Friday, February 19th concluded the sixth week of the 2016 legislative session. With 24 legislative days complete, we are nearing the very important “Crossover Day” deadline. Crossover Day is the last day that House Bills can transfer or "crossover" to the senate chamber with enough time to make their way through the "process" of committee hearings and a floor vote. As this deadline rapidly approaches, legislators will be working from dawn till dusk to ensure their bills pass out of their respective chamber. Last week we passed, arguably the most important legislation of the 2016 session, the 2017 Fiscal Year budget. We also passed a number of measures aimed at improving education and healthcare for the terminally ill.
2017 Fiscal Year Budget
The passage of House Bill 751 brings us a step closer to completing our constitutional obligation of passing a balanced budget. The 2017 budget is to date the largest budget in our state’s history at $23.7 billion, which is an increase of $673.9 million over the amended FY2016 budget. Education, transportation, healthcare and economic development were among our top funding priorities. Below is a quick reference of budget allocation in each area.
Education still remains a priority as we work to ensure our school systems receive needed resources to be successful. With over half the budget going towards education funding, we feel confident that this additional funding will help fill the needed gaps in Georgia’s workforce.
$300 million appropriation for K-12 education for local school boards to give salary increases, eliminate furlough days or increase instruction days for education.
$5.1 million for a 3 percent pay raise to teachers in Agriculture Education and Tech/Career Education programs, school bus drivers, lunchroom workers, nurses, and Regional Education Service Agency (RESA) employees.
$28.6 million in funding for Pre-K teachers for salary increases up to three percent, as well as increasing salaries for assistant teachers
$59.1 million for Zell Miller and HOPE Scholarship recipients
$29.4 million in funding to the Move on When Ready dual enrollment program
$1.2 million to the North Georgia Military Scholarship Grants program
100,000 each for large animal veterinarians and the Georgia National Guard to address the need for skilled individuals in those fields
$44.4 million for formula earnings based on enrollment and increased square footage at both the University System of Georgia and the Technical College System of Georgia
Over the last few years our state has recognized the critical need to revaluate our healthcare system. One primary focus has been that of rural healthcare and we have been working tirelessly to address issues plaguing the system. Rural Georgians are lacking in options for quality care with the closing of numerous hospitals. A recent report shows that 65% of the population will be made up of senior citizens by the year 2030. I was pleased to see additional funding for these initiatives included to provide increased access for Georgians statewide.
$66.7 million to offset Medicaid enrollment growth in our state
$200,000 to maintain the rural dentistry loan program
$100,000 to establish a loan repayment program for physician assistants and advance practice registered nurses
$100,000 for the Georgia South Family Medicine Rural Residency Training Program
$200,000 for OB/GYN physicians who want to return to practice in under-served areas
$250, 000 start-up fund for the Champions for Children program, also known as the “Katie Beckett waiver,” which provides grants to families with medically fragile children who do not qualify for Medicaid
Criminal Justice Reform
Criminal Justice Reforms remain a priority as we have seen positive results in Georgia. Since the implementation of reform programs, state juvenile justice facilities have seen a 25 percent decrease in population. Further, the creation of Georgia’s accountability courts has reduced crime by 45 percent, saving the state more than $51 million in prison costs in 2015. Educational programs teaching job skills has made the transition into society easier and made Georgia’s prison re-entry rate the lowest in 30 years. We will continue work on Criminal Justice Reform with additional funding for program expansions in the 2017 budget.
$3.8 million to expand the state’s accountability courts, which are aimed at providing community alternatives, as proven alternatives to sentencing, to rehabilitate offenders and juveniles
$5.6 million to support educational initiatives in the state prison system, including operational costs for two charter high schools and expansion of GED fast track, vocational, and general education programs
As a result of House Bill 170, the Transportation Funding Act of 2015, we have been able to allocate $825.6 million of new transportation dollars to improve our state’s transportation infrastructure. Sound infrastructure is key to future growth and the Georgia Department of Transportation has done a great job in outlining current and future projects. I encourage you to view their website and the list of upcoming transportation projects at www.GAroads.org.
$543.1 million are budgeted for capital construction and maintenance projects
$204.7 for routine maintenance
$41 million in Local Maintenance and Improvement Grants
$1 million in bonds were also allocated for the repair, replacement, and renovation of our state’s bridges to ensure safety for all who travel on our roadways
The 2017 Fiscal Year budget has now been transmitted to the Senate for further consideration.
