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State Rep. Mike Cheokas: Weekly report to the people — Feb. 3, 2016

Monday, Jan. 18, the Georgia General Assembly was in recess to celebrate the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day holiday.
Tuesday, Jan. 19, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees met in room 341 of the state Capitol for the 2016 Joint Budget Hearings. This was the official beginning of the legislative process to write the State Budget for FY 2017, although state Rep. Terry England, District 116, House Appropriations chairman and the House Budget Office, headed by Martha Wigton, have been working on this budget for several months. The first presenter was Governor Nathan Deal who outlined his proposed budget package of $23,739,409,078. Yes, that’s right, Georgia’s first $23.739 billion budget. In an overview, he divided the State Budget into seven basic categories that are funded each year: 1) Educated Georgia at 53.1 percent.  2) Healthy Georgia at 21.7 percent.  3)  Safe Georgia at 8.1 percent.  4) Debt Management at 5. percent. 5) Mobile Georgia at 7.2 percent. 6) Responsible and Efficient Government at 3.4 percent.  7) Growing Georgia at 1.3 percent.
Some of the highlights from the Governor’s Budget Recommendation for 2017 are:
• K-12 Public Schools — increased funding of $141 million for enrollment growth bringing the total number of full-time equivalent (FTE) students to over 1.73 million students and 123,000 teachers and administrators. Additional funding of $300 million distributed by local school systems through the Quality Basic Education (QBE) program to increase instructional days, eliminate teacher furloughs, and enhance teacher salaries.
• University System — increased funding of $43.5 million for resident instruction. $154 million in bonds for capital projects.
• Student finance — $59 million in additional funding for the Hope Scholarship Program.
• Technical College System of Georgia — $891 million in additional funding for operations and maintenance.
• Community Health — $109 million for Medicaid and Peach Care for Kids. $114 million in new funding for baseline expense growth.
• Public Safety — $5.7 million to support inmate educational initiatives at both the state and county prisons; $29 million for salary increase for security officers at our correctional facilities; $6.3 million for facility hardening at state prisons to increase security.
• Georgia Bureau of Investigation — $4.7 million to provide for 20 additional special agents.
• Georgia State Patrol — $2.8 million to support the cost of a 50-man trooper school.
• Community affairs — $10 million for Regional Economic Business Assistance (REBA) grants; $10 million distributed through the One Georgia Authority for rural economic development projects.
• Transportation — $825 million in new state funding as a result of HB 170.
• State employees — $213 million in additional funds to address employee recruitment and retention.
After Governor Deal’s presentation, the Joint Budget Hearings continued for the Appropriations Committee members and guests.
Next we heard from Dr. Kenneth Heaghney, the state fiscal economist, who said that revenue growth had been driven by an increase in individual income tax revenue which was due to Governor Nathan Deal’s focus on Job Growth by making Georgia the “Best State to do Business.”
Other presenters were: Superintendent Richard Woods, Georgia Department of Education; Commissioner Gretchen Corbin, Technical College System of Georgia; Chancellor Henry Huckaby, University System of Georgia; President Tricia Chastain, Georgia Student Finance Commission; Commissioner Homer Bryson, Georgia Department of Corrections; Commissioner Michael Nail, Department of Community Supervision; Commissioner Clyde Reese, Georgia Department of Community Health; Commissioner Robin Crittenden and Director Bobby Cagle, Georgia Department of Human Services; Commissioner Russell McMurry, Georgia Department of Transportation; Chuck Harper, Director of Legislative Affairs, Secretary of State’s office; and  Teresa MacCartney, Chief Financial Officer and Director, Governors Office of Planning and Budget.
On Wednesday, Jan. 20, Legislative Day 6, our Chaplain of the Day for the morning devotional was Pastor Jeremy Morton of the Cartersville First Baptist Church who was introduced by state Rep. Paul Battles, District 15. Pastor Morton’s very moving devotional emphasized the limits of government while proclaiming the limitless powers of God. Here are just a few of his remarks: “In communities where children choose gangs instead of sports, studies or work — government can’t fix it, but God can … In support groups where our lives are being ruled by drugs and alcohol — government can’t fix it, but God can … When first responders like law enforcement officers are viewed suspiciously, like an enemy, instead of public servants and friends — government can’t fix it, but God can … In the ignorant places where racism still reigns, and men are judged by their skin color and not their character content — government can’t fix it, but God can … There’s nothing in Georgia that prayer and faith in God can’t fix!” After his remarks, Pastor Morton shared with me his love of hunting in Schley County.
