By: Sen. John Albers (R- Roswell)
The Georgia General Assembly conducted efficient business at the Gold Dome this year, wrapping up the 2014 Legislative Session in mid-March. With an ongoing focus of keeping Georgia on the road to prosperity, the legislature passed a number of bills that will help our state remain one of the best places in the nation to pursue a quality education, own a business and raise a family.
The Georgia General Assembly also worked hard to pass a balanced, fiscally-responsible state budget as mandated by the Georgia State Constitution. On day 39 of the 40 day session, the Georgia General Assembly approved a $20.8 billion Fiscal Year 2015 General Budget, which represents a 2.9 percent increase from last year’s $20.2 billion budget.
Included within the FY2015 General Budget are several line items that boost educational funding and ensure our teachers are given all the resources they need to educate Georgia’s students. The list below represents some of the key funding allocations for Georgia’s educational system.
· In total, $535 increase for K-12 education, including: o $101.7 million for enrollment growth and training and experience o $314 million to increase instructional days, reduce teacher furloughs and increase teacher pay · $14 million in capital funding for technology infrastructure upgrades · $1.25 million increase in technical education for instruction · $5 million to create Georgia Innovation Fund to award grants for the implementation and dissemination of innovative programs in public education funding in the Office of Student Achievement · $2.15 million increase in Technical Education in the Technical College System for instruction
I am proud to highlight the following bills that passed during the 2014 legislative session – many of which have already been signed into law by the Governor.
Senate Resolution 415: Capping the State Income Tax In order for Georgia to maintain its position as the nation’s number one place to do business, the General Assembly remains committed to reducing the tax burden on Georgia businesses and families. This resolution proposes an amendment to the state constitution that will prohibit the Georgia General Assembly from raising the state income tax; giving businesses reassurance that Georgia will remain a low-tax state. If the amendment is approved by a state referendum in November 2014, the legislature will not be able to raise the state income tax above 6 percent. Senate Resolution 415 sends a clear message to businesses looking to move from another state or expand within our borders that we take economic development and business growth seriously.
House Bill 990: Transitioning the Power to Expand Medicaid Eligibility to the Legislature
Because the legislature is the deliberative branch of our state government, we passed an important measure to ensure Georgians are heard loud and clear when major decisions, such as expanding Medicaid, are made. Since the initial roll-out of the Affordable Care Act, state officials have been faced with several tough economic decisions, including the expansion of Medicaid eligibility. Citing exorbitant costs and the lack of flexibility built into the program, Governor Deal took the path of fiscal responsibility and rejected Medicaid expansion in Georgia after realizing the cost was much more than we could afford.
With the passage of HB 990, the decision to expand Medicaid eligibility now rests in the hands of state legislators. The passage of this legislation will enable legislators to work together towards a more sustainable solution to Georgia’s Medicaid program and explore opportunities to save taxpayer money.
House Bill 658: The Elimination of the “Death Tax”
For many Georgians, the estate tax is like adding salt to an already deep wound. After the death of a loved one, families should be focused on healing rather than fulfilling a heavy tax obligation. This year, the Georgia General Assembly worked to ease this pain through the passage of HB 658, which will effectively eliminate this tax for good. As a result of this legislation, no estate taxes will be levied and no estate tax turns will be required after July 1, 2014.
House Bill 772: Drug Testing for Applicants and Recipients of Public Assistance
Entitlement programs incur a significant cost to the state each year. As it stands, these programs are currently riddled with fraudulent activity and funds are often misused at the public’s expense. Under this legislation, all electronic benefits transfer—or ebt—cards must contain a photo ID of the recipient. In addition, this bill will also prevent individuals from using public assistance to supplement personal drug habits. This legislation is a two-fold approach to increasing overall accountability by encouraging welfare recipients with drug problems to seek help and preventing the misuse of funds intended to help feed, clothe and shelter families who have fallen on hard times.
SR 736: Calls for Convention of States for a Balanced Budget
SR 736 calls for a convention of the states to propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution, specifically to impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and limit the terms of office for its officials and for members of Congress. For far too long, we’ve sat back and watched irresponsible spending at the hands of our federal government. I am proud my colleagues saw the potential of this resolution to secure our nation’s future economic prosperity and independence.
Senate Bill 98: Prohibits Taxpayer-funded Abortions
Under the ‘not-so-affordable’ care act, there are several situations where your tax dollars are potentially available to be used for abortion services. Thankfully, we passed senate bill 98. Senate Bill 98 is a measure prohibiting insurance plans offered in Georgia through the state or federal health care exchange from providing abortion coverage, except in the cases of dire medical emergencies where the life of the mother is at risk. This legislation also aligns Georgia with several neighboring states that have already passed legislation to ban the use of taxpayer funds for abortion coverage through the Affordable Care Act.
HB 697: Zell Miller Grant Scholars
The passage of HB 697 is great news for students pursuing technical careers. An educated work force is a major economic driver for our state. When Georgia created the HOPE scholarship and grant program 20 years ago, it was the first of its kind. Prior to HOPE, many of Georgia’s top students were leaving the state to pursue post-secondary education and careers elsewhere. However, a four-year liberal arts degree is not a practical option for everyone, and the passage of House Bill 697 makes a reasonably priced education a reality for students seeking degrees from an institution within the Technical College System of Georgia. The Zell Miller Grant Scholarship gives technical students a true alternative to the traditional four-year degree. By simply maintaining a cumulative 3.5 grade point average, technical students are eligible to receive full-tuition scholarship grants.
House Bill 60: Safe Carry Protection Act
During the final hours of session, the Georgia General Assembly adopted HB 60, a comprehensive weapons carry bill which expands where lawfully-abiding gun owners may carry a firearm. The bill allows places of worship to specifically opt-in or state that worshippers can carry in the sanctuary or on church grounds, grants immunity to licensed gun-owners who claim “Stand your Ground” in self-defense, protects individuals who transport locked firearms in private passenger motor vehicles and makes it unlawful to restrict possession of registered firearms in rental properties. The passage of this legislation will ensure the protection of Georgians’ second amendment rights for generations to come.
Even though the 2014 Legislative Session is now behind us, I am always happy to answer any of your questions or concerns. By law, the Governor has 40 consecutive days to either sign or veto legislation. If you are interested in learning more about a particular bill and whether it has been signed into law, please visit https://gov.georgia.gov/bills-signed/2014.
# # # # Sen. John Albers serves as Chairman of the State Institutions and Property Committee. He represents the 56th Senate District which includes portions of North Fulton and Cherokee counties. He may be reached at his office at 404.463.8055 or by email at email@example.com.