Fo­cus on prep­ping bills for “Cross­over Day” in Week 6

The Standard Journal - - COMMENTARY - By STATE REP. TREY KEL­LEY

Friends, Tues­day, Fe­bru­ary 16 marked the be­gin­ning of our sixth week of the 2016 leg­isla­tive ses­sion. With “Cross­over Day” rapidly ap­proach­ing, we are pass­ing cru­cial pieces of leg­is­la­tion each day that we are in ses­sion. Last week we passed the one piece of leg­is­la­tion we are Con­sti­tu­tion­ally re­quired to do, our bud­get for the up­com­ing fis­cal year. In ad­di­tion to the Fis­cal Year 2017 Bud­get the House passed sev­eral other mea­sures meant to em­power in­di­vid­u­als and im­prove the lives of Ge­or­gians.

The Gen­eral As­sem­bly has one con­sti­tu­tional obli­ga­tion each year: to pass a bal­anced state bud­get. This bud­get will serve as a spend­ing guide for the state be­gin­ning July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2017. The FY2017 bud­get comes in at $23.7 bil­lion, an amount when ad­justed for per cap­i­tal in­fla­tion is 8 per­cent less than the 2008 bud­get. In the FY17 Bud­get the House was able to se­cure fund­ing for sev­eral of its pri­or­i­ties, in­clud­ing: education, health care, and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment funds.

Time and time again politi­cians tell you that education is their top pri­or­ity. Through the Fis­cal Year 2017 Bud­get the Repub­li­can led House has put our money where our mouth is. In this year’s bud­get more than half of all to­tal ap­pro­pri­ated

more than half of all to­tal ap­pro­pri­ated funds are de­voted to education. As a re­sult of rev­enue in­creases, the FY2017 in­cludes a $300 mil­lion ap­pro­pri­a­tion for K-12 education for lo­cal school boards to give salary in­creases, elim­i­nate fur­lough days or in­crease in­struc­tion days for education. The House ver­sion of FY2017 also in­cludes $5.1 mil­lion for a 3 per­cent pay raise to teach­ers in Agri­cul­ture Education and Tech/ Ca­reer Education pro­grams, school bus driv­ers, lunch­room work­ers, nurses, and Re­gional Education Ser­vice Agency (RESA) em­ploy­ees. The bud­get pro­vides an ad­di­tional $28.6 mil­lion in fund­ing for Pre-K teach­ers for salary in­creases up to three per­cent, as well as in­creas­ing salaries for as­sis­tant teach­ers. Dur­ing his State of the State ad­dress, Gov­er­nor Deal noted that in the past three years, 94 per­cent of school sys­tems used this ad­di­tional fund­ing to re­duce or en­tirely elim­i­nate fur­lough days, and with the fund­ing from the FY2017 bud­get, teacher fur­lough days should be a thing of the past.

The FY2017 bud­get also pro­vides fund­ing for higher education ini­tia­tives in our state, in­clud­ing the HOPE and Zell Miller Schol­ar­ships. Since 2012, the num­ber of Zell Miller Schol­ars at both pub­lic and pri­vate univer­si­ties has sig­nif­i­cantly in­creased, and to ac­count for this in­crease in el­i­gi­ble schol­ars, HB 751 al­lo­cates $59.1 mil­lion for FY2017 for Zell Miller and HOPE Schol­ar­ship re­cip­i­ents. FY2017 also ap­pro­pri­ates $29.4 mil­lion in fund­ing to the Move on When Ready dual en­roll­ment pro­gram and an ad­di­tional $1.2 mil­lion to the North Ge­or­gia Mil­i­tary Schol­ar­ship Grants pro­gram. Ad­di­tion­ally, the bud­get es­tab­lishes two new ser­vice loan pro­grams of $100,000 each for large an­i­mal vet­eri­nar­i­ans and the Ge­or­gia Na­tional Guard to ad­dress the need for skilled in­di­vid­u­als in those fields. Fi­nally, HB 751 in­cludes $44.4 mil­lion for for­mula earn­ings based on en­roll­ment and in­creased square footage at both the Univer­sity Sys­tem of Ge­or­gia and the Tech­ni­cal Col­lege Sys­tem of Ge­or­gia. Col­lege stu­dents will not ex­pe­ri­ence a tu­ition in­crease next fall due to the dili­gence of the Gen­eral As­sem­bly to pro­vide ad­e­quate for­mula fund­ing. I am proud of the hard work that has gone into this process to en­sure that our stu­dents in our state’s higher education in­sti­tu­tions will not pay more for tu­ition next fall.

