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 Nine

Dale Rutledge

This past Friday we reached day 30 of the 2015 legislative session. The 30th legislative day marks a crucial deadline for the Georgia General Assembly.  This date, also known as “Crossover Day,” is the final chance for bills to pass the legislative chamber from which they originated. After Crossover Day, all bills passed by the House must “cross over” to the Senate, and vice versa. The remaining ten legislative days will be spent considering Senate bills.

HB 131

HB 131, also known as “The End to Cyberbullying Act,” strives to provide our children with a safer, healthier, learning environment by expanding public school policies on anti-bullying to include any bullying that occurs over the internet, also known as “cyberbullying.” The use of technological equipment such as cell phones, wireless communication devices, computers, email, instant messaging, etc., would be prohibited to stopcyberbullying. The End to Cyberbullying Act would apply both on campus and off campus. In today’s society, technology is used so frequently; this legislation is necessary to address a common problem among our youth. Becausecyberbullyinghas such a profound impact on the happiness and health of our students, it is necessary that we take precautions to combat this detrimental act.

HB 17

HB 17, or the Hidden Predator Act, is aimed at reforming the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse victims.   Under current Georgia law, a child sex abuse victim may only bringactionagainst his or her abuser up to five years after the victim turns 18 years old.  Current law also bars the victim or their guardian from accessing police and otherinvestigationrecords in which the victim is the subject, HB 17 would amend this so they could access investigation records. HB 17 would provide a 30 year extensiontothe civil statute of limitations for child sexual abuse claims.  The legislation would also allow for a retroactive “window” that would provide a two-year time frame for sexual abuse victims to file a case against their perpetrator.  Not only will HB 17 ensure that justice is served, but it will also help law enforcement officers catch predators before they find their next victim.

HB 225

We passed House Bill 225 with overwhelming bi-partisan support.  This legislation ensures proper licensing requirements for drivers in app-based ride sharing companies, such asUberand Lyft, which utilize a digital network or internet network to connect passengers to ride-share drivers as a form of for-hire transportation. Unlike ride-share drivers, traditional taxi and limo drivers must go through a state issued background check to obtain a “chauffeur endorsement,” which indicates that the driver is authorized to operate a vehicle to transport passengers for pay.  HB 225 clarifies this discrepancy by requiring ride-share driversto secure similar “for-hire license endorsements,” and go through background checks. These ride-share companies would be permitted to conduct their own background checks and will be subject to state audit. The legislation also requires the companies to obtain the same levels of liability insurance as taxi and limo drivers and either pay state sales taxes or an annual fee for each car in its network.

HB 48

House Bill 48 allows law enforcement officers, firefighters, and other first responders who have sustained a major injury on the job to receive special license plates. Currently special license plates are also available to theseindividualsfamily members, and HB 48 extends that privilege to brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law. HB 48 also allows disabled veterans to receive free license plates for cars or motorcycles. I’m glad that HB 48 recognizes the brave men an women in uniform in this way.

HB 110

The House passed House Bill 110, which legalizes the sale of fireworks in Georgia. Georgia businesses are currently only allowed to sell sparklers while in four of our five neighboring states fireworks are sold.  For this reason, many Georgians drive across state lines to buy their fireworks.  HB 110 opens the profitable firework market to Georgia business owners, allowing more dollars to stay at home in Georgia and creating new jobs. The money from firework sales will not only boost local economies, but it will also generate new tax revenue.  If approved by the Senate and Governor Deal, I look forward to seeing the positive economic impact this will have.

Our next step will be to begin considering pieces of legislation that have already been approved by the Senate. 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 Eight

Dale RutledgeMonday, March 2 marked the 24th day of the 2015 legislative session. We addressed important issues facing our great state and reviewed each measure thoroughly and voted on many bills.

HB 170

HB 170, or the Transportation Funding Act of 2015, is a comprehensive package of measures to address the critical and urgent need for funding for Georgia’s transportation infrastructure needs. HB 170 seeks to raise just under a billion dollars for maintenance and repair of our state’s bridges and roadways. These funds are crucial to guarantee that our roads and infrastructures are safe for Georgia drivers. These road improvements will also continue to attract new businesses and create jobs for Georgians.

Funding

– Funding for HB 170 come in various ways, including the conversion of the state sales tax on motor fuel to a straight excise tax that will be dedicated to transportation. This excise tax will initially be set at 29.2 cents per gallon, which approximates the sales tax rate that has been imposed on gasoline using a weighted average of the price of gasoline over the previous four years. Unlike the current gas tax, which is a 4% sales tax that varies with the cost of gas, the flat excise tax will provide a more stable alternative. I agree we need to move to an excise tax on motor fuel so those funds collected can only be used for transportation purposes. The debate is at what rate we set it at per gallon. The State budget increased by $1 Billion for 2016. If the transportation issue is one of our primary concerns, a substantial increase in transportation funding should be earmarked for it instead of the $55 million it received. Increasing motor fuel taxes above the current rates should not be our first idea. For this reason I was unable to support HB 170. It is hoped the bill continues to move through the process where at least we come to an agreement on an excise tax that we can all support which is more revenue neutral and in future years allocate revenue growth dollars to transportation as our economy continues to grow.

