2015 Legislative Session Weekly Wrap-up: Week Twelve

Dale RutledgeWe completed our last day of session Thursday, April 2, also known as “Sine Die,” a Latin term meaning “without assigning a day for further meeting.” We worked late into the night to ensure the passage of important legislation related to transportation and education in our state. I would like to bring attention to a few key pieces of legislation that were passed to improve the quality of life for all Georgians.

House Bill 76
This bill establishes the state budget for Fiscal Year 2016. HB 76 was given final approval during the last week of session through a House and Senate conference committee. As the only piece of legislation that we are constitutionally required to pass, the Fiscal Year 2016 budget passed unanimously and will guide all state spending from July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2016. The majority of new funds will go to K-12 education, an investment in our children that accounts for 55 percent of the state budget. This will allocate more dollars to local school systems in hopes of eliminating furlough days and raising salaries for teachers. Additionally, the final version of the budget ensures that non-certificated school workers will continue to receive coverage under the State Health Benefit Plan.
The FY 2016 budget also prioritizes health and public safety. HB 76 funds new primary care residency slots and includes $3 million to improve the financial health of struggling and closing hospitals in rural Georgia. Public safety is also a key component to the FY 2016 budget, with $100 million dedicated to repairs for Georgia bridges.
House Bill 170
The Georgia General Assembly gave final passage to House Bill 170, or the Transportation Funding Act of 2015 this week, providing further funding for transportation infrastructures. This final version converts the state sales tax on motor fuels to an excise tax of 26 cents per gallon on gasoline and 29 cents per gallon on diesel fuel. The rate will be adjusted annually based on an aggregate of fuel efficiency standards (CAFÉ) and the Consumer Price Index begins on July 1, 2016. After July 1, 2018 the Consumer Price Index will no longer be used and the index will be based only on CAFÉ Standards. Not only will the new excise rate help raise the necessary funds for Georgia’s transportation infrastructure, but it will also help stabilize gas prices for Georgia’s consumers.
Under HB 170, local option sales taxes (LOST), homestead option sales taxes (HOST), municipal option sales taxes (MOST), special purpose local option sales taxes (SPLOST) and education special purpose local option sales taxes (ESPLOST) are left untouched. The local sales taxes will not be levied on any price per gallon above $3.00, and the legislation also authorizes counties to seek voter approval for transportation SPLOST of up to 1 percent. These measures ensure that local counties and city governments can continue to generate revenue to provide necessary services for their constituents.
HB 170 adds an annual fee for drivers of alternative fuel vehicles, who currently pay less for Georgia’s roads and bridges because they buy little to no gas for their vehicles. The fee totals $200 for non-commercial vehicles and $300 for commercial vehicles. The tax credit for low emission or zero emission vehicles is also eliminated, in recognition of the tax advantage that those drivers already receive from their limited need for gas. Another measure implemented by HB 170 is a fee for heavy vehicles, which cause more wear and tear on Georgia’s roads. Required upon registration, the heavy vehicle fee will be set at $50 for vehicles weighing between 15,500-26,000 pounds and $100 for vehicles 26,000 pounds +. HB 170 also eliminates a tax credit given to commercial airlines and institutes a $5 per night tax on hotel stays, with an exception for extended stay lodging.
HB 170 requires the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) to provide the Georgia General Assembly with a ten year strategic plan, outlining their use of resources for the upcoming years. The Georgia Transportation Infrastructure Bank must also meet a set of requirements to make every effort to balance any loans or other financial assistance equally among all regions of the state. The Georgia Transportation Infrastructure Bank may give preference to eligible projects in tier 1 and tier 2 counties. Additionally, Preference for grants and other financial assistance may be given to eligible projects which have local financial support. Overall, HB 170 ensures public safety on Georgia’s highways and bridges, while also making Georgia a more attractive place for businesses.
Senate Bill 76
One measure in SB 76 requires drivers to stop at crosswalks that have flashing beacons. Other provisions in SB 76 update our state laws for bicycles and motorcycles. One section of the bill will change the existing state law on handle bar height, while another section allows cyclists and bikers to proceed through a traffic light, in the event that the lightweight design of their bike has caused the traffic light to become inoperable. In these situations, the driver must follow all other traffic rules and must ensure that the intersection is clear of oncoming traffic.
Senate Bill 132
Senate Bill 132, also known as the “Move on When Ready Act,” which is a companion bill to Senate Bill 2 that was passed last week, would allow all high school students, whether in public or private school, to apply to a postsecondary school in order to take one class or more. If accepted, the student could then earn credit for the class at both the student’s high school and the postsecondary institution. This legislation allows students with unique career paths and interests to move at an accelerated pace.
Senate Bill 89
The “Digital Classroom Act,” SB 89, would allow local boards to use digital and electronic software instead of physical textbooks. The bill also encourages local boards to purchase all instructional materials in digital or electronic format and provide electronic devices for students starting in 3rd grade by July 1, 2020. SB 89 ensures Georgia’s children have access to the most cutting edge advancements in education.
Senate Resolution 7 / Senate Bill 8
Senate Resolution 7 and its companion legislation, Senate Bill 8, address the needs of these youth by establishing a Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Fund Commission and toughen the fines and penalties against sex traffickers. The Safe Harbor would provide a physical and emotional refuge for children to rebuild their lives after experiencing sexual exploitation. Additionally, human traffickers would be required to register as sex offenders, and pay into a new Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Fund to help victims with housing, healthcare and other services. Funding for the harbor will be derived from penalties and fees on strip clubs, an industry known to participate in human trafficking.
House Bill 429
HB 429, which was originally introduced as Senate Bill 1 and passed unanimously in the House, requires insurance companies to cover up to $35,000 for autism treatment for children 6 years of age or younger.
Governor Deal will now begin reviewing legislation that passed both chambers. If approved by him, these bills will become state law in the coming months. If you have any questions about these potential changes to state code or if you have any suggestions for future legislation, please reach out to me. You can contact me at my office at 678-438-7181 or by email at dale.rutledge.house.ga.gov. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.

