Rep. Taylor updates on fourth week of Georgia General Assembly

Published 3:12 pm Friday, February 15, 2019

We began the fourth week of the 2019 legislative session on Tuesday, February 4.  It began the start of a very busy week.   This week we made great progress in the House as we voted on the first bills and resolutions of the session.  Included in the bills we passed were several pieces of legislation of importance; the Amended Fiscal Year 2019 budget and an adjournment resolution that sets the legislative calendar for the remainder of the session.

My colleagues and I cast our first vote of this legislative session for House Resolution 1 on Wednesday, February 6 in the House chamber. This bipartisan legislation passed overwhelmingly and honors former Governor Nathan Deal and his legacy by naming the new state appellate judicial complex, which will house our Georgia Supreme Court and Georgia Court of Appeals, the “Nathan Deal Judicial Center.” Arguably, one of Gov. Deal’s greatest accomplishments during his time in office was his robust criminal justice reform initiatives, which now serve as a model for other states. As our Governor, Deal did many great things including guiding our state through difficult financial times, growing local small businesses, attracted top corporations from around the globe, maintained Georgia’s AAA bond rating, increased the state’s “rainy day” reserve fund and implemented investment in the state’s transportation system. Because of Gov. Deal’s lifetime of public service and dedication to the State of Georgia, it seems only fitting that this building bear his name. 

On Friday, House Appropriations Chairman Terry England presented House Bill 30, the Amended Fiscal Year 2019 budget (AFY 2019), on the House floor, where it passed by a vote of 166- 8. The FY 2019 budget, approved during the 2018 special session, set state spending at $26.4 billion for the current year. The state has collected $435.7 million in new revenue since we passed the full budget, which is a 1.6 % increase over the current budget and brings the total appropriation for AFY 2019 to $26.9 billion. After meticulously crafting a budget that is conscientious of tax payer dollars, the House version of the AFY 2019 budget prioritizes areas like our children’s safety and well-being through new school security grants, improving mental health services for high school students and supporting our growing foster program, which accounts for $87.7 million, or 20 % of the total new revenue. The House’s amended budget also includes important funding for our K-12 education needs, health and human services and additional funding to support Georgia farmers impacted by Hurricane Michael.

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A critical item in the House AFY 2019 budget and one vitally important to our region is an additional $10 million for emergency disaster relief to aid our farmers in southwest Georgia who were devastated by Hurricane Michael last October. Our House Appropriations subcommittees came together to include this funding in the AFY 2019 budget to bolster loans for our farmers. This additional funding builds upon the $55 million that was appropriated to the Georgia Development Authority (GDA) during the 2018 special session in November. Since then, the GDA has received 412 loan applications, totaling more than $100 million in assistance requests. Of those 412 applications, 124 have already been approved, and nearly all of the $55 million has been used to secure loans. Southwest Georgia landowners lost $1.6 billion in agriculture commodities, $763 million in forest products and $63 million in agricultural related equipment, and this additional funding will continue to bring much needed relief to hard-working farmers in southwest Georgia. I commend the GDA and the Department of Agriculture for their quick response and helping to secure these loans in less than eight weeks to help all of us in southwest Georgia neighbors.

Another key budgetary item, and a top priority for the governor and the House, is education funding to benefit Georgia’s most precious assets. After considering K-12 educational needs throughout the state, the AFY 2019 budget allocates 55%, or $238.6 million, of the total new funds to be dispersed throughout different agencies to accommodate our state’s educational needs. Specifically, the House version of the AFY 2019 budget prioritizes the safety and well-being of children at school and state facilities in Georgia by appropriating $69.4 million to provide school security grants of $30,000 for each of the 2,314 school facilities. These school security grants will establish new safety measures for all Georgia schools. The House also included more than $38,000 in this year’s amended budget to provide security to the state’s FFA-FCCLA centers when students are present and $1 million to the Georgia School for the Blind and Georgia School for the Deaf to purchase new generators for residential students during severe weather. Lastly and most importantly, I am proud to report that HB 30 will continue to fully fund Quality Basic Education (QBE).

In his budget recommendations, Gov. Kemp also encouraged the General Assembly to tackle the growing threat of violence in Georgia schools. In an effort to prevent school violence and promote healthy behaviors for our students, Gov. Kemp and the House agreed to include $8.4 million for the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities to address mental health issues in Georgia high schools. This appropriation will help expand the Georgia APEX Program, which has piloted successful mental health services for high schools across the state by providing support counselors that engage with students to prevent dangerous behaviors. With this additional funding, the APEX program will continue to serve more than 17,000 students in 418 Georgia schools.

To ensure that all Georgia citizens have access to quality healthcare, the House version of the AFY 2019 budget provides $1 million in state funds, which matches $1 million in federal funds, for experts to explore, analyze and recommend new Medicaid waver options to Gov. Kemp. HB 30 also increases Medicaid funding by $35.2 million to provide coverage for enrollment growth, gene therapy drug coverage, Medicare Part B premiums and Part D Clawback payments and the addition of long-term acute care hospitals and intermediate rehabilitation facilities.

Other highlights of the House AFY 2019 budget include $3.5 million for the Georgia Student Finance Commission to assist students in the Duel Enrollment Program, nearly $26,000 for the Engineer Scholarship Program and $2.9 million from new lottery funds to meet the projected needs of the HOPE Scholarship program. HB 30 also supports the more than 15,000 children that are currently in Georgia’s foster care system by appropriating $9.8 million in additional funds to address the 7.1 % increase in utilizing the Out-of-Home Care program. Further, the House included more than $790,000 for the Substance Abuse Prevention program to fight the growing opioid epidemic. We also celebrated receiving Forestland Protection Act grant reimbursements, making up a total of 11% of new revenue from the last fiscal year. These reimbursements will fund the AFY 2019 adjustments for the majority of the general government agencies in our local counties. And, lastly, the AFY 2019 budget includes more than $490,000 in one-time funding to kick-off the first full year of the new Atlanta-region Transit Link (ATL) Authority, which coordinates transit planning and funding and oversees all Metro Atlanta transit activity. 

This week, the House and Senate also adopted a second adjournment resolution that sets our legislative schedule for the remainder of the 2019 legislative session. Legislative Day 40, or Sine Die, is the final day of the 2019 legislative session and occur on Tuesday, April 2. Until then, we have an aggressive schedule to tackle as we work to ensure that we pass sound public policies for the betterment of our state and its citizens.

Please contact me anytime.

Representative Darlene Taylor

House District 173 District Phone: 225-9943 Ext 215, Serving Grady, Decatur, & Thomas Counties