News Room 2013
Georgia General Assembly Convenes
January 13, 2014
From reports out of the House and Senate leadership, this may be the quickest session ever. Due to a federal judge's ruling regarding federal elections, Georgia has moved its primary season up to May 20th. This is about two months earlier than normal. Therefore, legislators who are facing primary opponents, as well as those in the executive branch, will be anxious to return home in order to campaign.
While in session, we will pass the state budget. That is the one constitutional duty that we must accomplish. As I understand from leadership, they are hoping to keep the session moving smoothly without a lot of controversial legislation. Unfortunately, I have at least two pieces of legislation that are still pending which will be considered controversial. These bills, SB 167 and SB 203, work together to ensure that Georgia has an orderly withdrawal from the Common Core standards and the national framework that has been driving educational policy in our state. In addition, I also have several more bills that I plan to introduce. With the looming political reality of May primaries, it remains to be seen how the leadership will deal with the volume of legislation that already is pending as well as the many bills that I know my colleagues are starting to file at the start of the session.
Three Legislative Days Left in 2013 Legislative Session
March 23, 2013
This past week marked day 37 of the 40-day legislative session. Day 40, also known as Sine Die, is the last day bills can be passed by both chambers and sent to the Governor for approval. Because bills tend to pile up at the end of session, the General Assembly will be working until midnight on Sine Die, March 28, to ensure that as many bills as possible are passed.
On Friday, the Senate passed the FY 2014 budget by a vote of 51-0. The FY2014 General Budget allocates $19.8 billion to fund state infrastructure and operations. Passing a balanced budget is the only constitutional mandate for the General Assembly, and I’m glad to say we’ve accomplished this difficult task.
HB 242, a pivotal juvenile justice reform bill calling for substantial changes in the state’s juvenile court proceedings, passed the Georgia State Senate on Thursday by a vote of 47-0. After several recommendations and years of work by the Governor’s Special Council on Justice Reform, the legislation will redefine sections outlining a juvenile’s right to procedural due process and family preservation. HB 242 will define proper representation based on the specific reason for juvenile court intervention.
HB 242 updates the existing code by dividing provisions into 11 clearly outlined articles to create a more efficient system for the rehabilitation and counseling of youth and families within the system. Several topics are addressed within this bill, including separating aggressive crimes from less severe acts, court jurisdiction, court-ordered investigations into abuse and neglect, a timeline for delinquency proceedings and evaluations for serious violent felonies.
HB 242 will now transfer back to the House for the approval of minor changes made in the Senate Judiciary committee.
The Senate also passed a landmark ethics proposal that will change the culture of the State Capitol and build on the tremendous progress made under the ethics reform resolution passed on the first day of the 2013 legislative session. The committee substitute to HB 142 eliminates loopholes and ensures every elected official is under the strictest ethical standards ever to be enacted in Georgia.
The Senate’s reforms affect every elected official in Georgia, from the Governor down to county or municipal offices, and respects local control and responsibility by empowering individual bodies to adopt their own ethics standards. As part of the reform, gift caps must be capped at $100, although the cap may be set at a lower amount. Any ethics policy must have a clear enforcement provision for violations and must be made publicly available for citizen review.
Any entity that does not adopt an ethics policy that caps lobbyist gifts at $100 will be subject to a limit of $0. The maximum dollar amount was endorsed by 87.2% of Republican primary voters in the July 2012 election.
The Senate proposal also keeps existing laws regarding lobbyist registration and reporting in place. Lobbyists are individuals who must register with the State because they are paid to lobby for or against legislation. The Senate version of the bill protects the First Amendment rights of individuals who are not paid by ensuring that they do not need to register with the State. Citizen activists who are expressing their personal views or the views of their clubs and organizations should never have to worry that their First Amendment rights in the political process are subject to a registration fee with the State. I am pleased by my colleagues' efforts to pass meaningful ethics reform that responds to will of the people and ensures greater accountability in state government.
On Friday, SB 1, which I sponsored, passed the House and will head to the Governor’s office for final approval. This legislation will require health insurers to allow a parent to inspect, review or attain copies of health insurance records relating to his or her own child. I drafted this legislation to ensure that parents, regardless of who holds the insurance policy, are provided access to review their child’s medical information.
