In week 4 of the 2019 legislative session, the House passed the Amended Fiscal Year 2019 Budget. Passing a balanced Amended Fiscal Year budget has been one of the top priorities for the General Assembly as it guides our state’s spending for the remainder of 2019. A big focus for this amended budget is student well-being with funds allocated for school security grants and mental health services. Below are just a few highlights from the budget.
House Bill 30: Passing the AFY Budget – Highlights
-$8.4 million in additional funding is allocated for the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities to expand the Georgia Apex Program. This program provides support counselors for high school students struggling with mental health issues.
-$10 million is allocated for emergency disaster relief assistance to Georgia farmers who were affected by Hurricane Michael in October. This is in addition to the $55 million appropriated to the Georgia Development Authority to assist farmers as decided during the 2018 special session.
-$1 million is allocated for the Department of Community Health to craft state flexibility options for our state’s Medicaid Program under the federal waiver program.
-$69.4 million is allocated towards providing school security grants of $30,000 each for 2,314 schools including charter schools, college and career academies, GNETS facilities, and the three state schools.
House Resolution 1: Honoring Former Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal
House Resolution 1, carried by Speaker David Ralston and Majority Leader Jon Burns, names the forthcoming new state appellate judicial complex the “Nathan Deal Judicial Center.” Considering Gov. Deal’s accomplishments in reforming Georgia’s criminal justice law, it makes perfect sense that the center would bear his name. Deal has saved Georgia taxpayers millions in additional prison spending, reduced the minority prison population, and has created solutions to treat nonviolent offenders who suffer from substance abuse or mental illness.
Under his leadership, Georgia has consecutively earned the title of “No. 1 State in which to do business.” During his time as Governor, Georgia has seen significant improvements in transportation, education, and success for small business owners. I believe he has set a precedent that our state will frequently refer to, and I look forward to seeing how much more Georgia will grow as a result of his service the betterment of our state.
The 5th week of session is underway. As the General Assembly works to pass more legislation, don’t hesitate to reach out to me with questions and concerns. Thank you for reading and please return to my blog next week for more updates on this year’s session.
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On Thursday, March 30, the House and Senate completed legislative day 40, the final day of the 2017 legislative session, also known as “sine die.” Sine die is a Latin term meaning “without assigning a day for further meeting.” As we convened this week for the final two days of the legislative session, we worked late into the night both days to ensure that important legislation for our state had every opportunity to be considered this year, and we passed many quality pieces of legislation that will now go to Governor Deal’s desk for consideration.
The House passed Senate Bill 88 this week in an effort to combat our state’s devastating opioid epidemic. SB 88, the Narcotic Treatment Programs Enforcement Act, would update the application process and licensing requirements for Georgia’s drug abuse treatment and education programs and narcotic treatment facilitiesthat treat individuals who are dependent on heroin and opiate-like drugs. This act would apply to any system of treatment that administers narcotic drugs under physicians’ orders either for detoxification purposes or maintenance treatment of an individual who is drug-dependent.
SB 88 would establish minimum quality standards, regulation and oversight for narcotic treatment programs in Georgia under the Department of Community Health (DCH). DCH would enforce minimum operating standards, including necessities such as adequate buildings or housing facilities and program equipment, sufficiently trained staff, intake and discharge of drug dependent persons and coordination with other programs and agencies in the state to allow for continuity of care after discharge.
SB 88 would require those interested in opening a narcotic treatment to apply to DCH during an annual or biannual enrollment period and attend a mandatory information forum prior to the open enrollment period. After the open enrollment period, applicants would be considered by an application review process committee and would be required to prove that communities need their services by providing data and details on treatment and counseling plans, qualifications of owners and all required staff, existing narcotic treatment programs and those programs’ patients within a 75-mile radius of the proposed location and the community surrounding the proposed location.
SB 88 would establish 49 regions with the number of narcotic treatment programs in each region limited to four in order to evenly distribute access to care across the state. DCH would have the authority to deny applicants and suspend or revoke licenses if rules or regulations are violated.