Ge­or­gia has been at the fore­front of crim­i­nal jus­tice re­forms, and since the im­ple­men­ta­tion of th­ese re­forms, state ju­ve­nile jus­tice fa­cil­i­ties have seen a 25 per­cent de­crease in pop­u­la­tion. To main­tain this progress, FY2017 in­cludes an ad­di­tional $3.8 mil­lion to ex­pand the state’s ac­count­abil­ity courts, which are aimed at pro­vid­ing com­mu­nity al­ter­na­tives, as proven al­ter­na­tives to sen­tenc­ing, to re­ha­bil­i­tate of­fend­ers and ju­ve­niles. In his State of the Ju­di­ciary, Chief Jus­tice Hugh Thomp­son cred­ited ac­count­abil­ity courts with re­duc­ing crime by 45 per­cent, and with sav­ing the state more than $51 mil­lion in prison costs in 2015. FY2017 also al­lo­cates $5.6 mil­lion to sup­port ed­u­ca­tional ini­tia­tives in the state prison sys­tem, in­clud­ing op­er­a­tional costs for two char­ter high schools and ex­pan­sion of GED fast track, vo­ca­tional, and gen­eral education pro­grams. By pro­vid­ing th­ese in­di­vid­u­als with ben­e­fi­cial skills, it will make their tran­si­tion to re-en­try more seam­less and re­duce their chances of re­cidi­vism. Ge­or­gia’s re­cidi­vism rate is at its low­est in 30 years, and I am proud of the work we have done in the Gen­eral As­sem­bly to give our cit­i­zens a se­cond chance.

In ad­di­tion to pass­ing the FY2017 bud­get this week, the House passed a num­ber of im­por­tant bills that are now be­ing con­sid­ered by the state Se­nate. House Bill 34, also known as the “Ge­or­gia Right to Try Act,” was unan­i­mously passed by the House and would give some ter­mi­nally-ill pa­tients faster ac­cess to ex­per­i­men­tal drugs and pro­ce­dures that have passed the first of the three phases in the FDA drug ap­proval process. Full FDA clear­ance of all three phases can take as long as ten years, but with HB 34, ter­mi­nally-ill pa­tients would have the op­tion of try­ing ex­per­i­men­tal treat­ments that have passed the FDA’s Phase 1, mean­ing the treat­ments have met all safety pre­cau­tions. There are 24 states that have sim­i­lar leg­is­la­tion in place, and it is my hope that Ge­or­gia will be­come the 25th state to en­act this type of leg­is­la­tion to of­fer some Ge­or­gians an op­por­tu­nity at life-al­ter­ing treat­ment.

An­other sig­nif­i­cant mea­sure that passed out of our cham­ber with over­whelm­ing sup­port was House Bill 798. HB 798 brings homeschool stu­dents into par­ity with other Ge­or­gia stu­dents for HOPE and Zell Miller Schol­ar­ships. Cur­rently, homeschool stu­dents are re­quired to pre-pay their first se­mes­ter tu­ition and then be re­im­bursed at the end of the se­mes­ter if they are HOPE/Zell el­i­gi­ble. This pro­ce­dure lim­its some homeschool stu­dents from be­ing able to at­tend col­lege and en­cour­ages them to in­cur costly stu­dent loans. Now un­der HB 798 HOPE/Zell homeschool stu­dents will be treated just like ev­ery­one else and will have the op­por­tu­nity to have their tu­ition paid at the be­gin­ning of each se­mes­ter and not retroac­tively. The HOPE Schol­ar­ship was cre­ated to keep our state’s bright­est stu­dents in Ge­or­gia for col­lege, and this leg­is­la­tion would give even more stu­dents that chance.

Fi­nally, my col­leagues and I unan­i­mously passed leg­is­la­tion in the House this week which would make the “adopt­able dog” the of­fi­cial state dog of Ge­or­gia. By nam­ing the “adopt­able dog” as the of­fi­cial state dog of Ge­or­gia, House Bill 561 will pro­mote an­i­mal res­cue and adop­tion, as well as re­spon­si­ble pet own­er­ship. As many of you know Amy and I love our adopted dog Lau­ren who we got from an an­i­mal shel­ter, I was proud to sup­port this mea­sure which en­cour­ages re­spon­si­ble pet own­er­ship, drives down the amount of dogs which will ul­ti­mately end up in our lo­cal an­i­mal shel­ters, and will help save the lives of many shel­ter an­i­mals.

With 24 days com­pleted in the 2016 ses­sion, I am proud of the work we have al­ready ac­com­plished, and hope you are too. It is my honor to serve as your Rep­re­sen­ta­tive. I take my re­spon­si­bil­i­ties se­ri­ously, and make it a point to care­fully weigh any leg­is­la­tion which crosses my desk for a vote. To help me ac­com­plish this goal, please feel free to con­tact me to share your opin­ion on pend­ing leg­is­la­tion or if I can help you in any other way. My cell phone is 770.324.2275 and you can reach me by email at trey. kel­[email protected] house. ga.gov. As al­ways, I ask you to keep me and our other state of­fi­cials in your prayers.

May God Bless You and Your Fam­ily,

State Rep. Trey Kel­ley ad­dressed the house dur­ing Week six of the leg­isla­tive ses­sion.

State Rep. Trey Kel­ley spoke re­cently with U.S. Air Force Gen­eral Lee K. Levy on na­tional se­cu­rity is­sues at the state capi­tol.

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