A number of other important issues were passed by the Senate this week:
HB 141 requires certain establishments to post information on how trafficking victims can receive help from the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC). The NHTRC provides victim advocates with up-to-date resources and provides law enforcement, social service providers and community members with the tools needed to facilitate victim identification.
HB 164, sponsored by Representative Alex Atwood of Glynn County, provides an extension for sales tax exemption for aircraft parts. Aircraft parts used specifically in maintenance or repair receive this exemption.
HB 256 adds the term ‘cigar wraps’ to a defined list of ‘tobacco related objects’ that cannot be possessed by minors. Currently, the term, ‘cigar wraps,’ is not included in the list of definitions relating to the sale or possession of tobacco related products to minors under the Georgia Code. ‘Cigar wraps’ is defined as individual wrappers that are made of reconstituted tobacco leaf.
HB 350 requires all childcare center directors and employees, as well as all Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL) employees, to pass a national fingerprint records check every five years. Under current law, the director of a childcare center licensed by DECAL must pass a national fingerprint records background check. All other employees are only required to pass a name-based search of Georgia records.
As always, it is an honor to represent you at the Gold Dome. Please feel free to contact my office at any time with your questions or concerns. For more information regarding a specific piece of legislation, visit the Georgia General Assembly website at http://www.legis.ga.gov/.
Counting Down the Final Legislative Days
After Day 30-or Crossover Day-no new bills can be introduced from one legislative body to the next. The Senate will now spend the remainder of the 2013 legislative session considering legislation the House has already passed, while the House considers Senate Bills. The General Assembly reconvenes Wednesday, March 20.
The week leading up to Crossover Day, the Senate approved the FY2013 Amended Budget, which totaled $19.3 billion. For the remainder of the session, the Senate will work to analyze the FY2014 Budget, where $19.8 billion in spending is on the line.
Just before the crossover deadline, several my bills made the leap from the Senate to the House. These included, SB 1, which passed with a vote of 49 to 3. In a previous column, I explained how this legislation was inspired by a mother in the 3rd Senate District who approached me about her difficulty receiving insurance and medical information about her own child, even though she is the custodial parent. In response, I drafted this legislation to ensure that parents, regardless of who holds the insurance policy, are provided access to review their child’s medical information.
SB 163 also made it to the House. This requires the Board of Community Health to examine and identify options for reforming Georgia’s Medicaid Program. Today, approximately 17 percent of the roughly 10 million people who call Georgia home receive health insurance from our state’s Medicaid program, and that number is only expected to grow. The passage of SB 163 will lay the groundwork for effective Medicaid Reform and help ensure our state’s long-term fiscal stability. If passed by the House, this effort is expected to bring significant cost savings to the state.
Another piece of legislation to gain Senate approval and make its way to the House was Senate Resolution 247. This resolution will urge the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to implement its proposed project for plugging Noyes Cut within the Satilla River System. The Noyes Cut is no longer useful and is causing navigation problems. Plugging the Noyes Cut should help ensure safer passage for boaters as well as serve to restore the ecology of the river, which should benefit inshore marine species such as American Shad.
During Crossover Week, the Senate also passed several other significant pieces of legislation:
SB 76 would create the “Returning Veterans Task Force” within the State Department of Veterans Services. If passed into law, this task force would meet quarterly to investigate how state services can be provided to veterans returning from military service.
SB 101 would allow out-of-state weapons carry licenses to be recognized in Georgia and protect the Second Amendment rights of all Georgians regardless of residence or economic status. The right to bear arms was afforded to us through the U.S. Constitution and should be protected for future generations.
SB 160 streamlines the process of verifying residence status when applying for or renewing business licenses. Under current law, there is some confusion about how this information should be reported, which is burdensome to both local governments and businesses. If passed into law, this bill will make the renewal or application process easier.
SB 168 prohibits the state and local government from disqualifying or penalizing a bidder for a public works contract based upon a lack of previous experience with the same type of job.
