Dear House District 78,
The session has ended. I wish I could write to you today and say that only the good bills passed. While we had many bills pass that are helpful to Georgians, we did see the uglier side.
At this time, I would like to remind everyone that while several bills did not move or pass, that does not mean they are dead. The session is 2 years. Since we have completed the first year of the two, all the bills not taken up are still eligible for passage in 2022. After 2022, if a bill does not pass to the Governor for signage, those bills will have to be re-drafted and re-assigned a bill number by the Clerk to start the process over again in 2023. The best way to look at it is as a clean slate after 2022.
The 2022 Budget
HB 81 passed and is awaiting the Governor’s signature. The budget was set based on a revenue estimate of $27.2 billion, an increase of $1.34 billion, or 5.2%, over the FY 2021 original budget. Nearly 90% of that was spent on education and health and human service agencies. While I wish there were more that could have been redirected, changed, and added, it will help many people. Here are few highlights:
Criminal Justice, Courts, and Public Safety
- House Bill 81 provides the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) with $1.59 million to annualize medical examiners’ recruitment and retention. The recommended caseload for medical examiners is 250 autopsies per doctor annually. Due to staff vacancies because of low wages, Georgia medical examiners perform nearly 100 more autopsies annually than recommended. Enhancing the medical examiner’s salary will make Georgia competitive and improve retention and recruitment of these specialized doctors. To remedy the shortage of medical examiners, the General Assembly appropriates $241,529 to expand the forensic pathology fellowship program by two fellows to promote a pipeline of medical examiners in Georgia.
- HB 81 fully restores $700,000 for domestic violence shelters and sexual assault centers cut from the FY 2021 budget. The General Assembly adds $1 million to provide a 9% increase in state funding for all domestic violence shelters and $150,000 to bring two new shelters up to the minimum state funding level. From 2019 to 2020, there was a 46% increase in domestic violence program crisis calls and a 90% increase in sexual assault program crisis calls. Sexual assault centers will receive an additional $150,000 in funding.
- $1 million in one-time funds is provided to the Georgia Public Safety Training Center to construct a de-escalation and proper use of force training facility. The new facility will allow for expanded curriculum and training scenarios.
- HB 81 includes $50,000 for preserving historic sites and $100,000 for food banks across the state.
- $10 million is provided to the OneGeorgia Authority to establish a broadband infrastructure grant program.
- HB 81 includes $160.5 million in bonds dedicated to economic development to improve infrastructure and promote tourism throughout the state. The budget includes $90 million for the Savannah International Trade and Convention Center expansion. The convention center is one of coastal Georgia’s primary economic engines, hosting more than 160 events and 200,000 visitors annually, supporting 28,000 tourism and hospitality jobs, and generating $1.3 billion in economic impact in the last 20 years. HB 81 provides $12 million in bonds to the Georgia World Congress Center Authority (GWCCA) for infrastructure improvements.
- K-12 education is the largest single expenditure in the state’s budget, totaling $10.2 billion, or 43.8% of the state general fund budget. The FY 2021 budget included a reduction of $950 million to the Quality Basic Education formula (QBE) due to a decline in state revenues resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic; HB 81 restores $567 million, or 60% of that reduction, to the QBE formula earnings. The sustained reduction to QBE is now $383 million, or (4%).
- The Nutrition program receives a $5 million increase in funding, providing additional funds for the state share of nutrition worker salaries and a supplement for nutrition managers.
- FY 2022 budget includes $179,152 in additional formula funds for pupil transportation and $2 million in bond funding to incentivize the purchase of alternative fuel school buses.
- HB 81 fully restores the $700,000 reduction to feminine hygiene grants taken in the FY 2021 budget and increases the original appropriation by $250,000 for a total of $1.25 million in FY 2022. Language is added, directing the Department of Education to prioritize grants to school systems with low property tax wealth and a high percentage of economically disadvantaged students.
General Government Services
- The General Assembly approves $1 million to establish the Office of Health Strategy and Coordination within the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget. The office will focus on growing the state’s health care infrastructure through interconnecting health functions and improving collaboration between state agencies.
- The FY 2022 budget supports Georgia’s elderly and functionally-impaired population by providing $19.6 million for a 10% rate increase for home and community-based services providers, including CCSP, SOURCE, and ICWP waiver providers.
- HB 81 adds a total of $43.8 million for skilled nursing centers: $19.9 million to update reimbursement rates to reflect 2019 cost reports with 5% inflation; $3.5 million to update the general and professional liability, property insurance, and property tax pass-through rate components to current costs; $8 million for a one-year hold harmless to mitigate losses in the transition to the 2019 cost report; $387,270 for a 5.9% increase in the nursing home ventilator reimbursement rate; and $12 million for supplemental quality incentive payments to eligible skilled nursing facilities. To support the Department of Community Health with the implementation of quality incentive payments, the FY 2022 budget provides $989,950 for eight support positions, starting October 1, 2021.
