles from being sold “direct to the public” from the manufacturer.) I sit on the Motor Vehicles Committee that heard that bill, and I voted to pass it out of committee. The “Tesla” bill, like many others, may or may not make it through the Senate, and may or may not be signed into law. Again, just another example of the type of bills that are considered.Read more
There are many, many people in Georgia, who will benefit greatly from the passage of this legislation. Can you imagine having as many as 1,000 seizures a day? And for having no hope for medical relief! It is just hard to comprehend the agony that these individuals, and their families have had to endure. I am so thankful to Representative Allen Peake, the other house members, the Georgia Senate, to Governor Deal, and to everyone else who worked so hard to get this bill passed. The final hurdles are another vote in the House, which already voted overwhelmingly to pass the bill, and then to Governor Deal for his signature. This is a historic day in Georgia.
Representative Jeff Jones
Georgia State House
From the Desk of Representative Jeff Jones
Legislative Update Week 10, March 20, 2015 - House Considers Senate Bills after "Crossover"
In my last weekly legislative update, I explained that last Friday, March 13, 2015, was “Crossover Day”, the 30th day of the 2015 session of the Georgia General Assembly. “Crossover Day” is a significant point in each year’s 40 day session because it is the last day for “general bills” to “pass” in the House or Senate to “crossover” to the other body for their consideration. With Crossover Day behind us, we returned to Capitol Hill to focus on legislation that has already been passed by the Georgia Senate. To ensure that every bill is fully vetted before its final passage, we spent most of our time this week in committee meetings reviewing Senate legislation. This coming week will very busy as well with committee to review Senate bills.
Ed Note: Below are discussions of a number of bills that have passed the Senate. Only those bills where I indicated my vote as YES or NO have actually come to the House floor for a vote. All of the other bills and resolutions are in the discussion or negotiation stage, but are bills that I thought you may want to read about.
Marsh Buffer Bill (SB101)
One bill of particular importance to Coastal Georgia, that “crossed over” from the Senate to the House, is the Marsh Buffer Bill, Senate Bill 101 (SB101). This bill purports to re-establish the 25 foot Marsh Buffer that has been in existence for many years along Georgia’s coastal marshes. In April 2014, the Director of the Environmental Protection Division (EPD) of the DNR proclaimed that the EPD would no longer enforce the buffer because doing so was not founded in law. The Director further explained that the 25 foot buffer had been enforced for years by virtue of a letter written by then DNR Commissioner Carol Couch. The current EPD Director dismissed the letter, and its establishment of the 25 foot buffer, as being unenforceable.
After careful study of SB101, I reached the conclusion that it contains such large, gaping holes as to render it almost totally devoid of meaningful, enforceable buffer provisions.
In response, I have submitted a “substitute” to SB101, which is officially numbered as “SB101 Substitute LC 40 0902ERS”. (This numbering is important in identifying the correct bill.)
The substitute bill does two things:
1. Inserts a date of December 31, 2015 in the existing bill so that all “new” shoreline stabilization projects are subject to a 25 foot. buffer, unless a variance is granted. SB101, as presented, does not achieve this.
2. Moves language that deals with Army Corps of Engineers Section 404 exemptions to a location earlier in SB101. The current location of this section effectively exempts any project that has a Federal permit from the buffer provision, regardless of size, scope or impact.
Moving the language to an earlier section ensures that EPD must review requests for buffer variance projects, even if those projects have Federal permits.
The question we have to answer is “Do we want local control or Federal control of what happens to our marshes?” In my opinion, this control MUST BE local, not federal; hence we need the substitute bill I have proposed.
Tom Barton of the Savannah Morning News recently penned the following editorial regarding SB101, and this was distributed to house members earlier today. Dead Marsh Walking by Tom Barton (Click Here)Read more
From the Desk of Representative Jeff Jones
Legislative Update Week 9, March 13, 2015 - Crossover Day
On Friday, March 13, we reached day 30 of the 2015 legislative session. Each year the 30th legislative day marks a crucial deadline for the Georgia General Assembly. This date, which is also known as “Crossover Day,” is the final chance for bills to pass the legislative chamber from which they originated, either the House or Senate. After Crossover Day, all bills passed by the House must “cross over” to the Senate, and vice versa; we will then spend the remaining ten legislative days considering Senate bills. As a result, we were in session for long hours for several days to ensure a quality review of as much legislation as possible before the critical “crossover” deadline. I have been impressed that, of all of the bills that legislators draft, only those bills that are truly important make it through the tedious committee process to come to the House floor for a vote.
Below is a discussion of a selected number of bills that passed the House this past week, of which there were many. A complete list of the Bills that passed the House this past week can be viewed by clicking on this link: Sponsored LegislationRead more
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.
Brunswick, GA 31525
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
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.
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.
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.
Brunswick, GA 31525
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
still obtaining the forecast funding,
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.
Brunswick, GA 31525
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.
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.
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.
Brunswick, GA 31525
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.
**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 [email protected].
Thank you for your prayers and your continued support.
Brunswick, GA 31525