SB 224 creates the Invest Georgia Fund, which would allow access to seed capital for Georgia high tech companies. Capital distributed from this fund would help build healthy businesses and require recipients to keep their business headquartered in Georgia. The financial growth of Georgia is a rising concern among many citizens, and passing SB 224 is just one of the ways the Georgia General Assembly is working to ensure that business remains and thrives in Georgia.
Now that Crossover Day has come and gone, the Senate took up House bills. The following list provides a look at some of the legislation that has now passed both chambers and will move to the Governor's desk.
HB 101 would make it easier for non-profit organizations to provide food during certain events. Under current law, non-profit activities such as races and fundraisers are categorized as ‘fairs or festivals’ and must meet stringent food preparation regulations. HB 101 would classify these non-profit activities as ‘events’ and would relax the regulations if the event is held on the property of the sponsoring organization, or on the property of a party which has provided written consent for the event.
HB 154 would change provisions relating to awards and benefits of workers’ compensation, provide a limitation period on medical benefits, change reimbursement structure for mileage charges, and increase the compensation benefits for total disability and temporary partial disability.
HB 198 would allow licensing of navigators who will provide insurance advice and guidance to uninsured individuals and groups seeking health insurance coverage under a health insurance exchange. Under the Affordable Care Act, either the state or federal government must form and operate health insurance exchanges. HB 198 lists the requirements for a navigator’s license and prohibits a navigator from soliciting a person or business currently insured under an existing health benefit plan.
HB 202 would increase the cost limit of projects for which the Department of Transportation must perform value engineering studies.
HB 234 would require clear notification if automatic renewals are included in service contracts. This bill applies to any seller that sells, leases, or offers to sell or lease any service to a consumer under a service contract.
HB 254 would allow drivers to produce proof of required minimum motor vehicle liability insurance coverage in either paper or electronic format. Under HB 254, drivers would be able to provide proof of coverage by pulling records up on their smart phones or tablets.
In other chamber news, the Senate spent over two hours debating HB 487, a bill which essentially promotes coin-machine gaming to provide funds for the HOPE scholarship. I voted against this measure because I believe the practice of gambling greatly contributes to the destruction of families and causes delinquency within communities. This bill now heads back to the House because of amendments.
This past Thursday, I had the tremendous honor of welcoming my dad, Pastor Bill T. Ligon, to the Senate Chamber to serve as Chaplain of the Day. My father is a distinguished author, minister of the Gospel, and served as a missionary to Spain for six years. During his morning devotional, my father encouraged us to heed the voice of Christ, who is the true foundation of righteous government. I am proud of the work my dad has accomplished to advance the Gospel and serve his community.
There are only six legislative days remaining until we adjourn. If any legislation you are following needs my urgent attention, please call my secretary in Atlanta at 404-656-0045 so that she can get your message to me while I'm on the floor of the Senate.
"Race to the Top" Mandates Undermine Local Control
Op Ed by Senator William Ligon
February 26, 2013
Georgia is just beginning to reap the consequences of not analyzing the long-term costs of taking federal Race to the Top (RTTT) funds. Not only does RTTT impose unfunded mandates at the state and local levels, students and teachers will also see a new and expanded focus on testing as well as unproven teaching methods entering the classroom.
The State Board of Education, by committing our state to the Common Core (the effort to nationalize curriculum standards and testing), has forfeited Georgia's sovereign control over math and English language arts standards to those trade associations that have copy righted these standards and to the federal government, which is enforcing adherence to the Common Core. Though I am sure that the previous administration had the best of intentions when deciding to apply for Race to the Top, the lack of accountability to the parents and taxpayers of this state is stunning.
Why should Georgians come "aboard" the Common Core train when their voice was shut out of the process? The people's voice is expressed through open public debate in their local communities and through their legislative body. Their tax dollars pay for K-12 education, and it is their children in Georgia's public schools.
This $400 million Race to the Top grant will not cover all the costs of implementing the Common Core statewide, much less the technology needs, such as considerable increases in bandwidth as well as computer hardware and software. In addition, testing costs will rise from a little over $5 per student up to $37 per student. Why is it that the legislature heard for the first time this session from the Department of Education that the RTTT grant was just to build the program not to maintain the program and systems required for the long-term? Exactly what are the long-term financial costs? Georgia taxpayers need to know.