- The FY 2022 budget includes $58.9 million for the University System of Georgia (USG), reflecting a 0.8% increase in credit hour growth and a 0.6% increase in square footage. HB 81 also restores $70.1 million in formula earnings not originally funded in FY 2021.
- HB 81 provides $500,000 for an eminent scholar for sickle cell research. These funds will be combined with matching research funds from partners at Morehouse School of Medicine, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, and Emory University. An additional $500,000 is included to recruit Academy of Eminent Scholars into research fields. The intended focus will be on rural Georgia and historically black colleges and universities.
- To create parity between higher education programs and K-12, HB 81 includes $8.1 million for University System of Georgia’s B-Unit programs. These funds restore 60% of the reductions from the initial FY 2021 budget. These programs include: Agricultural Experiment Station ($2,851,620); Cooperative Extension Service ($2,652,325); Forestry Cooperative Extension ($64,122); Forestry Research ($198,527); Georgia Tech Research Institute ($359,041); Marine Institute ($71,707); Marine Resources Extension Center ($83,486); Medical College of Georgia Hospital/Clinic ($1,627,793); Georgia Youth Science and Technology Center ($53,733); and the Veterinary Medicine Experiment Station ($162,000).
- The General Assembly restores $58.9 million in the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD) and $20.6 million in the Department of Human Services to offset reductions made in the FY 2021 budget.
- $7 million is added in DBHDD for a new 16-bed behavioral health crisis center to expand the state’s crisis system’s service capacity. This innovative center will serve individuals in crisis and have both a mental health diagnosis and an intellectual or developmental disability.
- HB 81 includes more than $200 million in increased motor fuel funds in the Georgia Department of Transportation’s (GDOT) budget. The GDOT budget includes an increase to the Capital Construction program of $157.1 million; an additional $21.6 million in Local Maintenance and Improvement Grants; $35.2 million in Routine Maintenance; and recognizes the use of $67 million in Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) funds to Capital Maintenance.
- HB 81 moves the Atlanta-Region Transit Authority (ATL) to the Department of Transportation from the Department of Community Affairs according to HB 511 (2020 Session). The Payments to ATL program recognizes $306.8 million in ARP funds for Federal Urbanized Transit Grants for priorities of regional significance CFDA 20.507.
In the Courts
SB 78 would make it a felony on the first offense to distribute sexually explicit content on a pornographic website with the intent of harassing or causing financial harm to the victim. Current law punishes the first offense of “revenge porn” as a high and aggravated misdemeanor and the second charge as a felony. SB 78 creates two separate categories when addressing “revenge porn.”
- It makes it a felony for the first offense of electronically transmitting or posting sexually explicit photos or video to harass the depicted person to a publicly accessible website, gallery, webcam, or message board that advertises its service showing/distributing sexually explicit content. Upon the first conviction, an individual faces one to five years in prison and/or a $100,000 fine and, for a second or subsequent conviction, two to five years in prison and/or a $100,000 fine.
- Materials posted via any other electronic means shall continue to be guilty of a misdemeanor of a high and aggravated nature on the first offense and guilty of a felony on subsequent violations.
SB 117 creates the new felony offense of improper sexual conduct by a person in trust in the first degree. It creates a new offense of improper sexual contact by a person in a position of trust in the second degree because they have agreed to accept responsibility for the minor’s education and supervision. The bill also changes the definition of “dangerous sexual offense” to include additional sexual offenses against minors.
HB 479 is the Governor’s Bill to repeal the citizen’s arrest law. This bill passed the House and Senate unanimously, making Georgia the first state in our nation to repeal the law. I am excited to see what other states follow!
SB 47 is a voucher bill. This takes public tax dollars and gives them to private schools. This bill aims to help children with special educational needs go to a school with programs that will help them succeed, but this misses the mark. What often happens is that when a parent takes a child out of public school to go to private, the private school does not have the same things that the state requires in public schools. On average, these students return to public school 2 years after leaving. My colleagues rightly argued that if there is a problem with public school, let’s make it the best it can be before taking money away from it. As you can probably tell from the budget highlights, we have yet to fully restore the funding cut last year in K-12 education. This would make the cut deeper.
SB 187 would allow students with disabilities (as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act) to apply to have the HOPE deadline waived. Currently, once you graduate from high school, you have ten years to use your HOPE eligibility. If the Georgia Student Finance Commission approves the application, the students could finish school on their own time and take courses up to 127 credit hours.
SB 204 creates the “Dual Achievement Program,” a pilot program that allows students who are 16 years old or older to earn a high school diploma. Students who have completed the required secondary school coursework will be awarded a high school diploma by the State Board of the Technical College System of Georgia. The program must provide a yearly report to the General Assembly no later than February 1 of each year.
