The 20th day, and half-way point, of the 2015 legislative session was Feb. 23.
With just 20 days left to pass legislation this year, there were some very important items voted on before the full body of the House.
Among the bills passed this week was one of the most crucial pieces of legislation of the session, the Fiscal Year 2016 (FY 2016) budget.
The Fiscal Year 2016 budget is the only piece of legislation that the General Assembly is required to pass, according to the Georgia Constitution.
The 2016 budget, or House Bill 76, is the initial guide for all state spending from July 1, 2015 through June 30, 2016. This year's budget was set by a revenue estimate of $21.7 billion, a 4.5 percent increase from the Fiscal Year 2015 budget.
With the increase in state revenue, the House was able to fund a number of its priorities in the FY 2016 budget, including enhanced funding for education; transportation, maintaining State Health Benefit Plan coverage for non-certificated school employees and support for Georgia's rural hospitals.
Of the new revenue in the FY 2016 budget, 60 percent of those funds are budgeted for K-12 education expenses.
K-12 education funds, totaling $571.9 million, will help fully fund enrollment growth, allow for additional training for teachers, provide charter system grants and State Commission Charter School supplements, increase opportunities for agricultural and career/technical education, and distribute more dollars to local school systems in hopes of eliminating furlough days and raising salaries for teachers.
Additionally, the House version of the budget takes a strong stance on continuing the State Health Benefit Plan coverage for non-certificated school workers and includes additional funds to continue coverage for these valuable school workers.
Just as transportation has been a major topic under the Gold Dome, funding for state transportation projects was also set as a key priority in the FY 2016 budget.
HB 76 includes an infusion of $55 million in state dollars and $210 million in bonds to improve our roads, rail, airports, bridges and cargo.
The appropriation includes $3.9 million in prior-year funds; $2 million to match federal funds for traffic management and control projects; $9.6 million for the State Road and Tollway Authority, with $7.6 million specifically dedicated to funding projects through the Georgia Transportation Infrastructure Bank; and $17.1 million in debt service for $200 million in bonds for bridge repair and rehabilitation and transit projects statewide.
Maintaining and repairing our roads and bridges is vital to every part of our state, and it is our duty to ensure that our roadways continue to be safe for Georgia drivers.
The Fiscal Year 2016 budget, HB 76, will now go to the Senate for their review and consideration.
Last week I also brought House Bill 63 to the House floor for a vote. I have worked on this bill for more than 10 months, and I am excited about the potential impact it has on those seeking GEDs.
The legislation will allow employers to receive a $400 state tax credit, if they pay the cost for an employee to take the GED test and they pass.
Approximately 40 percent of individuals taking the GED test for the first time fail. The rate is higher for those that take the test without attending any adult learning classes.
The second tier of my legislation will encourage employers to assist employees in this area.
If the employer pays the employees hourly wage to attend a minimum of 40 hours of classes, pays the cost of the GED test and the employee passes, the employer will get a $1,200 state tax credit.
On Feb. 24, House Bill 63 passed the House floor and is now in the Senate.
Now that we have passed the half-way point for the 2015 legislative session, we will soon begin to work even longer hours and vote on more legislation under the Gold Dome.
I have two bills already on the calendar to be voted on by the House this week.
I am extremely pleased with how well my legislation has made it through the committee process and been approved by the entire House this session.
My focus will now start shifting to working with the Senate and their committees as we quickly approach the end of session on April 2.
We have had great turnouts at our weekly informational breakfasts over the past several weeks.
On Saturday we will be meeting at 9 a.m. at Ryan's in Dawsonville.
I encourage you to come join us to learn about what is happening with your state government 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 email@example.com.