Yet the financial cost is just one of many concerns. Many well-respected policy organizations have examined the Common Core and found no evidence that standardization promotes academic achievement. For example, a Brookings Institute report concluded that "despite all the money and effort devoted to developing the Common Core State Standards-not to mention the simmering controversy over their adoption in several states-the study foresees little to no impact on
A New York State University study found that unfunded mandates associated with the RTTT grant (approximately $400 per student) were forcing considerable sacrifices including "teacher and staff cuts resulting in increased class sizes." The study also discussed "serious challenges to this federal program's validity, and the research upon which it is based," and concluded that taxpayers appeared to be "funding a grand and costly experiment that has the potential to take public education in the wrong direction."
The Heritage Foundation has become so alarmed that it released a paper recommending an exit strategy for states to use to end their participation in the Common Core.
But are the standards themselves worth the cost? Dr. Sandra Stotsky, the nation's leading expert on English language arts (ELA) standards, refused to sign off on the ELA standards when she was a member of the Common Core Validation Committee. She believed the poor quality, the de-emphasis on literature, and the low reading levels, such as 8th grade levels for 12th graders, would rob students of the education they deserved.
Even the Fordham Institute - a Common Core proponent -- gave Georgia’s previous ELA standards higher marks than the Common Core.
As for math, Dr. James Milgram of Stanford University, the only mathematician on the Common Core Validation Committee, refused to sign off on the math standards, stating, “It’s almost a joke to think students [who master the common standards] would be ready for math at a university.” In fact, one of the creators of the Common Core admitted in 2010 that Common Core's definition of "college-readiness" means only that a high school graduate would be ready for a nonselective community college, not a four-year university.
Another disturbing component of this national agenda involves the collection of data. The Common Core and the computerized testing ensures that states must build and maintain expensive high-tech systems that will track student performance and other personal data. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan expressed his hope that the government will be able to "track children from preschool to high school and from high school to college and college to career." The next step is already written in newly introduced federal legislation, the METRIC bill, which will include teachers in that tracking system.
Georgia needs to have a transparent, democratic process of developing curriculum standards and a means to ensure more direct accountability at the local level. Georgia's educational system should be accountable not to Washington bureaucrats, but to the people of this state who pay the taxes.
Some states like Alaska and Texas wisely avoided entanglement with RTTT from the outset. Virginia initially adopted Common Core but has since withdrawn. Indiana's Senate just voted to halt implementation of the Common Core based on their concerns. We have the opportunity to take similar action with Senate Bill 167 to help restore educational control to the citizens of Georgia.
SB 167 Introduced to Withdraw from Common Core
ATLANTA (February 17, 2013) - We are quickly approaching the halfway point of the 2013 Legislative Session, and are 12 days away from Crossover Day - the final day Senate bills are able to transfer to the House of Representatives, and vice versa. With only 40 days to pass legislation, we’re working hard to consider the merits of hundreds of bills through the committee process.
Earlier this session, the Senate worked with the House to set an aggressive schedule for the first year of the 2013-2014 legislative term, designating March 5th as Day 29 of the 40 day session. This advanced calendar will allow for a judicious review of legislative initiatives and help legislators to more effectively plan their work at the State Capitol.
The Senate’s committee calendar is quickly filling up for the weeks ahead, and we’re looking forward to considering many bills and resolutions that have been introduced. Several bills I sponsored are already being heard in their respective committees, including SB 1 and SB 73.
On Wednesday, testimony was heard on SB 1 in the Senate Insurance and Labor Subcommittee. This bill would prohibit health insurance policies from denying a parent the right to inspect, review, or attain copies of their child’s health insurance records. After thorough debate, it was the desire of the committee to table this bill for further review and revise the language to more adequately reflect the intention of this legislation.
One of the bills I co-sponsored, SB 73, was presented in the Roads and Bridges Subcommittee of the Senate Transportation Committee. This legislation removes the “penalty provision” as prescribed by the Transportation and Investment Act of 2010 which increases the local match for transportation projects in special districts that did not approve the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (TSPLOST).