2015 Legislative Session Weekly Wrap-up: Week Eleven

Dale Rutledge

Business at the Capitol resumed Monday, March 23, 2015. We met every day to continually review legislation, as well as continue voting on bills that have been passed through the committee process on the House floor

Senate Resolution 287

This would allow Georgians to vote on the creation of an “Opportunity School District” (OSD) in the state of Georgia.  This was originally proposed by Governor Nathan Deal as part of his plan to boost student achievement and create more educational opportunities for students.  In November 2016, Georgia voters will be able to vote on this measure. This would allow the state to step in and take control in chronically failing public schools. In November 2016 you will  have a chance to decide if the OSD model should be practiced here in Georgia.

Senate Bill 133

SB 133 is the enabling legislation that will establish the OSD upon approval of the constitutional amendment set forth by SR 287. The OSD will provide look over schools that are defined as persistently failing, or as scoring below 60 on the College and Career Performance Index (CCRPI), for three consecutive years. The jurisdiction of the school district would fall under the control of the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, and the OSD superintendent would be appointed by the Governor and subject to Senate confirmation. In order to ensure areas needing improvement are addressed appropriately, the OSD would only select 20 affiliated in any single academic year, and the total number of selected schools would not exceed a total of 100 schools at any given time. Schools would remain a part of the OSD for at least five years, but not more than 10 years. Finally, before a school’s oversight is transferred to the OSD, the superintendent must meet with the administration to discuss the school’s evaluation and options for improvement.

Senate Bill 2 

SB 2 passed unanimously and allows school boards to award high school diplomas to students who have completed 9th and 10th grade requirements, and are dually enrolled in qualified post secondary educational programs.  In order to receive a high school degree under SB 2, the student must have completed the following:

– 9th and 10th grade courses in the core subjects of English, math, science, and social studies, as well as one health and physical education class

– Test scores associated with the courses must meet the required scores by the postsecondary institution

– The student must have also completed either an associate degree program, a technical college diploma program, or at least two technical college certificates of credit programs in one specific career pathway

Senate Bill 72 

Senate Bill 72, also known as “Tanja’s Law,” revises the penalties for harming a law enforcement animal in the performance of its duties by creating tiers of offenses based on the offender’s actions. This bill makes the harming of a law enforcement animal a high and aggravated misdemeanor with fines ranging between $5,000 and $50,000 and prison terms ranging from 12 months to 5 years. The offender must also pay restitution to cover the  costs of veterinary treatment or the full cost of replacing the animal and its handlers. These animals often times put their own lives at risk for our officers, and SB 72 will allow justice to be served.

Senate Bill 134

SB 134 attempts to provide punishment for Georgia law enforcement by closing a loophole in Georgia’s anti speed trap law.  Under current law, drivers can fight tickets in speed traps if the law enforcement agency derives more than 40% of their budget from speeding fines; however, current law has an exception that does not count tickets for speeding more than 17 miles per hour above the limit SB 134 eliminates an exclusion of tickets written for speeds 20 mph over the limit so that citizens can challenge tickets from speed traps. While speeding is a dangerous offense, law enforcement agencies should not create speed traps to generate their revenue.

House Bill 1 

House Bill 1 was passed to decriminalize the use of medical cannabis oil in Georgia in an effort to improve the lives of hundreds of Georgians. Governor Deal issued an executive order instructing state agencies to prepare for the implementation of this legislation and stated that he would sign HB 1 into law soon. Qualifying conditions under HB 1 include cancer, multiple sclerosis, seizure disorders, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, mitochondrial disease, and sickle cell disease. Now that this legislation has been passed by both chambers, it will soon be signed into law by Governor Deal, and Georgia’s medical refugees can come back home to Georgia.

