UPDATES                SENATE REPORT                                
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Senate Leadership Changes - Updated

ATLANTA - January 10, 2017

Now that the two-year session has begun, the changes in Senate leadership, the many new office assignments, and Senate Rules that govern the procedures of the upper chamber are set.

My office will now be on the first floor of the State Capitol. That address is Suite 121-E, 206 Washington Street, Atlanta, GA 30334. The phone number has been changed to (404) 463-1383.
Week Five Under the Gold Dome: Amended Budget, Religious Liberty, and Scholarship Announcement

ATLANTA - February 11, 2017

Friday marked the end of another successful week of this legislative session. Capitol business is quickly starting to pick-up as lawmakers continue to file legislation and committees review bills as well as suggested amendments.

I am glad to report that on Day 15 of this legislative session, the Senate has already passed the Fiscal Year 2017 Amended Budget which means we are halfway to fulfilling our annual constitutional requirement to pass a balanced budget. After careful consideration and deliberation from Governor Deal, the Senate and the House, we determined that education and public safety deserve additional funding to adequately provide for the people of Georgia.
As for Rules changes, we did move Crossover Day to an earlier time in the session. For several years, it has been Day 30 when bills from one chamber must move to the opposite chamber in order to be considered for final passage. The purpose for this suggested change is the need for the Senate to have more time to consider House bills. Crossover Day will now be Day 28.
Committee assignments have also changed. I will now serve as the Chairman of the Senate Banking and Financial Institutions Committee, Vice-Chairman of Ethics, Vice-Chairman of Reapportionment, Chairman of Appropriations Judiciary Subcommittee and a member of Appropriations, Judiciary, and Health and Human Services. For further information about these committees, visit the Committees tab on this website.
The Department of Education will receive an additional $91.8 million for midterm enrollment growth and $9.1 million will go to charter schools. The additional funding will allow incoming students to be provided with the supplies and support they need when entering a new school. In addition, the amended budget provides an increase in funds by $5.5 million for career, technical and agricultural education equipment grants to local school systems. These grants will provide teachers and students with the tools necessary to learn about our state’s biggest industries. We also agreed to add $16.8 million to the Move on When Ready dual enrollment program to meet the projected growth.

Public safety is a top priority for the Senate, and I am pleased that we are providing additional funding for quite a few departments in this category. Both the Senate and the House agreed to the governor’s proposal of adding $27.2 million to begin funding the significant salary increase for law enforcement officers, public safety trainers and criminal investigators. These salary increases will enable our state to recruit and retain top-tier talent to keep our citizens safe.

Schedule

For the rest of February, our schedule will be as follows: Tuesday, February 14th through Friday, February 17th; Tuesday, February 21st through Friday, February 24th; Monday, February 27th through Wednesday, March 1st.
Storm Report

Both the House and the Senate offered our condolences to the victims of the tornadoes which tore through many counties in south Georgia over the past weekend. Thankfully, the Third District was spared major damage; however, a tornado was sighted in Camden and left some destruction in its path.

At this time, there are 16 counties which have been declared a state of emergency from this recent storm, and two other counties are included which were previously affected by similar severe weather condition, bringing the total to 18 which will now be eligible for FEMA assistance.

In addition, citizens can help their fellow Georgians with donations or by volunteering on site.
Adel Community Bank has set up a GoFundMe campaign to receive donations to help victims of the storm. To donate, visit www.gofundme.com/helpadelga.

Samaritans Purse is asking for volunteers to assist with clean-up efforts. For further information visit www.samaritanspurse.org.
As we went through the budget line-by-line during appropriations subcommittee meetings, we were able to identify the areas we were over funding and those that we were under funding. This allowed us to reallocate funds to ensure taxpayer dollars are being utilized in the most efficient and fiscally conservative manner possible. Many departments and agencies had adjustments to their funding. You can find the full FY 2017 Amended Budget here: http://www.senate.ga.gov/sbeo/Documents/AppropriationsDocuments/FY2017/Amended/AFY17_SAC_FINAL.pdf.

Though efforts last year on religious liberty hit a wall with the governor's veto, I was encouraged to see that the state of Georgia settled the religious liberty case filed by Dr. Eric Walsh. The state of Georgia will pay Dr. Walsh $225,000 and the legal costs of mediation.
In May of 2014, Dr. Walsh was poised to become the District Health Director for Northwest Georgia with Georgia's Department of Public Health (DPH). One week after accepting the position and preparing for his move to Georgia, Dr. Walsh received an interesting request from the DPH Chief of Staff. He wanted web links to sermons Dr. Walsh had preached as an associate pastor.

Most personnel directors know never to ask questions about an applicant's religious beliefs because it could unlawfully become a factor for discrimination, yet the department ignored standard employment practices. To further entangle itself with religious matters, the DPH Human Resources Director then enlisted several department employees to review Dr. Walsh's sermons in what clearly appeared to be a violation of Title VII of federal law.
Just one day after department employees finished their review of the sermons, DPH officials delivered the message to Dr. Walsh that his new job was over. State officials, of course, deny that the sermons influenced them to rescind the job offer and instead point out that Dr. Walsh failed to disclose outside employment to his previous public health employer as the cause, but if that truly were the case, then they had no business requesting his sermons in the first place.

Since 1777, religious liberty has been protected in our Georgia Constitution. Since 1865, the Georgia Constitution has guaranteed, "No inhabitant of this state shall be molested in person or property or be prohibited from holding any public office or trust on account of religious opinions." It is time for our state to truly honor these words.  People have every right to peacefully live out the tenets of their faith in every aspect of their lives, in church, at home, at work, in the marketplace and throughout civil society. In Georgia, people should not have to worry that their religious views could cost them their jobs. Let's hope the officials and the employees of the state of Georgia have gotten the message that religious liberty matters.
Recently, Georgia legislators were asked by the University of North Georgia to nominate promising young leaders for a Georgia Military Scholarship. In order to receive a nomination, applicants must have been accepted to UNG in a “regular admit” status, have a minimum cumulative high school GPA of 3.0, be a legal resident of Georgia, meet the physical and health standards for serving in the Guard, and have a written recommendation from a Georgia Representative or Senator. You can find more information about this opportunity here: www.ung.edu/cadet/scholarships. For any student interested in taking advantage of this incredible opportunity, please let me know, and I will be happy to help to the best of my ability.

I am humbled to have the chance to represent you in Atlanta. I take your best interests to heart when considering my support of legislation. I look forward to keeping you updated as we move along this session.
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         GEORGIA STATE SENATOR
WILLIAM LIGON
                          Third District