This legislation builds upon SB 402, legislation that passed during the 2016 session, which placed a moratorium on new applications for the licensure of narcotic treatment programs and created the State Commission on Narcotic Treatment Programs to study the necessary changes to program licensure laws during the moratorium. Georgia has 67 narcotic treatment center programs, and compared to the 65 centers in Florida and 12 in Tennessee, Georgia has been disproportionately over-served by these facilities. This much needed legislation would address this issue while providing life-saving programs and solutions to the opioid and heroin epidemic in Georgia.
Well-equipped and financially stable hospitals are essential in ensuring the health and well-being of all Georgians, yet many of Georgia’s rural hospitals face dire financial situations which have forced several of these indispensable health care facilities to close. Georgia has seen five rural hospitals close in this state since 2013, with many more facing financial hardships, and this legislation would encourage donations and incentivize medical professionals to work in our rural hospitals to ensure that Georgians in all parts of our great state have access to the medical care they need. Senate Bill 180 passed the House unanimously this week and would modify the Rural Hospital Tax Credit legislation, which was passed last session, to incentivize and attract individual and corporate donations to rural hospitals in areas with a population of 50,000 persons or less.
SB 180 would increase the amount of the tax credit for contributions to rural hospital from 70 percent of the actual amount expended to 90 percent of the donation or $5,000 per year for individuals, and from 70 of the amount expended to 90 percent of the donation or $10,000 per year for married couples.
Corporations would be able to receive a tax credit worth up to 90 percent of their donation or up to 75 percent of the corporation’s income tax liability, whichever is less, and would cap the tax credit at $60 million for 2017, 2018 and 2019.
Thisbill would propose a solution to the critical shortage of health care professionals in rural areas by providing a tax credit for physicians, advanced practice registered nurses and physician’s assistants who serve as volunteer mentors who help train medical, physician’s assistant and advanced practice registered nurse students.
The House passed yet another important measure this week to assist Georgia’s struggling rural hospitals and the citizens they serve. Senate Bill 14, the Rural Hospital Organization Assistance Act of 2017, would offer a solution to offset the financial burdens plaguing rural hospitals by allowing rural hospital organizations to apply for state grants. Under SB 14, the Department of Community Health would be responsible for distributing the grants to rural hospital organizations, and the grants would be capped at $4 million per grant per calendar year. These grants would only be awarded to hospitals that continue to deliver essential health care services to their communities and engage in long-term planning and restructuring programs to meet local health care needs. Grants would be awarded for infrastructure development, strategic planning, nontraditional health care delivery systems and the establishment of 24-hour emergency room services open to the public. Our rural hospital organizations are essential in promoting public health and preserving the availability of primary health care services for all Georgians, and SB 14 would ensure our rural hospitals are financially secure enough to remain open and able to continue providing essential services to Georgian’s in every corner of our state.
Senate Bill 250 unanimously passed the House this week. This bill would provide greater protections for our state’s most vulnerable population. SB 250 would prohibit individuals who are registered on another state’s sexual offender registry or have been convicted and failed to register from residing, working or loitering near any child care facility, school, church or any other area where minors gather. Current law prohibits registered sexual offenders in Georgia from residing, working or loitering in such areas, but does not extend its coverage to include those individuals who are registered in other states. SB 250 would close the loophole in existing law and ensure that no person on any state’s sexual offender registry would be permitted near our state’s youngest and most precious citizens.
Now that this year’s legislative session has come to an end, the governor will begin reviewing the legislation that received final passage by the House and Senate, and these measures will become state laws upon Governor Deal’s signature. If the governor does not sign or veto a measure within 40 days, it automatically becomes law. While the 2017 legislative session has adjourned sine die, I remain dedicated to serving your interests as your state representative, and I hope that you will contact me with any questions or concerns you may have regarding the 2017 legislative session or with any proposals or recommendations for future legislation. You can reach me at my capitol office at 404.656.0254 and my email address is email@example.com. Also, because the House has adjourned for the year, I will be spending much more time in our district. Feel free to contact me locally at 404.267.0735. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.
Young MacKenna Gosart is already achieving more at the age of 13 than most people do in their entire lives. The McDonough resident recently ran 118 miles in honor of the 118 officers that lost their lives in the line of duty last year. She also raised $12,500 for the Armor of God Project, an organization that recycles bulletproof vest for police officers all over the world that cannot afford the luxury of such a vital piece of equipment.