House Bill 429

A compromise on Senate Bill 1 was made to address the growing number of children with autism in Georgia. On Thursday, House Insurance Chairman Richard Smith (R-Columbus) and Senate Insurance and Labor Chairman Charlie Bethel (R-Dalton) revealed a two-pronged plan that will allow dozens of Georgia children to receive necessary treatment for autism.  First, the plan includes legislation that requires insurance companies to cover autism treatment for children 6 years of age or younger.  The second element to the House and Senate compromise is a new piece of legislation that will be considered during the 2016 legislative session.  This bill would create a November 2016 referendum, so that voters could decide on a fractional state sales tax that would fund autism treatment for all children under the age of 18.

House Resolutions 612, 743, and 744 establish House study committees to discuss fibroids education and awareness; annexation, deannexation, and incorporation; and the use of drones. These committees will meet the remainder of the year to prepare any necessary legislation for the 2016 legislative session.

We will begin the final week of the 2015 legislative session next week. On Thursday we will adjourn “Sine Die,” which is Latin for “without assigning a day for further meeting.” This last week is crucial, so I hope that you will reach out with any questions and concerns.  I always take your comments to help guide my decisions at the Georgia State Capitol. You can reach me at my office at 678-438-7181 or by email at Dale.Rutledge@house.ga.gov. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.

2015 Legislative Session Weekly Wrap-up: Week Ten

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush visits the GA House

Last Friday was the 30th legislative day for the 2015 Georgia General Assembly. Known as Crossover Day, this date was the final chance for bills to pass at least one of our two legislative chambers. We returned to Capitol Hill this week to focus on legislation that has already been passed by the Georgia Senate. We spent most of our time this week in committee meetings reviewing Senate legislation to ensure that every bill is fully vetted before its final passage.

The House Education Committee heard public testimony on a very important measure: the creation of “Opportunity School Districts” in the state of Georgia, or Senate Bill 133. SB 133 and its companion legislation, Senate Resolution 287, would create an “Opportunity School District” to allow the state to temporarily step in to assist chronically failing schools. Governor Nathan Deal strongly supports this piece of legislation. Opportunity School Districts have been implemented in other states across the nation, so we have the advantage of learning about the program from those who are administering such schools today.

A few pieces of legislation passed out of their respective committees and made it to the House floor for a vote.

•    Senate Bill 51 will help patients enjoy more convenience at Georgia pharmacies by allowing a pharmacist to give a patient a drug that is “interchangeable,’’ or “bio-similar,” with the patient’s currently prescribed biologic drug. More doctors are using complex drugs made from living organisms, called biologic medicines, to treat their patients with chronic diseases like arthritis and psoriasis. The cost of medication could potentially be reduced by up to 80% if physicians were able to prescribe and pharmacists to dispense bio-similars, similar to a generic version of biologics. With SB 51, the pharmacist must notify the prescriber of this substitution within 48 hours so the doctor is aware of the changes made to the patient’s treatment. SB 51 will improve efficiency in the delivery of Georgia’s healthcare by making it easier for patients to obtain their prescribed medications and offering potential cost-saving benefits.
•    There is a need for comprehensive civics education curriculum in Georgia’s schools to improve students’ civic knowledge and skills. House Resolution 303 urges the State Board of Education to develop and implement this. The curriculum should teach students about their legal rights, as well as their responsibilities as law abiding citizens. Classroom discussions on current events, community service opportunities, and extracurricular activities could all be used as means for delivering the important civics lessons.
•    House Resolution 302 strives to increase the number of doctors in Georgia through a plea to the United States Congress. Particularly in rural parts of the state, Georgia faces a shortage of doctors. Last year, Gov. Nathan Deal appointed a committee of legislators and health care advisers to study the problem, and the House Study Committee on Medical Education found that the shortage of doctors is primarily caused by a shortage of residency slots in our state. We still need more support from the federal government to help fund residency slots, even though the state has taken great steps to increase the number of medical students in Georgia. HR 302 urges Congress to enact reforms to the nation’s federally-financed graduate medical education programs, so that states like Georgia can receive the fair amount of support we need to meet the health workforce requirements of the future. Since doctors tend to reside where they do their residencies, it’s necessary that we offer more residency slots in rural areas to ultimately gain more doctors in Georgia.

Also this week, we also took some time to recognize some distinguished guests in the House chamber. We welcomed two distinguished gentlemen to the House on Thursday, March 18.

•    Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, who is a recording artist, actor, rapper, record label executive, entrepreneur, philanthropist, hip-hop culture icon, and resident of Georgia. He is also the founder of The Ludacris Foundation, which has donated over $1.5 million and 5,000 hours in hands-on service to youth organizations across the country. Ludacris was recognized for his accomplishments with House Resolution 643.
•    Former Governor Jeb Bush, who served as the 43rd governor of Florida, visited us in the House chamber this week. He reminded us that academic achievement should be our number one priority every year. He discussed that diligence in bettering our education system will help every child in Georgia gain the skills they need to obtain good jobs in adulthood. I could not agree more with Governor Bush on this matter.