– Funding for Georgia’s 128 transit systems will be part of a significant bond package that will create additional revenue for HB 170. This will enable more communities across our state to take advantage of public transportation options. This is a practical way to provide more immediate funding, while leveraging the state’s high credit, AAA bond rating to borrow at little cost to the state.

– The establishment of a user fee for alternative fueled vehicles of $200 for non-commercial and $300 for commercial vehicles each year.  Since these vehicles do not use gasoline, their owners do not currently pay their share of taxes for maintenance of roads they use. This fee will provide equality among those who drive on our roads.

– HB 170 will also eliminate the state tax credit for the purchase of alternative fueled vehicles, as well as the state tax credit on jet fuel.

– The Georgia Transportation Infrastructure Bank will allow for preference for loans to be given to tier 1 and tier 2 counties, as well as to eligible projects with local financial assistance.

I also support looking at new funding sources that are being used successfully in other states like P3’s (public/private partnerships). Moreover, in 2014 60 billion pounds of cargo moved through our ports in Savannah, Brunswick and Hartsfield. Buyers and sellers of that cargo moving freight through our ports, perhaps should share in the burden of maintaining our roads. Many of these buyers and sellers already receive large tax incentives from the state. What good are ports if you cannot efficiently move freight to and from the ports? The trucking industry continues to bear the brunt of the cost of supporting our infrastructure, maybe buyers and sellers should contribute as well. I think it is a conversation worth exploring.

The easy way to fix the problem is to simply raise the price at the pump for all Georgians. However, we need a solution that is going to incorporate a balanced approach of dedicating current revenue streams to transportation, allocating future tax revenue growth to transportation, exploring new funding sources and cutting wasteful spending throughout our state budget. I think all Georgians could vote for that!

HB 190

HB 190 requires drivers in transportation network companies,such as Uber and Lyft to have appropriate auto insurance. Currently, many of these drivers are offering ride-share services to the public with their personal auto policy, which does not cover commercial activity when the vehicle is being used for hire. There are gaps in the insurance coverage because personal policies will not cover any damages or losses if a vehicle is being used for commercial use, which puts both the driver and passenger at risk. HB 190 addresses the differences in coverage by requiring the transportation network company or the driver to purchase a commercial motor vehicle insurance policy that maintains $1 million in insurance coverage for drivers anytime they are logged into the company system, regardless of passengers are on board. It also requires at least $300,000 in coverage for bodily injury or death and $50,000 for property damage.

HB 325

HB 325 expands seat belt laws by requiring vans that have 15 passenger capacities to wear seat belts. Currently, safety belts only required for vans that carry 10 or less passengers. HB 325 draws attention to this important issue, and will make drivers and passengers on Georgia’s roads more aware of the need to buckle up.

HB 210

House Bill 210 allows Georgia citizens to qualify for organ donation by utilizing state issued I.D.cards. Currently, organ donor status is only listed on drivers’ licenses. HB 210 makes it so more people can become organ donors, regardless of their eligibility to drive in Georgia.  It is important that we encourage public education and awareness of the value and life saving ability of organ donation.

HB 362

The House also passed a bill to improve the health and safety of our children. House Bill 362 allows schools to obtain/stock levalbuterol sulfate, a medication commonly used to treat asthma. Under HB 362, any school employee who is trained in recognizing symptoms of respiratory distress could administer the medication to students. Asthma is very common and schools should be prepared to help handle these types of emergencies.

Governor Deal and First Lady Sandra Deal this week announced Read Across Georgia Month, a campaign to make reading more fun for Georgia’s children.  First Lady Deal visited the House and introduced a new Pre-K book, TJ’s Discovery, which was written by teachers at the Rollins Center for Language and Literacy at the Atlanta Speech School. This book will be given as a gift to every student in Georgia’s Pre-K program. Mrs. Deal is making a great commitment to our state’s youth through this campaign.

This week we took some time to recognize John Smoltz. Smoltz, a former pitcher for the Atlanta Braves, honoree in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, an eight-time All Star and the only pitcher in major league history to top both 200 wins and 150 saves, was honored before the Georgia House of Representatives with House Resolution 343 for his accomplishments both on and off the field. I’m proud that such an outstanding athlete and citizen claims Georgia as his home state.

Next week will be an extremely busy week. March 13, we are scheduled to complete the 30th legislative day, which is also known as “Crossover Day.” Crossover Day is the last date in which a piece of legislation must pass at least one of the General Assembly’s two chambers. We will work diligently every day to pass legislation through the House chamber. I hope that you will contact me during this important week, so that I can address any concerns you might have. You can visit me or call my office. The number is 678-438-7181. I look forward to hearing from you.

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.