Under current law, the local governments that did not approve the TSPLOST must provide a 30 percent match for any local maintenance and improvement grants by the Department of Transportation for transportation projects and programs. Local governments in special districts in which the voters approved the tax must only provide a 10 percent match.
In essence, local governments who voted against this measure during the July 31, 2012 referendum were penalized for exercising their right to vote. I do not believe this is sound policy, and this penalty must be repealed to protect the fiscal health of our local communities. If passed, this legislation would simply remove this “penalty provision” so that all local governments are only required to provide a 10 percent match for transportation funding.
On Thursday, I introduced SB 167, which is legislation to withdraw Georgia from its participation in the Common Core State Standards and from the aligned assessments currently being developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, better known as PARCC.
The bill addresses not only withdrawal from the current implementation of the national math and English language arts standards, but prevents the Department of Education from adopting future standards that are not fully vetted through a democratic process that involves the citizens of this state and the Georgia General Assembly. In addition, the legislation ensures that Georgia does not forfeit control of curriculum standards to outside entities that are unaccountable to the taxpayers of this state.
With regard to the assessments of the PARCC, these computer-driven tests will be exorbitantly expensive and pad the pockets of vendors. In addition, I have serious concerns about this type of testing as well as the means by which these tests will be used to evaluate our teachers. The information I've seen shows me that the methodology is not based on sound science and leads to flawed results.
Another provision of the bill addresses privacy concerns. SB 167 prohibits the Department of Education from sharing personally identifiable student and teacher information with the federal government except in well-defined circumstances, some of which would require notification to parents and to teachers. In addition, the bill forbids the Department of Education from sharing any personally identifiable information with any entity outside the state, such as non-profits, and limits what can be shared inside the state to educational entities only. Further, no educational institution can use the data to develop commercial products or services or transfer that information to other entities, such as the labor department for workforce planning.
Unfortunately, measures to protect the privacy of Georgia's citizens require additional vigilance due to the fact that the U.S. Department of Education has gutted federal student-privacy law through regulations implemented a year ago. Here in Georgia, I believe it is our legislative duty to protect the privacy of our citizens, especially our children, according to the original spirit of the law passed by Congress.
Also this week, my colleagues and I had the distinguished privilege of welcoming newly-elected Senator Dean Burke of the 11th Senate District to the General Assembly as he assumed his duties in the Senate. Throughout the week, the Senate welcomed several groups to the Capitol, including the Georgia Farm Bureau Federation, the University of Georgia, the Georgia Young Farmers Association, the Lupus Foundation of America, and the Girl Scouts, among many others.
Thank you for trusting me to be your voice at the State Capitol. I welcome comments and questions from my constituents, so please don’t hesitate to contact my office at any time.
Common Core Usurping Local and State Control of Education Capitol Update: February 4 -8
by Senator William Ligon (R- Brunswick)
It was an honor this past week to host the visit of the former Texas Commissioner of Education, Robert Scott. I invited him to Georgia to meet with Governor Nathan Deal, our State School Superintendent, Dr. John Barge, the Senate and House Education members, the Republican leadership, and other members of the Georgia General Assembly. Sen. Lindsey TippIns, Chairman of the Senate Education Committee also extended an invitation for Scott to address the Joint Meeting of the House and Senate Education Committees before a standing-room only crowd on Wednesday afternoon.
As background, Scott, as the Texas Commissioner of Education, advised Governor Rick Perry to avoid the Race to the Top federal grant competition, with its requirement that the State adopt the Common Core State Standards. I wanted our leaders to understand his reasoning because I believe Gov. Perry made the right choice to keep Texas independent of the mandates of the grant and this federal focus to create uniform curriculum standards across the nation.
As most educators in my district have known for a while, Georgia's former Governor, Sonny Perdue, and our former State School Superintendent, Kathy Cox, committed our state to the Race to the Top competition. This agenda never went before the Georgia Legislature and thus bypassed the voice of the people. Race to the Top is currently driving all school districts into "one-size-fits-all" curriculum standards in math and English language arts. Our students and our teachers will be in a federal straight-jacket, and our school districts will be at the mercy of national and international vendors making money off this latest federal program.
