The first day of the 154th legislative session of the Georgia General Assembly and the first day of the 2017-18 term was Jan. 9.
I was honored to be selected by the Speaker David Ralston and the Committee on Assessments to serve as the Chairman of the House Transportation Committee.
This is an extremely important committee in the House and is responsible for handling all legislation related to transportation.
This reasonability includes highways, rail, air transportation and our ports.
I will also continue to serve on the Natural Resources, Education, Special Rules, Appropriations and the Intergovernmental Coordination committees.
During an eventful first week of the 2017 session, the House convened to take up business, committees began meeting to discuss legislation and Gov. Nathan Deal delivered his seventh annual State of the State address on Jan. 11, before a joint session of the House and Senate. During the annual speech, the governor presented the current conditions and goals of our state government for the year ahead.
Since 2011, our state's unemployment rate has dropped from 10.4 percent to 5.3 percent; our Rainy Day Fund has increased from a low $116 million to approximately $2.033 billion; Georgia has maintained a AAA bond ratig; and the state has set new records in trade, film production and tourism.
Additionally, new private sector jobs have reached more than 575,000, and for four consecutive years, Georgia has been named the No. 1 state in the country in which to do business.
These figures provide a positive outlook and a strong foundation for us to begin this legislative session as we work to craft policies that will continue to allow our citizens and state to grow and thrive.
Deal went on to mention that due to the state's economic success and projected revenue growth in the upcoming fiscal year, Georgia will be able to continue to support its existing vital programs, as well as address new areas that require the state's attention.
The governor's address focused on providing a better quality of life through access to quality healthcare services for a group of brave and selfless Georgians: Georgia's veteran and active duty military personnel.
Our state is home to 61,288 active military members, 27,233 reservists and 752,000 veterans, and nearly one in four active military personnel show signs of a mental health condition. Because of our state's large military population, Deal encouraged the allocation of funds by the General Assembly to train existing state and federal employees to more efficiently and effectively assist our veterans and improve access to mental health services.
Additionally, the governor called for the creation and funding for a Women Veterans Coordinator position to work with female veterans who have suffered military sexual trauma, to offer counseling and to assist with veteran's claims and appeals.
Finally, in an effort to aid veterans suffering from traumatic brain injuries or post-traumatic stress disorder, Deal hopes to secure funding in the state budget for the construction of a rehabilitation facility to provide behavioral health services to these individuals.
Our veterans and active duty military personnel make tremendous sacrifices to protect our freedom, and as lawmakers, it is our responsibility to ensure that these men and women have access to the healthcare services they need. I have worked closely with veteran groups in my district, and I look forward to working to continue to improve the services available to them.
In his remarks, the governor also reminded us of his recent action last month to address the growing and critical statewide opioid addiction epidemic that has affected the lives of so many Georgians.
Deal signed an executive order directing the Department of Public Health to allow pharmacists to distribute naloxone, an emergency drug used to reverse the effects of opioid overdoses, over-the-counter.
He also requested that the Georgia Board of Pharmacy remove this drug from the dangerous drug list, and as a result, lives have already been saved.
Deal urged my colleagues and I to pass legislation supporting his executive order and strengthen Georgia's drug monitoring program. I was excited to hear these comments from Deal. I have been working for the last year on legislation that I will be introducing this week that attempts to address the growing concerns around the opioid issue.
I will bring details of my efforts in a future article.
The governor discussed his continued plans and legislative agenda to improve Georgia's education system.
He noted that Georgia's graduation rate has significantly improved over the past few years, jumping from 64.7 percent in 2011 to 79.2 percent today, and he attributed this significant achievement to the dedicated teachers working with our students on a daily basis.
In recognition of the diligent work of Georgia's educators, Deal included a two percent salary increase built into the pay scale for all teaching positions in his budget recommendations, in addition to the three percent merit pay increase for teachers in the budget for the current fiscal year.
The teachers in my district are doing an outstanding job educating our young people, and I am looking forward to supporting this raise.
I am concerned about those students in other parts of the state that are trapped in chronically failing schools.
I have been working for several months with local education leaders from across the state on a way to help these students. I am also working closely with the Governor's policy staff and my colleagues in the senate as we work at the details of this important legislation.
I plan to introduce it in the House in the next few weeks.
I look forward to bringing you additional details of this legislation.
This past week, we began one of the most important weeks of the 2017 legislative session as the House and Senate Appropriations committees held a series of joint budget hearings.
During this week, the joint House and Senate Appropriations committees and subcommittees met and started the process of reviewing Deal's budget recommendations for the amended current and upcoming fiscal years in order to turn those recommendations into actual legislation that will ultimately guide our state's spending.
Our second week under the Gold Dome was certainly busy as we worked diligently to ensure that we efficiently stretch our state revenue to best serve the needs of all Georgians.
As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, I spent most of the week at the Capitol in these budget hearings.
I am continuing the tradition of holding a weekly informational breakfast each Saturday during session. The two we have held thus far have been very well attended.
This Saturday we will be meeting at 9 a.m. at the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame in Dawsonville.
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 capital at (404) 656-3947 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.