Thursday, Jan. 21, Legislative Day 7, was Sickle Cell Day at the Capitol. State Rep. Gloria Fraser, District 126, is a champion for the awareness of Sickle Cell Disease. Rep. Fraser along with State Representative Dee Dawkins-Haigler, District 91, sponsored a program in room 216 of the Capitol. At the program they emphasized the need to get tested! At present, there is no cure for Sickle Cell Disease. Only the symptoms are treated.  For more information, contact the Sickle Cell Foundation of Georgia at: 404-697-8504 or www.sicklecellga.org/get-connected
Friday, Jan. 22, Legislative Day 8, we passed HR 1114. This measure is our adjournment resolution negotiated with the Senate that sets the calendar through legislative day 40, Thursday, March 24, and the end of the regular session of the Georgia General Assembly for 2016. Monday, Jan. 25, 2016, the Georgia House of Representatives convened it 10 a.m. for Legislative Day 9. It was National Guard Day at the Capitol. Brig. Gen. Joseph Jarrard, Adjutant Gen., Georgia Department of Defense, addressed the Chamber on the activities of the Georgia National Guard during 2015. He said that over 15,000 soldiers, airmen and civilians serve our state and our nation in the Georgia Department of Defense. Georgia Guardsmen participated in Exercise Vigilant Guard to prepare for hurricane and flood response. They also took part in Operation Patriot Bandoleer, which is South Korea’s largest annual military exercise. This exercise serves as a deterrent to North Korean aggression. Gen. Jarrard continued by saying that while we have seen a reduction in the U.S. military defense, the Georgia Guard has transformed itself from a strategic reserve to an operational force. Our Guardsmen have served side-by-side with our active-duty military in harm’s way all over the world protecting our country. He concluded by saying “The citizens of Georgia can take comfort and pride in knowing that their Georgia National Guard is ‘always ready, always there’!”
Also at the Capitol was Americus native, Col. Thomas Carden Jr., Commander of the Georgia Army National Guard. The Georgia Army National Guard is the largest branch of the Georgia Department of Defense and has over 11,000 Army Guardsmen under his command.
I had the honor of recognizing from the well four outstanding students from Georgia Southwestern State University who were in Atlanta for Southern Association of Colleges (SAC) Day at the Capitol. These student leaders are part of the GSW Student Government Association:  Samantha Price, president; Maegan Pierce, vice president; Bryce Benton, senator; and Austin Childs, senator. Stephen Snyder, director, University Relations at GSW, came by my office to continue the preparation for GSW Day at the Capitol which will be held on Wednesday, March 2.
After our meeting he accompanied me to the Appropriations Higher Education Subcommittee chaired by Rep. Earl Ehrhart, District 36, where we were holding a hearing on “due process” in the University System of Georgia. Room 403 of the Capitol was standing room only as Georgia Tech President Bud Petersen addressed the committee on the processes in place to sanction a student for misconduct. He said that “once a complaint has been filed, we initiate a meeting at which the accused is presented with the alleged violations, supporting information and an explanation of his or her rights.” The student then chooses whether the case will be handled administratively or by a student panel. If a sanction is rendered, which varies from a disciplinary warning to expulsion, the student may appeal to the vice president for Student Life. It is important to note that allegations involving sexual misconduct are different and fall under the “Policy of Students Sexual Misconduct and Sexual-Harassment”, which is separate and distinct from process mentioned above.
We then heard  testimony from parents of students who felt that their children did not receive fair treatment under the law. They felt that the process used by the University System to handle complaints of misconduct (where a crime is alleged) were outside the law and were performed by individuals who were untrained in the justice system that protects the rights of citizens. The members of the Higher Education Appropriations Committee felt that the best way to ensure the rights of students was through due process, whereby the accused is innocent until proven guilty. And that those best trained to ensure due process were law enforcement officers and our court system. Rep. Rich Golick. District 40, was able to accurately articulate the position of the committee.
Tuesday, Jan. 26 was Legislative Day 10. After our devotional and first readers, I had the opportunity to present HR 1060. This resolution commended the Schley County Wildcat Baseball Team on winning the State Championship and invited the team and the team coaches to the Capitol to be recognized. Accompanying me on the speaker’s podium were: Head Coach, Chuck Cheek; Assistant Coach, William Rooks; and team members Michael Leeder, Blake Howell, and State Player of the Year, Brett Usry. Michael Leeder eloquently addressed the members of the  Georgia House of Representatives. We then asked the other members of the Championship Baseball Team who were seated in the gallery to stand and be recognized. They received a standing ovation. In my introduction I congratulated the team for its outstanding athletic achievements and the Schley County School System for being ranked 7th in the state on the “College and Career Ready Performance Index”— CCRPI. Schley County School Superintendent Adam Hathaway was on hand for the occasion.
