Monday, March 9, we returned to the Capitol for week nine of the legislative session. Last week also brought the Crossover Day Deadline, which we completed Thursday, March 12. It was a busy week as Cross Over Day is the last day a piece of legislation can pass out of its original chamber and remain eligible for consideration by the opposite legislative chamber. We worked late into the night, passing several House bills, now under consideration by the Senate.
The single most important issue taken up by the House last week was that of the full 2021 Fiscal Year Budget, also known as House Bill 793. The FY 2021 budget, set for approximately $28 Billion, reflects our ongoing support of access to quality health care; a fully-functioning criminal justice system; increased pay for teachers as well as a merit increase for state employees. Here is quick look at budget highlights below:
Criminal Justice and Public Safety:
• Targeted pay raises for the highest turnover positions in criminal justice.
• 4% pay increase to Juvenile Correctional Officers
• 2% pay raise to Correctional Officers
• $340,000 to the Department of Agriculture for food safety inspectors and animal industry inspectors to keep up with the growing number of grocery and retail stores, as well as gas stations with food services
• Georgia’s K-12 education is fully funded for the third year in a row.
• $144 million to fund a $1,000 pay raise for Georgia’s educators, which along with the $3,000 pay raise from FY 2020, creates an 11.7% increase to the FY 2019 base teacher salary.
• $6.2 million for a 5% pay raise to bus drivers and lunchroom workers and a 2% pay raise for school nurses
• $4 million total for charter school facilities grants to prioritize school safety and security
• $19.7 million to provide six months of postpartum Medicaid coverage to mothers beginning July 1, 2020 in an effort to lessen maternal fatality rates.
• $5.4 million for public health grants to Georgia counties so they may continue to provide immunizations, disease prevention services, testing and treatments, and other critical services.
• $44 million for Georgia’s colleges, universities, and technical schools based on enrollment growth and increased square footage.
• $10.8 million for crisis beds and behavioral health services to ensure that Georgia maintains its current serving capacity of 5,000 individuals across the state.
• $5.6 million for 100 additional slots for the New Options Waiver (NOW) and Comprehensive Supports Waive Program (COMP) for the intellectually and developmentally disabled.
This budget now heads to the Senate for further review. Once agreed upon by the two chambers, we will send our final budget proposal to Governor Kemp for his signature. Our priority is to ensure Georgians remain healthy, educated, and secure.
Speaking of keeping Georgians safe, healthy and secure-An important announcement came last week as our State leadership announced the suspension of the 2020 legislative session until further notice due to the growing threat of COVID-19 (coronavirus) across the state and country. The suspension is a precautionary measure in the interest of health and safety of my colleagues in the General Assembly, our staff and the public. We suspended the legislative session indefinitely after we adjourned for Legislative Day 29 on Friday, March 13.
Following adjournment, Saturday, March 14 brought about an unprecedented action as Governor Kemp declared a public health emergency for the State of Georgia. This declaration will greatly assist health and emergency management officials across Georgia by deploying all available resources for the mitigation and treatment of COVID-19. Unlike other states of emergency, this declaration allows the following:
• Allows Department of Public Health to direct specific healthcare action in extraordinary circumstances.
• Suspends restrictions on hours of commercial vehicle operation and vehicle height, weight, and length thresholds to assist in preparation and response efforts.
• Authorizes the Georgia Composite Medical Board and Georgia Board of Nursing to grant temporary licenses to applicants who are in good standing in other states to assist in addressing healthcare needs.
Further, Governor Kemp is working with our Georgia General Assembly to appropriate 100 million dollars in emergency funding to address the spread of coronavirus in Georgia. Governor Kemp’s declaration of a public health state of emergency will be finalized through a joint session, Monday, March 16 as required by our Georgia constitution. The funding will be used in part to set up testing stations in various regions of the state.
Prior to adjournment last Friday, we did manage to pass several measures for the benefit of our Georgia citizens. Please be on the lookout as I will update you on in the coming days on measures which are now under review in the Senate. For now, we are focused on assisting Governor Kemp and our Georgia health agencies to ensure you are well informed of all COVID-19 happenings. For now, we ask that you pray for the safety of our country, state and her citizens, as we work diligently to curtail the spread of COVID-19. As always, if you need anything at all, please reach out to me anytime. May God bless each of you and may he continue to bless the great state of Georgia.