MacKenna’s father served as a police officer before going on to become an investigator, so naturally law enforcement is something close to her heart. The idea for the run came to MacKenna after she heard her father discussing with a colleague possible ways to honor the officers lost in 2014.
MacKenna will continue to carry out her passion for running and supporting law enforcement this September by hosting a Run For the Blue 5K. All money raised will be donated to the Armor of God Project and to assist in funding a mission trip for MacKenna and her father to the Philippines with the organization.
Click here if you are interested in signing up to participate in the run.
I always love hearing stories about the great things our youth have accomplished. MacKenna is a great example to many people her age of what it’s like to show complete selflessness and compassion for others and not expect anything in return; great things are in store for this young lady!
I think it is very important for everyone to know that The Fourth of July, or Independence Day, is so much more than a day for fireworks, cookouts, and pool parties. While all of those things are in good fun, bear in mind the struggles our country went through in order for us to have our precious freedom.
The United States has only recognized Independence Day as a Federal Holiday for 74 years now, but we have actually had our independence for far longer, 239 years to be exact.
In April of 1775 the 13 colonies of British North America had decided that they wanted their independence from Great Britain, thus starting the first battles of the Revolutionary War. When Thomas Paine’s, “Common Sense,” was published later in 1776, things had really picked up. On June 7 of 1776, Richard Henry Lee met with the Continental Congress to introduce a motion for the colonies’ independence. After weeks of debating, the Continental Congress voted in favor of Lee’s resolution by a near unanimous vote on July 2, 1776. Two days later 56 men dipped their pens into ink and signed the Declaration of Independence.
The Revolutionary War would go on seven more years before ending in 1783 with the Treaty of Paris. The major turning point in the war was The Battle of Yorktown in 1781, led by General George Washington, where Britain surrendered to the Continental Army. 25,000 Colonial soldiers died over the course of this war, so that the American people could live in a free country, and no longer be controlled under Britain’s rule.
In a letter to his wife after voting on Lee’s resolution, Thomas Jefferson wrote,“Pomp and Parade…Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other.” So light up the sky this Fourth of July, but remember to take a moment of remembrance for those that fought and are continuing to fight so that we may celebrate our freedom.
Why travel to Atlanta to see fireworks when you can see a show right here in Henry County? That’s right, it’s almost that time of year for the annual Henry County Fireworks Extravaganza. This event, held every year at Nash Farm Battlefield, is a great way to come out and honor the soldiers of past and present that fight for our freedom.
While the food and fireworks are fun, it is important to remember what this day represents for our country and the true reason for why we celebrate. In 1776 our country gainedit’sindependence from Great Britain when the Declaration of Independence was signed. This year, for the Fourth of July, let’s celebrate 239 years of being a free country and as we watch the fireworks going up in the sky keep in mind that not every country is as lucky as we are.
If interested in attending this years Fireworks Extravaganza, the pricing is as follows:
$20 per Vehicle up to 6 passengers
$35 for vans up to 10 passengers
Over 10 +$5 per person
Children 5 and under FREE
Stay the whole day or come just for the fireworks, whatever you choose I’m sure you will have a great time.
The Rockdale County High School Bulldogs boys track and field team trained hard this season to bring home the victory. A team of incredibly talented and devoted young individuals began training for the season back in December. After finishing in fourth place at state last year, the entire team was dedicated to working hard to win state this year.
Lawrence Crawford, future Mississippi State track and field athlete, Jhibri Greer, and Keijne Thomas were some of the teams top performers last year and returned to help lead their team to victory this year, and that’s just what they did.
When it came time for the team to take to the track and field May 14th, things got off to a rocky start. The team hoped to finish the day with 14-16 points for field events, but ended up with three. They found their rhythm Friday, though, with the entire team qualifying for finals. Saturday, their final day at state, the team came together and won the state championship.
Key athletes, Crawford and Greer, played a major role in helping the team win the state title and were the teams two individual title winners. Crawford took number one in the 100 and 200m event and was also a key component of the 4×100 relay team. Greer won a title in the 110m with a time of 13.97, a new school record and personal best. Greer also competed in the 300m hurdle event, adding five points to the team’s total.
