On March 5 the House reconvened for Legislative Day 30 and the ninth week of the 2018 legislative session. Since we are now passed the Crossover Day deadline, much of our legislative work last week was accomplished in committee hearings as my House colleagues and I reviewed Senate bills.
In addition to vetting Senate measures in our respective House committees, we also took up several pieces of legislation on the House floor this week, including the Fiscal Year 2019 state budget, which is one of the most important bills that we will pass all session.
The Georgia General Assembly is constitutionally required to pass a balanced budget each year, and the House took a step in fulfilling this constitutional obligation on Friday by granting initial passage to House Bill 684, the Fiscal Year 2019 (FY 2019) budget. The House Appropriations Committee carefully reviewed each portion of the budget and meticulously allocated state dollars towards our state’s needs, and I would like to highlight some of the most significant budget allotments in Georgia’s FY 2019 budget.
As I have explained in previous columns, the House Rural Development Council’s (RDC) work during the summer and fall of 2017 has driven much of this year’s legislative agenda, and as a result of the RDC’s comprehensive study of the issues plaguing rural Georgia, the FY 2019 budget allocates state funding towards a wide range of initiatives to assist our rural communities based on the RDC’s recommendations.
Some of this rural funding is specifically aimed at boosting economic development in rural Georgia, including funding for the Department of Agriculture’s Georgia Grown marketing program; a downtown development attorney to help Georgia’s small towns secure redevelopment grants; a deputy commissioner of rural Georgia position; and the Center for Rural Prosperity and Innovations. The budget also includes state dollars for several key rural health programs, including two rural surgical fellowships at St. Joseph's/Candler Hospital; a statewide residency recruitment fair for rural medical facilities; insurance premium assistance for physicians who practice in underserved counties with one or less physicians; 10 regional Emergency Medical Services (EMS) training positions to train EMS personnel in rural Georgia; and the Rural Health Systems Innovation Center.
Additionally, the FY 2019 budget includes appropriations for various programs for rural Georgia children, such as funding for soft skills training and character education development for rural Georgia’s lowest performing schools; a mobile audiology clinic to provide audiological care to children in rural Georgia; and birth-to-five literacy and numeracy in rural Georgia.
I am proud that the House has prioritized state dollars to support and revitalize our rural communities, and these allocations for our rural communities will help rural Georgia, as well as our state as a whole, to thrive.
Each year, education funding is always one of the largest budget items in the state budget, and this year is no exception, with 55.9 percent of the entire budget allocated to education. First and foremost, the FY 2019 budget includes $119.5 million for K-12 enrollment growth and training and experience for an additional 6,552 students and 1,869 teachers across the state, and $361.7 million for the Teachers Retirement System (TRS) to support 117,957 retired and 218,193 active TRS members.
The budget also includes funding for two Advanced Placement exams, one STEM exam and one non-STEM exam, for low-income students, as well as dollars for the new Chief Turnaround Officer program to help Georgia’s schools in most need of assistance. Additionally, the state budget allots $1.6 million for a student mental health awareness training program, including response and intervention training, for students in preschool through 12th grade.
Finally, one of the most important education appropriations included in the FY 2019 budget was $8 million for school security grants to improve security in Georgia’s schools, which was added to the budget in light of one of the deadliest school shootings in recent history. This funding is instrumental in helping to protect Georgia’s students, teachers and school staff members, and we hope that our Senate counterparts will join us in adding supplementary school security funding as well.
Mental health initiatives are also a significant budgetary focus in the House, and the FY 2019 budget provides critical funding for several mental health programs that will benefit our state’s citizens. Specifically, the 2019 budget implements the Commission on Children’s Mental Health’s recommendations by funding child and adolescent crisis services, including four new respite homes; 13 new Georgia APEX Program grants to expand mental health services to students in 100 more schools; telemedicine equipment and services; and high-fidelity wraparound services training that will impact up to 3,000 young Georgians.
The FY 2019 budget also includes funding to expand the Georgia Crisis Access Line’s operating hours and to create a mobile application to provide mental health crisis services. Additionally, the 2019 state budget includes $2.2 million for Department of Human Services care coordinator positions to improve mental health outcomes for foster care children. Georgia’s mental health programs provide critical services to many of our state’s citizens, and we must adequately fund these programs to support all Georgians.
The budget also includes an extra $15.1 million for growth in out-of-home care and $15.2 million in additional funding to increase foster care per diem rates for relative and child placement agency foster care providers. Georgia’s 2019 state budget also provides funding for Georgia’s highly successful accountability courts, as well as for nine additional assistant district attorney positions and nine assistant public defenders to support juvenile courts across the state.
Finally, the budget includes appropriations for statewide transportation infrastructure construction, maintenance and improvements.
These highlights are just a handful of all the items in Georgia’s FY 2019 budget, and the state budget in its entirety reflects the diversity of our state’s citizens, needs and opportunities.
As you know, I am continuing the tradition of holding a weekly informational breakfast each Saturday during session. This Saturday we will be meeting at the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame located in Dawsonville at 9 a.m. I look forward to seeing you there.
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. I can be reached on my cell phone at (678)776-5059, at the Capitol at (404)656-3947 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.