The House kicked off the fifth week of the 2018 legislative session on Monday, February 5, and with only a few weeks left until “Cross Over Day,” we had a very busy legislative agenda to tackle. My House colleagues and I worked diligently this week to pass several noteworthy bills, including one of the most significant pieces of legislation of the entire session – House Bill 683, the Amended Fiscal Year 2018 (AFY 2018) budget. Following much discussion on the bill, the measure passed overwhelmingly by a vote of 167-8.
Funding for education and related initiatives makes up some of the largest investments in the AFY 2018 budget.
The original FY 2018 budget provided funding for an estimated number of full-time enrolled students, and the amended budget provides $102.1 million for enrollment growth for 7,515 additional students, as well as for charter system grants and State Commission Charter School supplements. The AFY 2018 budget also includes $15.5 million to purchase 200 new school buses for school systems statewide and provides $400,000 to establish a leadership academy for principals across the state. In addition to funding for K-12 education, the amended 2018 budget also contains appropriations for higher education in our state, such as $10.7 million to meet the needs of 4,720 new Dual Enrollment students and $10 million for the Board of Regents to cover the growing cost of graduate-level medical education at Augusta University. Finally, the AFY 2018 budget includes $8.1 million in lottery funds to keep up with the growing demand for HOPE and Zell Miller scholarships and $75,000 to plan for the Center for Rural Prosperity and Innovations, as recommended by the RDC.
My colleagues and I passed a military-friendly measure this week, House Bill 699. HB 699 would allow firefighters who have served as members of the armed forces to be exempt from firefighter basic training. Current law requires all firefighters to successfully complete a basic training course within one year of their hire date, and the Georgia Firefighter Standards and Training Council determines the content and duration of this course. However, HB 699 would allow individuals who have trained as a member of the United States armed forces, United States Coast Guard, Georgia National Guard or Georgia Air National Guard to present documentation of such training to the council and receive a firefighter basic training certificate of completion. This bill would make it easier for Georgia’s veterans to begin a career as a firefighter as a result of their service and the sacrifices they have made for our country and state.
In an effort to address Georgia’s current opioid crisis, the House overwhelmingly passed House Bill 701 on Monday, February 5. HB 701 would update Georgia law by allowing our state to test candidates for all forms of opioids during state employment drug testing but would not affect those with valid and legal opioid prescriptions. The federal government recently added opioids to federal drug testing laws, and HB 701 would modify state law to reflect this national change. According to the Substance Abuse Research Alliance, Georgia is ranked 11th in the nation in opioid overdoses, and 68 percent of Georgia’s 1,307 drug overdoses in 2015 were caused by opioids and heroin. The General Assembly has worked diligently in recent years to pass measures to tackle Georgia’s devastating opioid crisis, and HB 701 is another piece of legislation aimed at fighting our state’s opioid epidemic.
The House also passed a bill this week that would help protect Georgia’s most vulnerable citizens, our children. House Bill 655 would require public schools, as well as local and state charter schools, to post signs with the toll-free phone number of the child abuse hotline in clearly visible, public areas. This 24/7 hotline is operated by the Division of Family and Children Services and the Department of Human Services and allows students to report incidents of child abuse or neglect to trusted individuals. Twenty-seven other states have passed similar legislation, and if HB 655 is signed into law, Georgia would join these states in this effort to stop child abuse nationwide.
Finally, I would like to update you on the status of House Bill 159, the adoption bill. After much anticipation, the Senate overwhelmingly passed HB 159 on Monday, February 5. The final version of HB 159, as passed by the General Assembly, would update Georgia’s adoption laws for the first time in almost three decades and streamline and expedite all types of adoptions in Georgia, allowing thousands of children to more quickly and efficiently find their forever families. State Representative Bert Reeves (R-Marietta), who authored HB 159, spent nearly two-and-a-half years refining the bill, and its final passage on Monday was a major victory for all of Georgia’s current and future foster care children, birth mothers and adoptive parents. This legislation is one of the first bills of the 2018 legislative session to go to the governor’s desk for final approval, and I am proud to see such a significant and meaningful measure pass the General Assembly.
As your representative under the Gold Dome, your thoughts and opinions are important to me, and I want to know which issues are significant to you and your family. You may call my Capitol office at 404-656-0202, or email me at email@example.com.
As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your state representative.
Rep. John Deffenbaugh District 1