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Busy week headed toward session's end
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The Georgia General Assembly reconvened under the Gold Dome on Monday, March 20 for day 36 of the 2017 legislative session. Sine die is this Thursday, and the House had another busy week of reviewing legislation in committee hearings, voting on bills and resolutions on the House floor and giving final passage to several bills that will now be considered by Governor Deal.

This legislative session, the House has passed several measures to improve our state's military installations and honor and improve the lives of our active duty military personnel, families and veterans. Continuing in these efforts, the House unanimously passed Senate Bill 108 this week, which would instruct the Department of Veterans Service to create and maintain a women veterans' office to better serve Georgia's nearly 100,000 female veterans. The women veterans' office would conduct outreach to female veterans to inform them of federal and state veterans' benefits and services eligibility, as well as assess the specific needs of women veterans regarding benefits and services. The office would also review programs, research projects and other initiatives designed specifically to aid Georgia's women veterans, with a focus on issues such as child care and military sexual trauma.

Furthermore, the women veterans' office would recruit and train women veterans to serve as mentors for those participating in a veterans' court division, which provides an alternative to the traditional judicial system for cases involving a veteran defendant.

Women veterans oftentimes have different needs than those of their male counterparts, and it is essential that the General Assembly leads the way in ensuring that Georgia meets the unique needs of our female veterans.

Another military friendly measure that passed this week was House Resolution 462. HR 462 was adopted unanimously and further confirms the House's commitment to strengthening Georgia's military installations and supporting our troops, their families and our veterans. House Resolution 462 reaffirms the House's dedication to our military personnel by signaling that the House would take all actions it deems appropriate to improve their quality of life, empower them to contribute to our nation's defenses and maximize the value of our military installations.

HR 462 reiterates the House's sincere desire that the State of Georgia remains integral to our national defense. Georgia has the fifth largest military population in the country, and with an annual impact of $20 billion. Our military is one of our state's biggest economic drivers. The Department of Defense directly employs almost 150,000 Georgians and is indirectly responsible for an estimated 330,000 additional jobs in the state.

Furthermore, our state is home to approximately 750,000 veterans, making Georgia the eighth largest state in terms of veteran population in the nation. There is a real and relevant threat of federal base downsizing and closure due to future federal Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC), and in anticipation of future BRAC proceedings, the House has passed many bills and resolutions that support our military bases and service members this session. We are proud to support our armed forces, and by reaffirming our commitment to the military and adopting HR 462, we are sure to continue this trend of passing military-friendly legislation into the future.

Each legislative session, the General Assembly is constitutionally required to pass a balanced state budget, and this week both the House and Senate gave final approval to House Bill 44, the Fiscal Year 2018 state budget. The FY 2018 budget guides all state spending from July 1, 2017, to June 30, 2018, and the final version of HB 44 resulted from the collaborative efforts of a conference committee made up of House and Senate members.

HB 44 was set by a revenue estimate of $24.9 billion, a $1.25 billion increase from the original 2017 state budget, and addresses some of our state's critical needs and moves our state forward for our citizens. HB 44 focuses on our state's most vulnerable citizens and includes funding for many of the House's top priorities, such as child welfare, military communities and services members and rural communities.

For example, the FY 2018 budget allocates funds to support those who care for our state's vulnerable children, including a per diem rate for foster parents, additional Division of Family and Children Services positions to provide foster parent support services, additional Court Appointed Special Advocates to advocate on behalf of our children and an hourly rate increase for Special Assistant Attorneys General who support child welfare cases.

Additionally, HB 44 supports our military population by providing funds for additional school counselors in school systems with large military student populations, additional scholarships for Georgia National Guard members and additional veterans support positions.

Furthermore, to assist with health care in Georgia's rural communities, the 2018 budget expands the loan repayment programs for rural medical providers and creates four Federally Qualified Health Centers in rural counties. Other highlights of the final version of HB 44 include: $162 million for a 2 percent adjustment to the state teacher salary schedule to provide raises to more than 126,000 teachers in Georgia, as well as a 2 percent salary increase for bus drivers and school nutrition personnel; $1,000,000 for the implementation of my legislation, HB 338, to improve the academic achievement of the lowest performing schools in the state to ensure those students have an opportunity for success; $1.5 million for the Public School Employees Retirement System; $38.9 million in lottery funds for the Georgia Student Finance Commission to increase the HOPE Scholarship award amount by 3 percent to meet demands; $4.1 million for Georgia Alzheimer's Project to promote early detection and treatment; $358,996 for the Department of Veterans Service for four veteran benefits training officers and $137,650 for one coordinator position to work with female veterans; $55.5 million to annualize the 20 percent pay raise for state-level law enforcement officers and salary adjustment for criminal investigators and canine officers; $1.2 million to increase funds for cyber insurance premiums for the Department of Administrative services to purchase private market insurance; and $2.6 million to support forensic pathologists and scientists at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to hire new DNA scientists to address and test backlogged rape kits per SB 304 from the 2016 session.

While there are many, many more budget items that reflect the diverse and wide-ranging needs of our state's population, these are just a few of the highlights. HB 44 is a win for each one of Georgia's 10 million plus citizens and is sure to have long-term, positive impacts on our state. The FY 2018 budget now heads to Governor Deal's desk for his final approval.

Last week was an important week for me personally. The Senate passed House Bill 338. This legislation is the education bill that I have written about several times that is designed to help low performing schools in our state. I have worked closely with education leaders from across the state for several months on this important measure.

The Senate also passed by House Bill 249. This is the opioid legislation that I have worked on for over a year. I am looking forward to attending the signing ceremony soon to see Governor Deal sign both of these important bills into law.

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 Wagon Wheel located in Dahlonega at 9 a.m. This will be the last legislative breakfast this session. 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