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Weekly report to the people: Feb. 6, 2015

ATLANTA — The 153rd Legislative Session of the Georgia General Assembly kicked off on Jan. 12, and the recently elected and re-elected members of the House of Representatives appeared eager to get down to the business of serving Georgia. One hundred and seventy-eight House members were sworn in, with two seats remaining vacant as the House awaits special elections to fill the empty seats. Governor Nathan Deal held his inauguration in the House Chamber the first day of session. Originally planned for outside at the newly completed Liberty Plaza on the east side of the Capital building, the harsh weather conditions forced the ceremony inside, but the rainy cold did not dampen our spirits. An overwhelming majority of the members re-elected the Honorable David Ralston to serve as the Speaker of the House of Representatives. It is a great honor to serve under such a knowledgeable and effective leader who truly places the best interest of all Georgians over politics and who epitomizes Georgia’s motto of wisdom, justice and moderation.

The following Wednesday, Jan. 14, the governor delivered his annual State of the State address. The address merely reiterated what I already knew: Governor Deal has worked hard to help the people of Georgia. The governor summarized the state’s progress emphasizing that he has spearheaded many successful plans resulting in the creation of more than 300,000 jobs in Georgia over the last four years. As our nation’s economy in many areas faltered, Governor Deal’s efforts to attract businesses resulted in Georgia’s economy stabilizing and growing — with many major industries and businesses relocating from other states and countries to Georgia. Governor Deal reassured that these efforts will continue. Thanks to Governor Deal, Georgia has become Number 1 in the nation as the place for new businesses to locate.

Governor Deal emphasized that, in addition to creating a business friendly atmosphere, there are two key ingredients to building Georgia’s economy: Education and transportation. His message was a promise to continue making education and transportation infrastructure a top priority and this means investing financially in these critical areas. Both education and transportation promise to be big issues for the 2015 Session.

Governor Deal recommended a constitutional amendment creating Opportunity School Districts. These districts would allow the state to step in and help rejuvenate failing public schools. With an emphasis on Work Ready training, the Governor realizes that Georgia’s greatest asset is its Workforce. This year’s budget, coupled with the Governor’s proposal for next year’s budget, means over one billion additional dollars for K-12 education to fund projects such as increasing internet broadband in classrooms and decreasing furlough days while enhancing teachers’ salaries. Now that Georgia is the 8th most populated state in the nation, funding transportation will continue to be an ongoing debate as the General Assembly is called on by the Governor to work with him to make sure all of Georgia’s roads and bridges are adequately maintained.

At the end of a very busy first week, the members of the House of Representatives received their committee assignments for the 2015-2016 legislative terms. I am humbled and honored that my House colleagues once again selected me to serve as the Chairman of the State Information and Audits Committee. In addition to this leadership role, I retained my position on five other committees. Knowing the tremendous importance of the budget process, as well as Georgia’s health care, public safety, insurance and education issues, I am pleased to continue serving on the Appropriations-Higher Education as vice chairman, Health and Human Services, State Properties, Insurance, and Budget & Fiscal Affairs Oversight Committees. As an active member of appropriations, I promise to continue fighting for funding in our area of the state. It will be hard work to serve on so many committees, but I believe I can best serve my constituents by staying informed and being a part of the process in as many areas that I possibly can.  

Following the first week of session, most legislators were in recess, although the appropriations committee met for the budget hearings which were held the Tuesday through Thursday following Martin Luther King Jr. Day, to discuss the Governor’s proposed FY15- FY16 budget. I was updated regarding state agency initiatives as their budget leaders discussed developments within their departments. Starting on legislative day 5, the members of the House of Representatives focused on passing out HB 75 the supplemental appropriations bill. Our committees began meetings to review legislation and go through the committee process of public hearings and discussion. Appropriations met on legislative day 6 at 7:30 a.m. to pass out the amended higher education portion of the budget. The following day, Health and Human Services met to discuss legislation that would require notification of the patient and doctor of any pharmaceutical substitution of interchangeable biologic medicines. The benefits of cell-based biologic drugs were shown not only to be very effective for treating severe and often fatal illnesses but also for reducing painful side effects that are associated with chemical based drugs. Patients using biologic drugs testified that they were able to return to work and enjoy a higher quality of life.

On legislative day 8, Speaker Ralston created the Committee of the Whole House for consideration of HB 75 – the supplemental appropriations bill for FY14-15. The Speaker appointed Majority Leader Larry O’Neal as chairman. Chairman O’Neal asked Chairman Terry England to take the well and present the bill. This bill adjusts the states funding by $276.1 million to a total of $21.1 billion for the year ending on June 30, 2015. The bill matches revenue with spending based on the Department of Revenue receipts. This increase includes $191.7 million for the mid-year adjustment for K-12 Education.

See the column in its entirety at www.americustimesrecorder.com