These young men demonstrated great talent both on and off the track and field to gain this incredible achievement for Rockdale County High School. I’m so proud of these athletes and their coaches for working hard all season and seeing their hard work pay off. Way to go Bulldogs!
Cotton Indian Elementary School, in Stockbridge, will be the first Henry County school to incorporate “The Leader in Me” program next year. This program is based on Steven Covey’s book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” The program will be tailored to appeal to elementary-aged children, focusing on boosting self-confidence and establishing crucial 21st-century skills.
The program will launch January of 2016, with Cotton Indian Elementary School’s 700-plus student body. The Henry Council for Quality Growth is showing their support for the program by covering all financial obligations. The cost of the program is $55 per student.
Members of the Quality Growth Education and Quality of Life Committees from the Council for Quality Growth worked with “The Leader in Me” representatives, school administrative staff, and school board members in planning this new approach.
This new path for Henry County schools will first be introduced as a pilot program at Cotton Indian and then more schools in the county depending on its effectiveness.
I want to thank the Henry Council for Quality Growth for their involvement in making Henry County a better place to live and giving our youth great opportunities to become leaders. I think that this program will be great for our county’s youth, and I look forward to seeing this program come to life next January.
Six baseball teams took to an all-artificial-turf field at 11 a.m. Saturday, April 25, for the grand opening of The Miracle League of Newton County! The new field is located in the City Pond Park in Covington, and will now be home to a baseball league for physically and mentally challenged children and adults.
The very first Miracle League was started in Rockdale County in the late ’90s when a coach welcomed a young disabled boy to join his team. A couple heard the story and fund raised to build the very first Miracle League stadium in Conyers. Now, there are over 250 Miracle Leagues all over the world in the US, Australia, Puerto Rico, Canada, Mexico, and South America!
There are six teams in the Newton County League, with 12 players on each team. Games will take place every Saturday up until June 6, with three games each day. By the end of the season, each team will have played a total of seven games.
Come out to cheer on one of the teams or sign-up to be a buddy to one of the players by calling the Newton Recreation Center at (770) 786-4673 or by downloading the Buddy Volunteer form. It is so great to see an organization like this in Newton County!
Are you ready to eat? It’s that time of year again for the annual Taste of Henry. Come out this Friday night with your family and friends and enjoy an evening full of great food and live music.
This annual event is always a fun event for the people of Henry County, but it is important to remember that the real joy is found in the great cause it supports. A Friend’s House is a local non-profit organization that provides a home for neglected and abused children in our area. All proceeds from the Taste of Henry ticket sales go to A Friend’s House. It’s not too often you can stuff your face while also helping a good cause!
There will be 25 local restaurants at this year’s event. Come out and try some food from some of your longtime favorite Henry County food joints like Shane’s, O.B.’s, and Gezzo’s. Some of Henry County’s newest restaurants will be making an appearance as a vendor this year. Brand new to the Taste of Henry this year is South Side Diner. Located off Highway 20/81, directly in front of Lowe’s, and across the street from Cracker Barrel, this Southern and American food joint has been making quite the name for itself since it opened back in March. Smokin’ Swine, a Hampton based BBQ joint, will also be serving up some of their favorites at this year’s Taste of Henry. Come out and support these great restaurants and many others this Friday night. To see a full list of the participating food vendors, head over to the Taste of Henry website.
David Ellis & Melissa Calendar, local favorites, will be providing the live music this year. Come out and hear these two perform as you enjoy the food.
Tickets for the Taste of Henry can be purchased at www.tasteofhenry.org or Friday night at the door. The location for this year’s event is Jason T. Harper Event Center at Heritage Park in McDonough. The event starts at 6 p.m. and ends around 9 p.m.
Come early and get a treat! The first 500 people in the doors will get what they call a VIT (Very Important Taster) bag. This bag is filled with merchandise and treats from participating vendors, sponsors, and restaurants. It is limited to one bag per family, so don’t be late!
This is sure to be a great night in our community and a fun night for family and friends. If you don’t have plans for Friday, then this will definitely be the place to be.
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.