The first of two education bills was House Bill 798, which would change some requirements for the HOPE and Zell Miller Scholarships. HB 798 would allow home schooled students and students graduating from previously ineligible or non-accredited high schools an opportunity to earn scholarships. Eligibility requirements for these students to receive HOPE are as follows:
Home schooled students and students graduating from ineligible high schools that score in the 75th percentile or higher on standardized college admissions tests, such as the SAT and ACT
Students who score in the 93rd percentile or higher nationally would be eligible for the Zell Miller Scholarship.
The bill also changes the Zell Miller Scholarship eligibility for students graduating from eligible high schools by requiring a score in the 80th percentile or higher on the ACT or the SAT, in addition to maintaining a minimum 3.7 GPA. It is our hope that with these changes Georgia will keep the state’s brightest students through college, while allowing even more students a chance to achieve higher education goals.
House Bill 879 is the second education bill we passed, which creates the “Georgia Seal of Biliteracy” to recognize high school graduates who are proficient in speaking, reading, and writing one or more languages in addition to English. Students may qualify to receive the Georgia Seal of Biliteracy by meeting the following requirements:
Scoring of four or higher on a foreign language advanced placement exam
Scoring of five or higher on a foreign language international baccalaureate exam
Completing a four-year high school course in a foreign language with an overall GPA of 3.0 or above in that coursework
Passing the SAT II foreign language exam with a score of 600 or higher
The Georgia Department of Education would attach the insignia to qualifying students’ diplomas, indicating their success in the program. Local school systems can opt-in to the program but are not forced to participate. Offering the Georgia Seal of Biliteracy will promote the study of foreign language, while certifying a student’s knowledge on future college and job applications. These bills have now been transmitted to the Senate for their consideration.
Georgia Right to Try Act
House Bill 34, also known as the “Georgia Right to Try Act,” was unanimously passed last week. The legislation allows terminally-ill patients faster access to experimental drugs and procedures that have passed the first of three phases in the FDA drug approval process. Unfortunately, full phase clearance by the FDA can take as long as ten years. HB 34 gives patients the option of trying experimental treatments that have passed the FDA’s Phase 1, meaning treatments have met required safety precautions. Physicians would be required to provide written documentation statements of the following:
The individual has a terminal illness
Patient has considered all other treatment options currently approved by the FDA
Patient has been given a recommendation by the physician
Patient has given written informed consent for the use of the investigational drug biological product, or device
Manufacturers of certain experimental drugs will not be required to offer or charge for treatment. Similarly, health benefit plans have the option to provide coverage for experimental drugs, but are not be required to cover costs. Further, any medical physician, who recommends, prescribes, or treats an eligible patient with investigational drugs, would not be held liable by the Georgia Composite Medical Board. Currently, 24 other states that have similar legislation in place and we are hopeful Georgia will be the 25th. Enacting this type of legislation will be a great step in offering relief for Georgia’s terminally-ill patients. This bill has now been transmitted to the Senate for their consideration.
We unanimously passed legislation in the House this week naming the “adoptable dog” Georgia’s official state dog. House Bill 561 will help promote animal rescue, adoption, and responsible pet ownership. The National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy reported that encouraging responsible pet ownership reduces the number of unwanted dogs ending up in shelters. Unwanted dogs face a higher probability of being euthanized. We passed this bill in part to raise awareness on the importance of animal adoptions. Eligible “adoptable dogs” are available through local animal shelters, humane societies, and public or private animal refuge organizations. This bill has been transmitted to the Senate for their consideration.
Kate Muldrew, Charlie Fennell and Joseph Muldrew visited the Capitol last week!
Representative Jan Tankerlsey visits with Caroline Burnette and her mother Kim. Caroline is Miss International City and will compete in the Miss Georgia Pageant later this year.
Representative Tankersley and Speaker David Ralston welcome Page for the Day,Eli Davis, to the House chamber.
Representative Jan Tankersley discusses legislative business on the House floor.
Representative Tankersley and Speaker David Ralston welcome Page for the Day, Lauren McNure, to the House chamber.
It is hard to believe there are only 16 legislative days remaining in the 2016 session. As issues continue to arise, I will keep you informed. It is an honor to serve as your voice under the Gold Dome. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to work on your behalf. As always, if you need assistance, please feel free to contact me anytime.
Representative of the 160th
Georgia House of Representatives