State Rep. Kevin Tanner kicked off another legislative session with the first of his weekly update breakfasts this past Saturday at the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame.
In what many attendees said was his biggest-ever turnout, Tanner, R-Dawsonville, provided a free hot breakfast and spoke to the gathered constituents about his agenda for the current session, which began Jan. 14.
Tanner represents District 9, which includes most of Dawson except for a small portion in the Big Canoe area, as well as all of Lumpkin County and a portion of Forsyth County.
He currently serves as the chairman of the transportation committee as well as serves on the appropriations, education, intragovernmental coordination, natural resources and environment, rules and special rules committees.
One of the priorities of each session is setting the budget, Tanner said. The assembly will first work to approve an amended budget for the current fiscal year, and then work to finalize a budget for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1.
On Jan. 17, Gov. Brian Kemp gave the State of the State address at the capitol and gave the House his proposed budget. Kemp must set revenue projections, but it’s up to the general assembly to decide where funds will be used and come up with a balanced budget.
Tanner currently sits on the appropriations committee, which handles the budget, as well as sits on the subcommittee for K-12 education funding, which will meet and eventually make a recommendation to the full appropriations committee. Budget hearings began this week.
“The proposed state funding for the next fiscal year is over $27 billion and then we get $20 billion or so from the federal government,” Tanner said. “It’s a big undertaking.”
Along with his committee assignments, Tanner also talked about bills he is looking to sponsor and work that needs to be done this year.
Tanner updated the crowd on the status of House Bill 338, or the First Priority Act, a bill signed by then-Gov. Nathan Deal in 2017 to help improve failing schools throughout the state through the assistance of a state board of education-appointed chief turnaround officer.
Eric Thomas was appointed the chief turnaround officer and has been since been working with the lowest of the low-performing schools, appointing turnaround coaches and creating student improvement plans to strengthen educational outcomes.
Under HB 338, if schools do not cooperate, Thomas can take steps to intervene, including turning the school over to another school district or firing staff. In the first year, Thomas went to 10 schools identified as lowest performing and attempted to create partnerships with the local school boards to address why the schools are failing.
“When he first started, there was a school in Augusta for instance, that said ‘we don’t really want you here.’ He didn’t push his way in, Savannah was the same way, but after a few months of watching his work in other places, they called him and said ‘we want you to come in and help us,’” Tanner said.
Out of the 10 schools Thomas worked with the first year, four scored high enough to come off the list, Tanner said.
“We’ve identified some areas that need to be tweaked (and) I’m carrying some legislation on that, and those principals and superintendents in those schools (Thomas) has been working with are going to come and testify in support of that,” Tanner said.
Tanner is looking to create a test pilot program where there will be a stipend and additional training for high-quality teachers who will be brought to the low-performing schools to serve as mentors for the other teachers. If they are successful over a three year period, the stipend would become part of their permanent pay structure, Tanner said.
Tanner is also working on a piece of legislation centered on transportation.
He was appointed chairman of the House Commission on Transit Governance and Funding in 2017 and the commission met 10 times over the past year and a half with the goal of studying Georgia’s transit needs and analyzing ways for the state to plan and provide for those needs.
“For years, the power in transportation (was) in south Georgia; most of our leadership around transportation was south of Atlanta,” Tanner said.” So I am thankful to be chairing transportation and I am looking forward to trying to find ways to improve, because we have lots of transportation issues in and around my district...especially around the Ga. 400 corridor here in Dawson.”
Tanner said he is looking to introduce legislation that would streamline the bureaucratic processes that dictate rural transit.
Another piece of legislation Tanner is spearheading would aid those who suffer with mental health issues.
“Our homeless population, many of those are affected by mental illness, our jail population, many of those are affected by mental illness, and in the wisdom of the federal government 10 or so years ago, they decided it would be in the best interest of the states to shut down mental institutions altogether because it was more humane,” Tanner said. “But I would say it is less humane to throw someone in jail who has a mental illness...we’ve got to do better as a state and as a country.”
Tanner said he will be introducing a mental health commission comprised of two House members, two Senate members and 15 other members, all who are experts in the mental health field, to take on mental health in the same way the Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform has worked to review laws and procedure relating to criminal justice.
“It will be a long-term commission, it’s not going to be an easy task to take on, but I’m looking forward to being involved,” Tanner said.
Tanner has been a representative since 2013, and prior to that he worked as Dawson County manager. He started his career in law enforcement, including spending 11 years serving as chief deputy.
Currently Tanner wears many hats: including his work at the state legislature, he works as a light commercial contractor and residential builder and owns rental properties as well as owns a security company and a poultry farm.
He is married to Stacie, a teacher, and has four daughters.
Tanner will be holding the breakfast every week through the legislative session, alternating Saturdays with the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame and the Wagon Wheel in Dahlonega. Breakfast starts at 9 a.m.