During Scott's visit at the Capitol, he explained that the Common Core State Standards were developed behind closed doors and that they are owned and copyrighted by unaccountable third parties in Washington, D.C. These standards were never vetted by the people of Georgia in an open, accountable process, and the terms of the grant forbid the state from changing the standards or even adding content that exceeds the threshold of 15 percent.
Scott explained that the State of Texas was wooed by the federal government with a promise of $700 million to sign onto Race to the Top and Common Core. However, after his calculations, he realized that scrapping his state's current standards and implementing the terms of the grant would cost between $2.5 to $3 billion. In his eyes, it was a sorry trade to shackle Texas to federal mandates, rob Texas citizens of their right to control education standards, and then stick taxpayers with a bill of at least $2 billion to make up the difference. To add insult to injury, that amount did not include the ongoing maintenance of the system for the years ahead beyond the four years of the grant.
Here in Georgia, though we are receiving $400 million in federal funds over a four-year period, the General Assembly has not received a cost analysis for implementation, and long-term maintenance, of the terms of the grant. The Georgia General Assembly must hold the Department of Education accountable for these types of decisions that affect not only the education of our children but the pocketbook of our taxpayers.
Further, the accompanying tests, developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, known as the PARCC national testing consortium, will create such testing demands that this will probably become better known as No Child Left Behind on steroids. Scott informed us that the PARCC will cost approximately $30 to $37 per student, in comparison to Georgia's current costs of between $5 to $10 per student. These estimates do not take into account the additional technology, both in hardware and bandwidth, that will be required at the local level for online testing.
The bottom line is that the people of Georgia pay over $13 billion in state and local taxes for K-12 education (every year). There is no reason that a $400 million federal grant (over four years) should usurp the constitutional rights of Georgia's citizens to control the educational standards of this state.
Sen. Ligon Honors U.S.S. Georgia Captain and Crew and Submits Two Senate Bills
Week of January 28 - February 1
The Georgia General Assembly reconvened this week after recessing to review Governor Nathan Deal’s recommendations for the Amended FY13 Budget and FY14 Budget. Although we have only completed nine days of the 2013 legislative session, my colleagues and I are busy filing legislation, listening to the needs of our constituents, and holding committee meetings.
On Wednesday, I recognized the U.S.S. Georgia with Senate Resolution 65 to make January 30, U.S.S. Georgia Day at the Capitol. It was an honor to welcome Captain Rhett Jaehn and the crew members of the U.S.S. Georgia to the Senate Chamber. We are forever grateful to these extraordinarily brave men and women of the U.S. Navy who have chosen a life of service to their nation.
On Thursday, we held the first official meeting of the State and Local Governmental Operations Committee, which I chair. During the meeting, members of the committee voted on a set of rules that will govern our committee proceedings for the 2013-2014 Legislative Term.
I have already filed two Senate bills this week. SB 1 is a great example of how individuals in the Third Senate District are making a difference for parents all over this state. A mother came to me explaining a problem with getting insurance and medical information about her child, even though she is the custodial parent. Since the child is covered by the father's insurance, that important medical information is being withheld from the custodial parent. Due to this concerned parent speaking up about a problem, I have been able to draft legislation addressing this issue.
SB 1, if passed, will now make health insurance records concerning a minor child equally available to both custodial and non custodial parents unless a court order has specifically removed the right of the non custodial parent to such information or unless parental rights have been terminated.
SB 68, Celebrate Freedom Week, establishes an important focus on the Founding Era of our nation for K-12 students to learn more about the sacrifices made for freedom in the founding of this country and the values, principles, and philosophies on which this country was founded. During that full week in September, which includes Constitution Day, September 17, students in social studies classes will enjoy three hours dedicated to the study of America's Founding Era. In addition, the bill instructs the Department of Education to provide online resources for teachers so that they can easily find links to foundational documents and other resource material to use during Celebrate Freedom Week.
House Resolution 50 was adopted to set the legislative calendar through March 5, 2013 - legislative day 29. For additional information regarding a specific piece of legislation, you may access the Georgia General Assembly website at http://www.legis.ga.gov/.
