Last week was another busy week under the Gold Dome. Bills were introduced on various topics and all of my committees met to discuss legislation and to learn about issues occurring in our State.
The House and Senate went into a joint session on Thursday in the House of Representatives for the State of the Judiciary Address.
Chief Justice Carol Hunstein and the Georgia Supreme Court, the Georgia Court of Appeals and other guests were welcomed to the House Chamber.
Chief Justice Hunstein discussed ongoing criminal justice reforms.
These reforms first started in 2011, when the General Assembly created the Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform.
Since then, the council has worked diligently to find ways to protect the public's safety and hold offenders accountable, all while keeping an eye on the financial impact to the state budget.
Last year these efforts resulted in the enactment of House Bill 1176, which diverts non-violent and low-level offenders away from costly prison beds and into more effective drug and mental health courts and treatment programs.
House Bill 1176 is already producing positive results for the state. For example, expanding the number of state drug and mental health courts, as well as the number of substance abuse and mental health treatment centers, has put the state on track to save $264 million in prison expenses over the next five years.
The state is now working on juvenile justice reform.
Nearly 2,000 children in Georgia currently live in a youth prison, youth jail, or state residential program, such as a group home.
More than half of these children were sent to these state facilities for committing non-violent offenses, and 25 percent are there for misdemeanor or status offenses that would not be a crime if committed by an adult.
All too often, children are sent to these facilities because of a lack of community based programs.
This leaves juvenile judges with no alternative but to send these children to locked detention centers. This problem unfortunately puts some non-violent children on a path to adult criminality.
Given that it costs the state $91,000 per year to house one child in a correctional facility and that 65 percent of the children in these facilities will commit another offense within three years of getting out, it seems clear that taxpayers are not getting their money's worth.
I am looking forward to utilizing my background in criminal justice to work with leaders in the House to find better ways to handle juvenile offenders that will produce better results for both our taxpayers and the juveniles that are in this system.
The House also passed House Bill 105 - the Amended Fiscal Year 2013 (AFY 2013) state budget.
Each year the amended budget takes into account the difference between the expected revenue used to create the fiscal year budget and a more accurate estimate obtained halfway through that fiscal year.
Since the state did not reach the level of economic growth predicted last year, the AFY 2013 state budget reduces current state spending by $26.3 million.
Passing the amended budget this early in the session allows state agencies to know how their budget will look for the remainder of the fiscal year. It also allows the House to start work on next year's budget.
The Amended Fiscal Year budget now goes to the Senate for consideration. We will work alongside the Senate to move the budget forward.
We are back in session this week and will continue to push an aggressive schedule.
It is an honor to serve as your Representative at the State Capitol.
I will continue to work hard to keep you informed, and I welcome your input.
This Saturday I will be holding my weekly informational breakfast at 9 a.m. at Ryan's in Dawsonville and then at 9 a.m. the following Saturday at the Wagon Wheel in Dahlonega.
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) 656-0152 or by e-mail at email@example.com.