I am also happy to announce that our colleagues in the Senate this week passed a measure that continues to put education as the top priority for state spending. The Senate passed House Bill 76, the 2016 Fiscal Year budget, on Friday; this legislation will guide state spending from July 1, 2015, through June 30, 2016. The $21.7 billion state budget plan designates a majority of state revenue to education, proving that Georgia’s children are once again our most important investment. Behind education, other priorities include health and human services and public safety initiatives. Now that the Senate has passed their version of the budget, members from both chambers will work together to resolve any discrepancies through a joint conference committee. We will vote on the final version of the budget in two weeks.

I hope that you will contact me to express your ideas and opinions during these last few weeks of session. Please reach out if you have any comments or questions concerning our great state. Your comments are always welcome and are important to me. You can reach me at my office at 678-438-7181 or by email at Dale.Rutledge@house.ga.gov. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.

 

2015 Legislative Session Weekly Wrap-up: Week Seven

Dale RutledgeWe have reached the half-way point of the 2015 legislative session, meaning there are only 20 days left to pass legislation this year. One of the most crucial pieces of legislation this session, the Fiscal Year 2016  budget, was passed this week.

Fiscal Year 2016 Budget/HB 76

According to the Georgia Constitution, the Fiscal Year 2016 budget is the only piece of legislation that the General Assembly is required to pass. This year’s budget was increased by 4.5 percent from 2015’s budget. This year’s revenue estimate is $21.7 billion. Thanks to this increase, a number of the House’s priorities are funded in the Fiscal Year 2016  including the following:

  • Enhanced funding for education
  • Transportation
  • Maintaining State Health Benefit Plan coverage for non-certificated school employees
  • Support for Georgia’s rural hospitals.

Education Funding

Sixty percent of the funds are budgeted for K-12 education expenses. These funds total $571.9 million and will help fully fund the following:

  • Enrollment growth
  • Additional training for teachers
  • Provide charter system grants and State Commission Charter School supplements
  • Increase opportunities for agricultural and career/technical education
  • Distribute more dollars to local school systems in hopes of eliminating furlough days and raising salaries for teachers

The House’s version of the budget also includes the State Health Benefit Plan coverage for non-certificated school workers and includes additional funds to continue coverage for these valuable school workers.

Transportation Funding

Funding for state transportation projects was also set as a top priority. HB 76 includes an infusion of $55 million in state dollars and $210 million in bonds to improve roads, rail, airports, bridges and cargo. This funding 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, $7.6 million of that specifically dedicated to funding projects through the Georgia Transportation Infrastructure Bank
  • $17.1 million in debt service for $200 million in bonds for bridge repair and rehabilitation and transit projects statewide

It’s very important we maintain and repair our roads and bridges; it is our responsibility to ensure roads are safe for Georgia Drivers.

Healthcare Funding

$3 million of funding will be to help, financially, struggling and closing hospitals in rural Georgia improve technology to better patient outcomes. HB 76 also includes 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. Investing in our future doctors is very important, which is why an increase in funds was made 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 renew a rural dentistry program that offers debt relief with a service commitment to practice in underserved areas.

The Senate will now carefully review the Fiscal Year 2016  budget.

HB 1

In addition to passing the Fiscal Year 2016  budget, HB 1 was passed  in the House and made it legal for  individuals with certain medical conditions to possess medical cannabis oil in Georgia if they’ve obtained cannabis oil legally in another state. Qualifying medical  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
  • Fibromyalgia

Cannabis oil could only contain a maximum of 5 percent THC and individuals could only have a maximum of 20 ounces. Potential patients would also be required to register with the Georgia Department of Public Health and be placed on the “Low-THC Oil Patient Registry.” They would then receive a registration card to show they are legally in possession of the oil, this would exempt them from prosecution in Georgia as long as the oil has been legally obtained in another state and meets the previously mentioned requirements.

Georgia Commission on Medical Cannabis

Since this legislation is merely a starting point, the bill also creates this commission to consider the possibility of future policies related to medical cannabis oil in Georgia. This commission would be responsible for recommending a potential model to supervise the formation of anin-stategrowth/distribution model of medical cannabis, and must make its recommendations to Governor Deal by December 2015.

HR 304

This legislation encourages Georgia’s technical schools, colleges, and universitiesto includegerontology and dementia in their academic curriculum. Georgia’s elderly population continues to rise, making the for this legislation necessary. Due to this rise, healthcare professionals will begin to see an increase in patients with dementia and other age-related health issues, and they must be prepared to handle these cases.

