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First pieces of 2016 legislation passed
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We returned to the Capitol on Jan. 25 for the third week of the 2016 legislative session.

Several House committees and subcommittees met throughout the week to take up legislation, and the full body of the House unanimously passed our first two pieces of legislation of the session.

Chief Justice Hugh Thompson also delivered the annual State of the Judiciary Address this week to a joint session of the House and Senate.

Following last week's budget hearings, the House successfully passed the amended fiscal year (AFY 2016) budget, or the mid-year adjustment of state spending through June 30, 2016.

The amended budget, HB 750, is very similar to Gov. Nathan Deal's recommendations.

The total appropriation for AFY 2016 is $22.9 billion with education and transportation funds account for approximately 85 percent of the new appropriations.

I am honored to serve on the House Appropriations Committee and to work with the dedicated staff in the House Budget and Research Office. As a result of these efforts, HB 750 passed the House on Jan. 28 by a vote of 176-0.

A major part of the AFY 2016 budget is the appropriation of $758 million in new state general and motor fuel funds for transportation.

These new transportation funds are a result of the general and motor fuel proceeds from House Bill 170, the Transportation Funding Act, passed during the 2015 legislative session.

Of those funds, $519 million are budgeted for capital construction and maintenance projects; $200 million for routine maintenance; and $336.1 million in Local Maintenance and Improvement Grants (LMIG).

Georgians are encouraged to track the progress of transportation projects and view the state's 10-year major mobility plan by visiting www.GAroads.org.

With the increased funding, we will not only improve the infrastructure for our booming economic hubs, but also ensure the safety of our citizens on our roads and bridges.

We will begin to see the results of the increase in transportation funding here in North Georgia over the next few months.

While there is no question that investments in our transportation infrastructure were long overdue, investments in our education system are always essential components of any budget.

The AFY 2016 budget allocates $204 million to Georgia's K-12 system, including a $109.9 million for midterm enrollment growth. This also includes $14.9 million through the OneGeorgia Authority to continue to provide grants to local school systems for wireless broadband connectivity to encourage high-tech classrooms.

Funding for higher education was also included in HB 750, with an additional $30 million in lottery funds going towards the HOPE/Zell Miller Scholarships and an additional $525,808 in new funds for the North Georgia Military Scholarship Grant.

The AFY 2016 budget also allocates an additional $20.2 million for the Move on When Ready program, allowing eligible Georgia students to take advantage of dual enrollment and progress at their own pace.

Investments in education can never be too great, and I am proud of the work we have done, and are continuing to do, for Georgia's students.

In addition to passing the amended budget, the House and Senate convened for a joint session in the House Chamber with the Georgia Supreme Court, the Georgia Court of Appeals and other guests for the annual State of the Judiciary Address from Chief Justice Hugh Thompson on Wednesday.

Chief Justice Thompson was appointed to the Supreme Court of Georgia in 1994 and was elected by his peers to a four-year term as chief justice in 2013. Lt. Governor Casey Cagle welcomed the Chief Justice to the rostrum where he updated us on the current state of Georgia's judicial system.

New approaches to criminal justice are changing the way Georgian's approach crime and punishment. Chief Justice Thompson commended Deal for his commitment to criminal justice reform, noting that our state's previously overpopulated prisons are at their lowest point in 10 years, and the state's recidivism rate is the lowest in 30 years.

These improvements are attributed, in part, to the expansion of our state's now 131 accountability courts. An accountability court is a cost-effective criminal justice alternative for non-violent offenders, such as a drug and mental health treatment court, where offenders are held accountable through court-supervised treatment programs.

The chief justice credited accountability courts with reducing crime by 45 percent, and with saving the state more than $51 million in prison costs in 2015. I am proud of the work our state has done to give our citizens a second chance, reduce crime and keep more Georgians safe.

On Jan. 28, I was honored to recognize the 2015 Division II College Softball National Champions on the House floor. I am proud to represent Dahlonega and the home of the University of North Georgia and the 2015 champs.

As a graduate of the University of North Georgia, I am hopeful that these outstanding young ladies will once again claim the National Championship.

They are ranked No. 1 in the country and are the only division I or division II team in the state to have every player on the team be from Georgia.

I have several pieces of legislation that are successfully moving through the committee process.

I am looking forward to working to get at least one of these bills to the House floor this week for a vote.

On Saturday, we will be meeting at 9 a.m. at the Wagon Wheel in Dahlonega for our weekly informational breakfast. We had a great turnout at our breakfast this past Saturday in Dawsonville, and I encourage you to come join us to learn what is occurring at session and to discuss your thoughts and concerns.

I am honored to serve as your Representative at the State Capitol. I am always available to assist you and encourage you to contact me with questions or your opinions.

Rep. Kevin Tanner can be reached on his cell phone at (678) 776-5059, at the Capitol at (404) 656-0152 or by email at kevin.tanner@house.ga.gov.