March 7 marked the 25th day of the Georgia General Assembly’s 40-day 2011 Legislative Session. The House has already succeeded in passing legislation improving our early voting system, increasing the safety of bicyclists, and amending our Fiscal Year 2011 Budget.
Since I wrote about HB 326 (HOPE) last week, many of you have asked numerous questions about HOPE programs, especially pre-K.
The purpose of HB 326 is to establish a mechanism whereby HOPE will continue to provide viable education programs now and in the future. If you are a parent, student, or someone planning to attend a college, university or technical school in Georgia, then you have probably been following the funding issues facing HOPE.
I know that many of you are painfully aware of this because you have asked me whether HOPE will still be available in years to come. The answer to that question is “yes.” With the passage of HB 326, HOPE will be preserved and strengthened for tomorrow’s students and generations to come.
Beginning next year, merit-based HOPE scholarship students attending public colleges and universities, as well as technical college students, will receive 90 percent of 2011 tuition amounts. HOPE scholarship students attending private colleges and universities will receive $3,600 for tuition. The HOPE Scholarship will continue to require a 3.0 GPA but will no longer cover books, fees or remedial college classes.
The bill also creates the Zell Miller Scholarship, which will offer full tuition to students in Georgia colleges who graduate from high school with a minimum 3.7 GPA and 1,200 on the SAT (Math and English) or 26 on the ACT. To continue receiving the Zell Miller Scholarship, these students will have to maintain a 3.3 GPA while attending college.
Pre-K funding was not discussed in HB 326 because it is not written into law.
Pre-K is governed by allocations in the budget, and the number of students supported changes from year to year. Gov. Nathan Deal’s proposed FY 2012 Budget contained a number of recommendations, including reducing pre-K to a 4-hour day. That budget is still in House Appropriations K-12 Subcommittee, of which I am a member. We have heard many suggestions for fiscal compromise. I hope to report next week that some of your suggestions have been incorporated into the FY 2012 Budget, and that many more people will be happier with our recommendations.
Another critical issue facing Georgia is illegal immigration. Although many think of illegal immigration as a problem only for border-states, the Pew Hispanic Center recently determined that Georgia has the fastest growing illegal population in the nation. That same study also found that, with nearly 425,000 illegal aliens, Georgia already has the seventh highest total illegal population in the nation. The results of this dubious honor are clear: Our classrooms are more crowded, our healthcare system is stretched to its limits, transportation infrastructure is overburdened, and our law enforcement community is pressed beyond its means.
Current economic conditions make it clear that Georgia literally cannot afford to continue this drain on our already limited resources. With this in mind, my colleagues and I in the House passed HB 87, which requires employers to verify that newly hired employees are eligible to work in the United States by using the E-Verify system. If you are unfamiliar with E-Verify, it is an accurate, free, Internet-based federal database. The easy-to-use verification system is already used by more than 16,000 Georgia employers.
Additionally, HB 87 requires secure and verifiable identification for official purposes. It helps local law enforcement agencies handle issues associated with illegal immigration. The legislation does not affect the existing H-2A visa program that provides a legal avenue for foreign workers to temporarily come to Georgia and work with the agriculture industry in our state.
This is not an Arizona “copycat” law. Please read the bill and then ask your questions. Here is the link: http://www.legis.ga.gov/Legislation/en-US/display.aspx?Legislation=32190.
Finally, HB 200 targets the horrendous crime of human trafficking and gives victims of this crime a pathway out of their criminally forced servitude. It also increases penalties for individuals who are found guilty of human trafficking, provides law enforcement with additional tools necessary to combat that practice, and expands Georgia’s forfeiture law so that it applies to those convicted.
Now that House Bills 326, 87 and 200 have passed the House, they will make their way through the Senate committee process. If passed by the Senate and signed by the governor, these bills will become law.
House Speaker David Ralston and I were pleased to sponsor House Resolution 298 honoring Dawson County Coroner Ted Bearden, who was named the 2010 Coroner of the Year by the Georgia Coroner’s Association. He is an outstanding citizen admired by his peers.
Those who would like to read the resolution can go to the following link: www1.legis.ga.gov/legis/2011_12/fulltext/hr298.htm
Rep. Amos Amerson can be reached at 401 Capitol Avenue, Atlanta, GA 30334; phone (404) 657-7857; fax (404) 463-2044; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.