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Legislators met many objectives

Legislative update

POSTED: April 10, 2013 10:29 a.m.

Before the start of the 2013 legislative session of the Georgia General Assembly, I listed priorities for the state and our district. Gov. Nathan Deal already has started the process of reviewing legislation passed by the General Assembly. Many objectives were achieved, and some of those are highlighted here:
• Balanced state budget: Balancing Georgia’s budget is a constitutional requirement; however, it is never a simple task. For the $19.9 billion fiscal-year 2014 state budget, education remains one of our top priorities. More than half of our annual budget is dedicated to K-12 and higher education. Also, bonds were included in the state budget to continue deepening the harbor of the Port of Savannah.
• Education: Education is a key stepping stone that equips our young students with tools to become productive members of society. Under House Bill 372, changes were made to the eligibility requirements for the HOPE program, which is a grant specifically available to students attending a technical college in Georgia. By lowering the required grade-point average to a 2.0 (as it was in 2011), we will increase the number of students receiving HOPE and help them obtain the skills that employers in Georgia demand.
HB 487, passed this year, gives the Georgia Lottery Corporation oversight of legal video-poker machines and allows them to use part of the profits to fund the HOPE Scholarship and HOPE Grant programs. Since the HOPE programs are funded entirely by the Georgia Lottery Corporation, the additional funding will help students across the state.
HB 244, also passed this session, establishes a single statewide teacher-evaluation system, to be coordinated by the Georgia Department of Education. The system will include multiple measures, with student growth and academic achievement given highest priority.
Also regarding education, the legislature funded the restoration of an additional 10 days to the pre-kindergarten program, bringing the school year back to a full 180 days.
• Ethics reform: Transparency within all levels of government results in increasing the public’s trust and confidence in their elected officials. During the 2012 primary election, voters overwhelming voted in favor of a non-binding ballot question that would limit gifts from lobbyists to lawmakers. This session, the legislature approved two bills — HBs 142 and 143 — that will reform ethics in the state by limiting gifts to public officials. Under the current law, as long as any expenditure is disclosed, there is no maximum amount; however, legislation passed this session changes that. Although each chamber had differing opinions on whether to completely ban all gifts or to place a dollar-amount limitation, an agreement was reached. Lobbyists’ expenditures to individual public officials will be capped at $75 and still must be reported, as is the requirement under the current law. The exception to this cap includes meals for full committees, caucuses and some limited travel.
The other change would require any individual receiving more than $250 in compensation to promote or oppose the passage of any legislation by the General Assembly, or any committee, to register as a lobbyist.
Lastly, changes were made to expand the power and duties of the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission. Changes also were made to the reporting periods for campaign-disclosure reports.
• Health care: There has been an increase in Georgia in the number of enrolled citizens for the Medicaid program. The Hospital Medicaid Financing Program Act, Senate Bill 24, was passed by the legislature and signed into law by Deal on Feb. 13. It was effective immediately.
The act authorizes the Georgia Department of Community Health to establish, assess or discontinue provider payments to hospitals. With the increase in Medicaid costs, this legislation was essential to continuing to provide health-care services. The extension of the hospital-provider fee will allow Georgia to raise matching funds in order to obtain federal Medicaid funding. Without this legislation to help fill the Medicaid-funding shortfall, services would have been reduced and many rural hospitals would have closed.
I now am back in our district full-time, and I look forward to hearing from you. Call me at 404-656-5099 or email me at ron.stephens@house.ga.gov.

 

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