Legislature Recesses to Examine State Budget
January 25, 2013
This past week, the Georgia General Assembly recessed in order to begin a series of joint budget hearings at the State Capitol. During this process, members of both the Senate and House Appropriations Committees worked together on a careful line-by-line analysis of our state budget. This is a complicated process and requires a thorough account of every taxpayer dollar.
“I will not lead our state with a doomsday mindset. Instead, we will move forward with confidence, focusing on the proven foundations of a growing Georgia, those that keep us steady during times of uncertainty but also during times of prosperity….” said Gov. Deal, who provided lawmakers with a spending plan for the FY2013 and FY2014 budgets during his State of the State Address.
Georgia’s economy is experiencing slow but steady growth thanks to a decline in unemployment and an increase in state revenues. However, our state is still navigating our way out of a national recession and will need to make additional cuts to ensure responsible state spending. For FY2014, Governor Nathan Deal proposed a $19.8 billion budget, a slight increase from last year’s $19.3 billion budget. In addition, Georgia’s rainy day fund, also known as the Revenue Shortfall Reserve, currently stands at $378 million or about 7 to 8 days of state operations.
Governor Deal also instructed state agencies to submit a 3 percent reduction in their overall spending plans. The Governor used these submissions to determine his recommendations to the legislature. However, total funding for state agencies and departments for FY2014 will be ultimately determined by the General Assembly during the appropriations process.
Even though some areas may experience a slight budget reduction, Governor Deal has maintained funding for key areas such as public safety, health care, education and economic development.
In an effort to reduce recidivism among our state’s public offenders and enhance public safety, Governor Deal has recommended $11.6 million for accountability courts, which include drug, mental health, DUI, and veteran courts. These courts are expected to save taxpayers $264 million over the next five years. Additional funding for health care has also been proposed, including $246 million for Medicaid and PeachCare and $45 million in bonds for a new cancer research building at Georgia Regents University.
In addition to bringing the pre-K school year back to 180 days, Governor Deal has allocated $147 million to cover enrollment growth in K-12 schools. He has also appropriated $41 million for the Quality Basic Education Equalization program, which is a program that assists lower income school systems. This program is now fully funded for the first time since 2008.
There’s good news for Georgia’s college students, too. Though HOPE was facing financial challenges, its funding has increased by 3 percent over the last year, bringing HOPE’s total funds in FY2014 to nearly $600 million. Furthermore, Governor Deal has proposed $85 million in funds for growth of the University System and $58 million in bonds for improvements to our Technical College System. Supporting Georgia’s education systems with adequate funding will produce graduates who are well-prepared to face the challenges of today’s workforce.
Over the past several years, the Georgia General Assembly has led a coordinated statewide effort to advance pro-business tax policies that promote investment in our state. The state’s efforts to keep inflation low and reduce government spending have certainly paid off. We’ve maintained our AAA bond rating, and are currently outperforming the U.S. in employment growth. This is a positive indicator of the state’s considerable progress toward stabilizing our economy and implementing responsible fiscal policies.
In FY2013, Georgia is expected to see an increase of 63,000 new jobs through its recovering labor markets and private sector job growth. Information, trade and manufacturing jobs are all experiencing healthy growth rates and are providing countless jobs for Georgians across the state.
As we move forward, I am committed to supporting policies that promote business growth and get more Georgians back to work. As always, it is a pleasure to serve you, the constituents of the 3rd Senate District. If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact my office.
The Georgia General Assembly will be in session Monday through Friday, January 28 through February 1 and again the following week from February 4 through February 8.
Sen. William Ligon Named Chairman of the Senate State and Local Governmental Operations Committee
ATLANTA (January 15, 2013) - Sen. William Ligon (R-Brunswick) has been named Chairman of the Senate State and Local Governmental Operations Committee for the 2013- 2014 legislative term by the Senate Committee on Assignments.
“I am honored that my colleagues have chosen me to chair the State and Local Governmental Operations Committee,” said Sen. Ligon. “In this new role, I look forward to working with members of the Georgia General Assembly to ensure fair legislation which will benefit all Georgians.”