HB 70

On a lighter note, we passed House Bill 70 to recognize the whitetail deer as Georgia’s official state mammal. The idea came from first-graders at Reese Road Leadership Academy in Columbus, Georgia. Georgia is one of only three states that does not have an official state mammal and the children brought this to attention. The white tail deer bring in over $800 million per year in hunting license fees, sporting equipment sales, food, and land leases, making a significant economic impact on Georgia.

Soon we will begin to work even longer hours and vote onmore legislationduring the next half of the legislative session. 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. The number is 678-438-7181. I look forward to hearing from you.

2015 Legislative Session Weekly Wrap-up: Week Six

Dale RutledgeThe sixth week of the 2015 legislative session began on Tuesday, February 17. We are just about halfway finished with the session. With the 2015 legislative session heating up, an increasing number of bills were passed out of committees and voted upon by the House this week.

Senate Bill 5
This bill is the first bill to make its way through the General Assembly. This bill passed in both the House and Senate by unanimous vote. Senate Bill 5 allows the Georgia Ports Authority to accept federal dollars for the Savannah Harbor deepening project. Beginning last month, the project will make the depth of the Savannah River 47 feet; the current depth is 42 feet. When this change is made, the port can then accommodate larger container ships. $266 million has been designated to the project by the state of Georgia, and President Obama requested the appropriation of $42 million in federal funds from Congress. The project is currently scheduled to be finished by 2020, thanks to the combination of state and federal funding. The Savannah Harbor could become one of the busiest ports in the world when the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project is complete; this will also be a key economic driver in this state. I am positive that this project will bring hundreds of jobs to our great state and have an extreme impact on everycounty across Georgia.

House Bill 100
House Bill 100 was passed to better ensure that children are developmentally prepared to begin school. A child must be 5 years old by August 1 in order to be eligible to enroll in kindergarten, according to this statute. The current cutoff date is September 1st, and this change will take effect for the 2017-2018 school year; July 1st will be the cutoff date for the 2018-2019 school year and all years thereafter. The school year for many schools in Georgia begins the first week in August, which, under current law, means that children who are 4 years old can enroll and begin kindergarten. Concern has been expressed by some educators that younger students are sometimes not mature enough to begin kindergarten and can slow progress of other students if they have never been in a classroom environment. HB 100 simply aligns the age requirement date with the start date of the new school year. By ensuring that children are well prepared and mature enough to begin their educational careers, they will then be provided a better journey to success.

Dale Rutledge pictured withlocal student, Corinne Hanson, and Speaker of the House, David Ralston.

House Bill 198
This bill increases suicide awareness and prevention in Georgia schools to protect young people. HB 198 plans to require annual suicide prevention training for certified public school system employees in order for them to better identify symptoms of suicide. The implementation of this program would be free for school systems, and the training would teach staff when to refer students to mental health services and how to identify those resources within their schools and communities. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the third leading cause of death for youth ages 10 to 24. This bill addresses a very severe issue that affects a growing number of teens and young adults, and that is why it was unanimously passed in the House.

House Bill 119
House Bill 119 authorizes probate judges to tell peace officers if a patient who is being held in their custody and is legally determined to be mentally ill has AIDS. This bill allows our law enforcement officers to take appropriate health safety precautions when faced with these scenarios. The men and women in uniform already make so many brave sacrifices, and I believe it is important that we arm them with the necessary information to protect their wellbeing while on the job.

I am your state representative, and my job is to represent your thoughts and opinions in Atlanta. If you have questions or concerns about these bills or any other pieces of legislation, I hope that you will contact me. Please stop by and visit if you are in Atlanta during the legislative session, or call my office and let me know what I can do for you and your family. The phone number is 678-438-7181.

2015 Legislative Session Weekly Wrap-up: Week Five

Dale RutledgeMonday, February 9 marks the fifth week of the 2015 legislative session.Bills are starting to leave committee to receive a vote from the House of Representatives. We began voting on several pieces of legislation to help Georgia citizens. We passed the following bills this week:

HB 57: Solar Power Free Market Financing Act:

This legislation 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, allowing them to pay overtime. This measure will provide more energy options and the opportunity to take advantage of this innovative technology, while ultimately lowering power bills. This legislation was passed unanimously by our body.

HB 86 Georgia Adult and Aging Services Agency:

This bill creates the Georgia Adult and Aging Services Agency, which would move the current Division of Aging Services out of the Department of Human Services. The Georgia Adult and Aging Services Agency would be responsible for improving services and ensuring that services are properly and effectively administered to meet the needs of older adults and people with disabilities. This new agency would allow the state to better focus on its services for those individuals dealing with Alzheimer’s and dementia. This important bill ensures that our seniors receive the full care and attention that they deserve.

