On Feb. 21, the House reconvened for another lively week under the Gold Dome where we were hard at work drafting, discussing and passing legislation to address important issues facing our great state.
With Crossover Day coming up this Friday, my colleagues and I worked longer hours last week to thoroughly review key pieces of legislation and passed several bills on the House floor.
One of the first measures that passed the House last week was a bipartisan bill to provide support to Georgia's foster parents and foster children.
House Bill 250, which passed unanimously, would allow foster parent applicants and caregivers to foster children who are early care and education program employees and who have received satisfactory background and fingerprint records checks within the previous 24 months to submit evidence from their employee background and finger print check to the Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS) to satisfy the department's records check requirements.
HB 250 was introduced following a situation in which an early child care teacher who had recently passed a background check was unable to care for a child in foster care because the teacher's background check was not completed through DFCS.
Currently, any individual who cares for a foster child must successfully complete a background check through DFCS, and the department does not accept background checks completed by other state agencies.
This current requirement is a sizable road block in successfully placing children in foster homes in a timely manner, and HB 250 will allow greater flexibility for those who are taking the steps to care for and improve the lives of children in our state's foster system.
This session, the House has made it a priority to pass legislation that improves the lives of our veterans, active duty military personnel and their families, and last week we continued in those efforts with the unanimous passage of two bipartisan bills that would benefit Georgia's military students.
House Bill 224 would give military students the ability to attend any school within their school system beginning in the 2017-2018 school year. School aged children of a military service member living in military housing, on or off-base, would have the flexibility to attend the public school of their choice within their local school system if space is available at that school.
Local boards of education would develop a streamlined process to help military students smoothly transition between schools and annually notify parents of military students of the educational options available to their children.
Finally, the parents would be responsible for the student's transportation to and from school.
Similarly, House Bill 148, also known as the Educating Children of Military Families Act, would authorize the Department of Education to create unique identifiers for students whose parent or guardian is an active-duty military service member or reserve member of the National Guard to monitor the progress and educational needs of those students.
These unique identifiers would allow teachers, counselors and other relevant school employees to track the progress and educational needs of military students to ensure that school employees are aware of the distinctive and unique challenges facing military students since they have likely spent most, if not all, of their educational career in different school systems.
These bills are intended to improve the quality of life of Georgia's military personnel and their families and to protect Georgia's military bases from future BRAC closures.
Our state has the fifth largest military population in the United States with an annual economic impact of $20 billion, and last summer, the House Military Affairs Study Committee found that a quality public education was one of the most important priorities for military families.
HB 224 and HB 148 aim to provide children of military families with the very best educational experience possible while also strengthening Georgia's reputation as a military-friendly state.
We continued to focus our attention on military friendly legislation last week with the unanimous passage of House Bill 222, another bipartisan bill.
HB 222 would allow a member of the Georgia National Guard or a member of a reserve component of the armed forces of the United States located in our state to be classified as a legal Georgia resident under eligibility requirements for HOPE scholarships and grants.
In order for any student to be eligible for HOPE scholarships and grants, they must be a legal resident of Georgia for 12 consecutive months immediately prior to the first day of classes when the HOPE Scholarship is needed.
However, oftentimes members of the Georgia National Guard or the reserves are required to relocate many times and may be unable to meet the Georgia residency requirements to apply for and obtain the HOPE Scholarship in an ample timeframe to begin their postsecondary studies.
Military personnel, military spouses or dependent children who are stationed in Georgia on active duty or who list Georgia as their home of record are currently classified as Georgia residents under eligibility requirements for the HOPE Scholarships and grants, and HB 222 would add Georgia National Guard members and members of a reserve component of the U.S. armed forces located in Georgia to this list, making them eligible for HOPE scholarships and grants.
These brave men and women keep us safe, defend our freedoms and are serving here in our state, and HB 222 honors their service by affording them the opportunity to receive a quality education.
Improving education in Georgia is one of the General Assembly's top legislative priorities each session, and as such, the House overwhelmingly passed a bill last week that is intended to help our state's low-performing schools.
House Bill 237 would provide a way for individuals, corporations and communities to financially assist Georgia's low-performing schools by establishing the Public Education Innovation Fund Foundation under the Governor's Office of Student Achievement.
Under HB 237, the foundation could receive private donations from taxpayers in order to award grants to public schools to fund academic and organizational innovations to improve student achievement, with priority given to low-performing schools.
In order to donate to the foundation, taxpayers must electronically notify the Department of Revenue of the donation amount and be approved to make the donation by the state revenue commissioner.
Once donations are made, taxpayers would be allowed a credit of up to $1,000 per year for single individuals, up to $2,500 per year for married couples filing joint returns and up to $10,000 per year for individual members of limited liability companies, shareholders of Subchapter 'S' corporations or partners in a partnership.
A corporation would be allowed a credit no more than the amount donated or 75 percent of the corporation's income tax liability, whichever is less.
The total amount of credits, which would be distributed on a first come, first served basis, would be limited to $7 million per year through 2025 and $10 million per year for 2026 and would end in 2033, which is the bill's designated sunset date.
Finally, the foundation would be required to submit an annual report to the Department of Revenue including the total number and value of donations and tax credits approved, total number and value of public school grants awarded and a list of donors and the value of their donations and tax credits approved.
HB 237 not only promotes partnerships between businesses, nonprofit organizations, local school systems and public schools for the purpose of improving student achievement, but also provides a simple way for taxpayers to assist schools that may need support.
This is a bill that I have worked closely on with the author to ensure that these funds will assist our lowest performing schools.
The education reform bill that I have been working on will be presented on the floor this week. HB 237 will be one important funding option in these difficult situations.
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 9 a.m. at the Wagon Wheel in Dahlonega. 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.
Rep. Kevin Tanner can be reached on his cell phone at (678) 776-5059, at the Capitol at (404) 656-3947 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.