Primary jurisdictions for the State and Local Governmental Operations Committee include special taxes, city and county organization and powers, subdivisions, and administration of special districts.
Sen. Ligon is Vice Chair of the Judiciary Non-Civil Committee and also serves as a member of the Judiciary Civil, Ethics and Health and Human Services Committees.
“I’m humbled to preside over a Senate that is strongly unified and filled with individuals that are hard-working, intelligent and dedicated to solving problems,” Lieutenant Governor Cagle said. “I look forward to working hand-in-hand with Chairman Ligon, who is extremely well-versed and passionate about this important subject matter, to deliver Georgians real results on the major issues facing this State.”
"We are fortunate to have a wealth of talent and experience in the State Senate," said President Pro Tem David Shafer (R-Duluth). "I have every confidence in our new committee leadership team."
Once a piece of legislation is introduced in the Senate, it is assigned to a Committee, depending on its topic. If the Committee gives the legislation a “do pass” recommendation, then the proposed law is sent to the Rules Committee for consideration. The appointed chairs will oversee the operation and order of Senate committee meetings, including calling for action on bills, resolutions or other matters assigned to that committee.
The first term of the 152nd Legislative Session of the Georgia General Assembly convened January 14, 2013 at the Georgia State Capitol.
The 2013 Georgia General Assembly
January 12, 2013
The Georgia General Assembly begins at 10 AM on Monday, January 14, 2013. Tune in for live coverage in the Senate chamber at the following link.
State of the State Address
Governor Nathan Deal will deliver the State of the State address to the General Assembly in the Georgia House of Representatives on Thursday, January 17, 2013. The time is expected to be 11 AM. In the past, it has often taken place in the evening, but word is that it will take place that morning. Please visit the following website to view the Governor's speech live from the House floor.
Georgia's net tax collections from December 2012 have increased 9.8 percent compared to December 2011. Total collections for the last month were $1.69 billion. December's rate of collection outpaces the average for the fiscal year. Even so, the overall average at the mid point of this fiscal year is 4.9 percent above the previous fiscal year, a $400 million increase according to the Governor's Office.
The budget will take center stage throughout the session. Budget issues are now more complicated due to the unknowns surrounding federal decisions. It will be almost two months before Congress works out the federal budget due to the recent deal that legislators passed to avoid the "fiscal cliff." Yet, state legislators must now negotiate various state budget decisions without knowing what federal funds will be available.
Budget hearings will take place from January 22 through January 24 in the Capitol, Room 341. The agenda for these budget hearings is located at the following link.
Once budget hearings get underway on January 22, citizens can tune-in live to see the various department presentations to the Senate and House Appropriations Committees. See the link provided below.
This session the Senate welcomes seven new senators, and we are still waiting for the run-off in Senate District 11 between Mike Keown and Dr. Dean Burke. Both are Republicans. Republicans now hold 38 of 56 seats, providing a two-thirds majority which may be helpful on constitutional issues. At this juncture, our new senators are as follows:
Senate District 6 - Hunter Hill (Republican) from Vinings
Senate District 7 - Tyler Harper (Republican) from Ocilla
Senate District 21 - Brandon Beach (Republican) from Alpharetta
Senate District 25 - Burt Jones (Republican) from Jackson
Senate District 26 - David Lucas (Democrat) from Macon
Senate District 30 - Mike Dugan (Republican) from Carrollton
Senate District 52 - Chuck Hufstetler (Republican) from Rome
All Senate members will take the oath of office on Monday and receive new committee assignments. It is always a very eventful day. We will rejoin fellow senators we have not seen in a while, meet new members along with their families, and see, for the first time, how our responsibilities will either change or remain the same as we make room for new senators. This also means that committee chairmen may be different than last year. In addition, our new Senate leadership team has totally changed. Our new leaders are as follows:
Senator David Shafer - President Pro Tempore
Senator Ronnie Chance - Majority Leader
Senator Butch Miller - Caucus Chair
Senator Judson Hill - Caucus Vice Chair
Senator Cecil Staton - Majority Whip
Senator Steve Gooch - Caucus Secretary