Elections and Voting
SB 202 dramatically changes the way our elections are run and the way we vote. While many of us thought that HB 531 was egregious, this bill takes it to a new level. It restricts voting absentee by mail by lessening the amount of time to apply and turn in your ballot. It makes it a felony, if convicted, for anyone handing out water for people waiting in line. Both of these are terrible and considered inhumane, and the most dangerous changes are the ones to the control of the State Election Board and the changes made to runoff elections. Prior to his measure, the State Election Board Chair is the Secretary of State. This law makes the Secretary of State a non-voting ex officio member and allows the Georgia General Assembly to appoint a “non-partisan” chair. This takes away power from the electorate. If the Secretary of State does something wrong, he is removed from office by the people. There is no recourse if this newly appointed person does something wrong. Runoff elections are required to have early voting, just like the general election. This bill alters the deadlines for all forms of early voting so much so that they are almost impossible, which to me is illegal.
The passage of this bill in the House was depressing. The events following only added to the outrage and sadness. Governor Kemp typically signs legislation on the second floor in front of one of the big staircases. He decided to sign this bill privately with only GOP Leadership while also stating how proud he is of such a “great bill” that will keep our elections “secure.” If you are proud of something, you show it off and allow your supporters to come and see it. The fact that he signed it privately really does show that, while he may be proud, the goal is suppression and just in time for the next big election.
SB 43 passed the House and Senate and is on the Governors desk for signature. Insurance companies that cover eye health set rates for certain procedures and require that eye doctors create discounts for certain services, specifically non-covered procedures and services. This bill, known as the “Non-covered Eyecare Act,” prevents that and allows the provider to set the price. Providers can still offer discounts, but this gives them more power.
SB 46 does a lot.
- It allows certified emergency medical technicians and cardiac technicians to administer vaccines upon a duly licensed physician’s order during a public health emergency.
- One of the more contentious parts of this bill is that it allows individual vaccine information to be released to a third party authorized to receive information on vaccines administered in response to public health emergencies to avert serious health threats so long as the individual’s name is not provided.
- Expands vaccine definition to include vaccines administered for an illness that has resulted in a public health emergency, influenza vaccine, and any vaccine included on the adult immunization schedule recommended by the federal CDC.
- This bill removes the requirement for a pharmacist or nurse to provide new vaccine recipients with a personal immunization card; vaccine information will be entered into the Georgia Registry of Immunization Transactions and Services. Pharmacists, nurses, or their designees must check the vaccination registry before administering a vaccine to a patient unless there is a public health emergency or a vaccination event for influenza that will serve 75 or more patients.
- Lastly, no live attenuated virus should be administered to a patient who has not signed an informed consent form or has a contraindication to the vaccine (i.e., a situation that makes taking the vaccine harmful to the patient).
- SB 46 includes the language from HB 450, which authorizes the Department of Public Health to disclose information regarding the Low THC Oil Patient Registry to government entities or other organizations for statistical, research, educational, or grant application purposes after redacting all personal identifiers of patients.
- Lastly, it includes the language from HB 275, which would require all firefighters to be subject to random testing for evidence of the use of illegal drugs for the first two years of licensure or certification. The Georgia Firefighter Standards and Training Council will be responsible for creating the drug testing rules and regulations. It also allows an individual who is applying to be an emergency medical technician, a paramedic, or a cardiac technician not to be automatically disqualified if they were convicted of a felony more than five but less than ten years before their application. However, they will be subject to random testing for evidence of the use of illegal drugs for the first two years of their licensure or certification. The Department of Public Health will be responsible for creating the rules and regulations of drug testing.
SB 92 allows for Physicians Assistants and Advanced Practice Registered Nurses to prescribe, at the direction of the Physician, schedule 2 drugs for 3 days.
SB 164 modernizes HIV-related laws. This bill reduces the sentence for the felony act of a person living with HIV to knowingly engage in a sexual act or perform a sexual act for money with the intent to transmit HIV and not disclose their HIV status when the transmission is scientifically considered high risk from ten years to five years. This bill removes numerous actions previously considered felonies as they have no scientific basis for the transmission of HIV. It removes the act of an HIV-infected person donating blood, bodily fluids, body organs, or body parts without disclosing their status of being an HIV-infected person from the list of acts considered felonies. Hypodermic needles and syringes will no longer be considered drug-related objects. This bill updates the Georgia code and aligns it with fact-based science.
SB 27 extends the period that current or former military members can apply for a contractors’ license from 180 days to 2 years after discharge. The licensing board may extend this period for situations such as hospitalization or other health emergencies.
SB 225 creates a special and distinctive license plate for veterans who served in the armed forces of an ally of the United States during the Korean War, Vietnam War, Operation Desert Storm, or the Global War on Terrorism that states “Allied Veteran” instead of the county name.
SB 237 creates a special license plate to honor United States Army Rangers veterans. The proceeds from the sale of this special license plate will go to the National Ranger Memorial Foundation, Inc.
I am double masking; are you?
You can find a statewide list of vaccine providers HERE. If you have questions about COVID-19 or the vaccine, please call DPH at (888) 357-0169. This is not a number to create an appointment; it is only if you have questions.
I am honored to serve as your State Representative. I will continue to promote economic development, serve as a voice for our senior citizens, and fight for you and your family’s educational opportunities.
GA House District 78