HB 91 High School Graduation Test:

This legislation would make it easier for students to obtain high school diplomas.This bill 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. HB 91 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. This bill tremendously benefits these individuals by giving them a second chance to pursue postsecondary education. As I have stated over the past few weeks education is a top priority in the General Assembly, and the unanimous passage of HB 91 in the House this week further speaks to that point.

Dale enjoyed seeing the artwork of local students who had their work displayed at the Capitol this past week.

This week, Governor Deal, along with Senator Butch Miller, introduced a Senate resolution to create “Opportunity School Districts.” This model of education allows the state to temporarily step in to assist chronically failing schools. A school is considered to be chronically failing if it scored below 60 on the College and Career Performance Index, the Georgia Department of Education’s accountability measure, for three consecutive years.  If considered 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 education they deserve.

We also passed an adjournment calendar that sets the legislative schedule through the remainder of the 2015 legislative session. Based on this adjournment resolution, April 2 will be the 40th legislative day, marking the conclusion of session.  I hope that you will contact me before then to provide feedback on how I can better serve you and your family.  Please stop by and visit if you are in the area or call my office. The phone number is 678-438-7181.

2015 Legislative Session Weekly Wrap-up: Week Four

Dale RutledgeOn February 2, 2015, we returned to the Capitol for another busy week.  The majority of our time this week was spent in committee and subcommittee meetings to review pieces of legislation that have been introduced in the House. The annual State of the Judiciary Address was delivered this week to both the House and the Senate by Chief Justice Hugh Thompson. We welcomed Chief Justice Hugh Thompson and the Georgia Supreme Court, the Georgia Court of Appeals and other guests to the chamber. Chief Justice Thompson was appointed to the Supreme Court of Georgia in 1994 and was elected by his peers to a four-year term in 2013.  Speaker Ralston welcomed the Chief Justice to the rostrum as he went on to update us on the current state of Georgia’s judicial system.

In his address, Chief Justice Thompson applauded the successful expansion of specialty courts in Georgia.  A specialty court, also known as an accountability courtorproblemsolvingcourt, 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. He  shared success stories from some specialty courts in our state. Superior Court Judge Reuben Green was recognized for overseeing a veteran’s court in Cobb County that matches participants with volunteers who are dedicated to mentoring veterans through the program and keeping them out of jail.  I was happy to hear that Georgia’s 116 specialty courts have helped guide more than 5,000 Georgians towards the right path by avoiding incarceration. I look forward to hearing more success stories out of our specialty courts in the future.

Chief Justice Thompson also spoke of the challenges that lie ahead.  One challenge for Georgia’s judicial system  is access to justice. Six counties in Georgia are without a single lawyer and 20 counties have fewer than five lawyers.  As a result, judges are seeing more people coming to court and representing themselves. He explained that when people are unrepresented, their interests are not defended because judges do not have the information they need to make just decisions.  All Georgians deserve to have access to justice, regardless of where they live, or socioeconomic status.

Chief Justice Thompson asked for support of newly introduced legislation to motivate attorneys to work in rural areas of Georgia.  This legislation, HB 236, would create a pilot program where a small number of law school graduates would receive college loan payment assistance for working inanunderserved county for at least five years.

We also saw several bills pass out of their respective committees this week.

HB62

The House Education Committee voted ‘do pass’ on an important measure in House Bill 62.  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 and allows them to receive special needs scholarships. Military families are often required to relocate across the country, and these children should not be denied educational opportunities as a result.

HB65

This legislation requires school boards to hold at least two public meetings before adopting any budget, giving parents and taxpayers the opportunity to see how their education dollars are being put to work and to provide input.

SB2

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 and earn both their high school and post secondary diplomas simultaneously.

We received some exciting news out of Washington, D.C.aboutthefuture of The Savannah Harbor Expansion Project. President Obama requested that Congress designate $42 million for dredging the river channel that cargo ships use to reach the Port of Savannah in his 2016 budget proposal. 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.

As always, 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 be aware of what issues are most important to you and your family. Please stop by and visit me if you are in the area during the legislative session, or call my office and let me know what I can do for you. The phone number is 678-438-7181.

2015 Legislative Session Weekly Wrap-up: Week Three

Dale Rutledge

In our third week of the 2015 legislative session, we passed one of the most important pieces of legislation of the year: the 2015 amended fiscal year budget. This budget is a mid-year adjustment of state spending through June 30, 2015. The AFY 2015 budget has been carefully reviewed and edited through a series of Appropriations Committee meetings. Thanks to the committee’s diligent work, the House version of the AFY 2015 budget was packaged into House Bill 75 and was voted on and passed unanimously by the House on Thursday, January 29.