After lunch with the team at the Varsity, I had a visit from Plains City Council member Jill Stuckey and Southwest Georgia Railroad Excursion Authority member, Kim Fuller. They were at the Capitol lobbying for funding to build a Railroad Barn and additional side tracks at the Georgia Veterans State Park in Cordele to store and repair the SAM Short Line railcars.
Pam Register, Schley County Tax commissioner, stopped by my office for a visit. She was in town with other county elected officials visiting the Capitol.
Wednesday, Jan. 27 was Legislative Day 11. It was Civil Air Patrol Day at the Capitol and members of the Civil Air Patrol, Georgia Wing were invited to address us at the speaker’s podium. In recognition of the day, I had as my guest Chappy Kelly, Troop leader of the local Civil Air Patrol Squadron. Chappy brought Sammy Brickhouse and his brother J.T. Brickhouse, both members of the local Civil Air Patrol Squadron to serve as my pages. Dressed in their blue uniforms, these two dedicated young men made us all proud.
At 11 a.m., a Joint Session of the House and Senate was convened for the purpose of hearing an address on the “State of the Judiciary” by the Honorable Hugh P. Thompson, Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court.
At the Health and Human Services committee meeting, several measures received the “Do Pass” recommendation. HB 588 by Rep. Valerie Clark, District 101, changed the method for the reporting of pseudoephedrine. This measure allows pharmacies to electronically track all sales and submit the required information to a real-time electronic logging system. This system complies with the standards established by the Georgia Meth Watch.
HB 780 by Rep. Jodi Lott, District 122, also received the “Do Pass”  recommendation. This measure changes the definition of clinical laboratories to include nondiagnostic laboratories used in the development of drugs by pharmaceutical companies. It removes the state licensure requirement.
HP 509 by Rep. Jesse Petrea, District 166, creates the Georgia Palliative Care and Quality of Life Advisory Council. It received the Do Pass designation.
HB 649 by Rep. Sharon Cooper, District 43, created the practice of “Georgia Lactation Consultant.” It also received the Do Pass designation. Rep. Cooper is also chair of the House Health and Human Services Committee.
Receiving the most discussion during the meeting was HB 684 by Rep. Chuck Martin, District 49. This measure expands the scope of delegable services and procedures that may be performed by a dental hygienist under the direct supervision of a licensed dentist. Under the provisions of this bill, the requirement of direction supervision will not apply to dental hygienists practicing at approved safety net settings: nonprofit clinics, long-term care facilities, federally qualified health centers, school-based health centers. This measure was tabled to allow the Georgia Dental Association and the Georgia Dental Hygienist Association to work out their differences.
Thursday, Jan. 28 was Legislative Day 12. On the Debate Calendar, there were two very important pieces of legislation. HB 742, by Rep. David Knight, District 130, passed by vote of 174 to 0. This measure is the annual bill to align the Georgia Revenue Code with the federal adjustments to the Internal Revenue Code pursuant to federal income tax legislation passed in 2015.
Next came HB 750 presented Rep. Terry England, District 116,  chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. This measure is the Supplemental Appropriations Legislation for fiscal year starting July 1, 2015, commonly known as the “Little Budget.” It recognizes a $1.1 billion increase in revenue. The majority of the increase in funds  ($758 million) will be spent on Georgia’s transportation needs. Here are some of the highlights: $520 million for transportation new construction;  $200 million for transportation routine maintenance; $36 million for transportation Local Maintenance and Improvement Grants — LMIG; $110 million in midterm enrollment growth for K-12 education; $15 million in grants to local school systems for broadband connectivity, online instruction and other digital platforms; $20 million to meet the projective needs for the “Move On When Ready Program;”$30 million in additional funding for the HOPE scholarship program; $26 million to cover high-cost prescription drugs for the Medicaid program; $32 million for PeachCare growth; $34 million to replace prior-year Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds (TANF) with state funds.
As always Chairman England held the attention of the entire House of Representatives during his hour-long presentation. His thorough approach to creating the State Budget and his careful presentation resulted in a vote of 176 to 0. Great job!
Thank you for choosing me to represent you in Atlanta at the State Capitol .