AFY 2015 Budget:

The House version of the AFY 2015 budget is very similar to Gov. Deal’s initial budget. The amended budget includes an addition of $276 million in “new” funds, with 70 percent going towards education. $128.5 million will go towardsK-12 enrollment growthand $35 million will be addedforlocal school systems to expand wireless broadband internet connectivity. The House version of the budget also designates $7.4 million for equalization funding grants that will provide additional funds to K-12 systems that qualify based on per student wealth rankings. Higher education was also set as a budget priority, with funds designated for new engineering and military scholarships and the creation of the Georgia Film Academy. Lastly, the amended budget also includes $750,000 to support Gov. Deal’s newly created Education Reform Commission.

The House version of the AFY 2015 budget appropriates $20 million in grants towards job-creating economic development projects through the OneGeorgia Authority, as well as $20 million for Regional Economic Business Assistance grants. OneGeorgia and Regional Economic Business Assistance are two of our state’s most effective economic development tools for attracting new jobs to Georgia. In addition, $1.5 million is set aside to keep Xpress buses running in 13 metro counties, and $4.5 million will go to support routine maintenance in the Department of Transportation. By financing transportation and economic development projects such as these, we can make Georgia an even better place for business for years to come.

More than $5 million in the AFY 2015 budget is allocated for driver education programs to improve safety on Georgia’s roads. Funds are also set aside to expand the length of the Department of Corrections’ Residential Substance Abuse Treatment program from six to nine months, and the Board of Regentsis issued$4.8 million to provide clinical trials oncannabis oilforchildren with medication resistant epilepsy.

Other News: 

The House celebrated Georgia National Guard Day,  Monday, January 26,  in honor of the many Georgians who make such tremendous sacrifices for our freedom and safety. Dozens of airmen and soldiers visited the State Capitol and were recognized for their accomplishments on the House floor with House Resolution 27. We also had the honor of witnessing a new member of the Georgia National Guard be sworn into the Army National Guard by our colleague and veteran, Representative John Yates.

Tuesday, January 27 was National Holocaust Remembrance Day where we had the privilege of meeting another group of courageous Georgians. On this day, we paid special tribute to the Holocaust witnesses of liberation. These heroic Americans served in the U.S.militaryduring World War II. They were each recognized in the House Chamber for their contribution to history preservation and the role that they played in the liberation of the Holocaust. Our colleague, Representative John Yates was among the six honorees that were recognized before the House.

Hall-of-Famer Dominique Wilkins, CEO Steve Koonin, coach Mike Budenholzer, shooting guard Kyle Korver, and forward Elton Brand all represented the Atlanta Hawks at the Capitol on Tuesday, January 27. After a recent 16 game winning streak, the Hawks were recognized before the House for their sportsmanship, citizenship, and positive economic impact on Atlanta.

As we move into the fourth week of the 2015 legislative session, committees will be meeting more frequently to discuss pieces of legislation. I would love to hear your input on any bills that come before the House because youropinions helpguide my decisions on Capitol Hill. I encourage you to call my office at  678-438-7181. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to serve as your state representative.

2015 Legislative Session Weekly Wrap-up: Week Two

Dale Rutledge

The House and Senate appropriations committees held a series of joint budget hearings during the second week of Georgia General Assembly’s 2015 legislative sessions. This week, we began reviewing the Governor’s budget recommendations and creating laws that will control the state’s spending. Through this process, we must outline two balanced state budgets: an amended budget for the current fiscal year (AFY 2015) and a full budget for the following fiscal year (FY 2016).  The full fiscal year budget uses a projected state revenue estimate to guide state spending from July 1 to June 30. The amended budget uses a more accurate estimate of state revenue and accounts for any differences between the projected estimate and actual revenue gained. During this time, we had the opportunity to examine recommendations and hear testimonies from various state agencies, explaining their budgetary needs and answering questions from House and Senate members.

We have seen sustained growth in the state’s revenue, allowing for an addition of“new” funds in the budget. Gov. Deal’s AFY 2015 budget includes an addition of $276 million in “new” funds, and the FY 2016 budget projects an additional $670 million increase.

Key notes from our joint budget hearings included the following topics:

Education

– For FY 2015, the governor designated $15 million for local governments through the Forestland Protection Grant, including $8.3 million that will go directly to local school systems.

– The AFY 2015 budget also includes an additional $35 million in grants to increase broadband internet access in Georgia classrooms.

– The Governor’s budget for FY 2016 will include $239 million for enrollment growth.

– $280 million for local school systems to increase instructional days, eliminate furlough days and enhance teachers’ salaries.

– Funds to restore two planning days for pre-K teachers.

– Increase in awards for HOPE scholarships and grants.

– An additional $6 million in low-interest loans for higher education.

Children

– Gov. Deal allotted nearly $4.9 million for clinical trials through Georgia Regents University. These trials will study the success and safety of cannabis oil in children with certain types of seizure disorders.

Other Initiatives

– Funds for an additional 175 case workers to manage child abuse and neglect cases.

– 11 new adult protective service caseworkers to manage reports of elder abuse.

– The replacement of 187 state patrol vehicles.

– An expansion of accountability courts (cost effective justice alternative to prison for non-violent, first time offenders).

How the budget becomes law:

1. The House Appropriations subcommittees will eventually pass portions of the budget in their respective subcommittees.

2. Those portions of the budget will then go before the full House Appropriations Committee, which will review and pass balanced budgets.

3. The budget then goes to the Rules Committee to be placed on the House calendar.

4. Next it goes to the House floor, where every member of the House will have the opportunity to voice opinions before voting upon the budget.

5. Once the budget passes the House, it will go to the State Senate and repeat this same committee process.

6. The budget then makes its way through the Senate Appropriations subcommittees, the Senate Appropriations Committee, and the Senate floor vote (the budget might be a bit different from its original version as passed by the House).

7. The Speaker of the House and the Lieutenant Governor will both appoint a conference committee to work out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the  budget.

8. Once the conference committee reaches an agreement, their version of the budget then goes back to the House and Senate for a final floor vote. Both chambers must vote on the conference committee’s version of the budget to ensure that all contents are completely agreed upon by both chambers.

9. Finally, if approved by both House and Senate, the legislations are sent to the governor’s desk for consideration. Once signed by Governor Deal, the budget becomes law.

As laws make their way through the legislative system, I welcome you to reach out to me with questions and concerns. You are always welcome to visit me at my office, which is located at 1320 Lakehaven Pkwy McDonough, GA. 30253. You may also call my office at  678-438-7181, or reach me via email me at dale.rutledge@house.ga.gov. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.

2015 Legislative Session Weekly Wrap-up: Week One

Dale RutledgeMonday, January 12, 2015, was the start of the 153rd Legislative Session of the Georgia General Assembly, marking the first day of the 2015-2016 term. All 180 members of the Georgia House of Representatives were sworn into office and speaker David Ralson (R-Blue Ridge) and Speaker Pro-Tempore Jan Jones (R-Milton) were both reelected to their respective positions.

Governor Nathan Deal held his inauguration and also delivered his annual State of the State address, where he conveyed his assessment of the current condition of our state government and goals for continued success in the new year.

In his address, Gov. Deal addressed the following key points:

– Georgia’s notable progress through the creation of 319,000 jobs and a 643 percent increase in the state’s rainy day fund and the future growth for the upcoming years, as companies like Mercedes-Benz USA and Porsche North America relocate their headquarters to Georgia.

– Existing needs to be addressed in the coming months by the General Assembly.  He called for the establishment of an Education Reform Commission to continue to improve our education system. This commission will be studying the following topics regarding our education system: increasing access to Georgia’s early learning programs, recruiting and retaining high quality teachers, expanding school options for Georgia’s families, examine the most appropriate ways to modernize our Quality Basic Education (QBE) funding formula, which was created in the 1980s.

– He also suggested a constitutional amendment to create Opportunity School Districts, meaning the state would help to rejuvenate failing public schools. The General Assembly will continue to invest in education, with  this year’s budget, along with his proposal for next year’s budget, brings in over one billion additional dollars for K-12 education.

– He continues to look at improving the quality of life for Georgia’s children by recommending additional funds for the Department of Family and Children Services. He also expressed support for the decriminalization of medical cannabis oil in Georgia for those that have obtained it legally in another state, meaning those who purchase the medical oil in another state could legally come back to Georgia.

– His last topic was on Georgia’s increasing transportation needs. Georgia is now the 8th most populated state. A cut to the state’s revenue from the excise tax has caused a rise in fuel efficient vehicles, so we will be working together with Governor Deal to fill in those budgetary gaps.

After Gov. Deal announced his goals, he then released his budget proposals on January 16. Just as in his State of the State address, he also made education a top priority in the state’s budget.For the Amended Fiscal Year 2015 budget for the current fiscal year, he designated $8.3 million directly to local school systems and an additional $35 million in grants to help classrooms across the state gain greater access to broadband internet. In his Fiscal Year 2016 budget, he set aside more than a half a billion dollars in new funding for Georgia’s education system, including $280 million that will help local school systems increase instructional days, eliminate furlough days, and enhance teachers’ salaries.

I wanted to share a few highlights from his budget proposals. My hope is to provide you with more information next week, once my colleagues and I carefully review the recommendations in our Joint Budget Hearings with the Senate. Head over to our website www.house.ga.gov to watch our hearings online, watch the House in action, view live and archived committee meetings, and review legislation that we are considering.

We also received our committee assignments for the 2015-2016 legislative term, this week. I am proud to announce that Speaker Ralston and the Committee on Assignments appointed me to serve on the following House committees: Ways and Means and Transportation committees.

Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me and share your thoughts and opinions as we move throughout the legislative session this year. You are always welcome to visit me at my office, which is located at 1320 Lakehaven Pkwy McDonough, GA. 30253. You may also call my office at 678-438-7181, or reach me via email me at dale.rutledge@house.ga.gov. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.