Ga. General Assembly convenes

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On Jan. 12, 2015 the Georgia General Assembly convened for the first day of the 2015 legislative session. It is always an exciting day at the Capitol to see your legislative colleagues that you have not seen much, if at all, in the months since the last day of the prior legislative session. It is also a great day because it is always attended by legislators’ friends and families.

Throughout the legislative session the term “family” is used to describe the General Assembly, the House of Representatives, its separate caucuses, and even individual committees. The analogy is appropriate in many ways: we sit together, converse among one another, debate and occasionally even argue. Although we might have different opinions and viewpoints, I admire the men and women that I serve with because of their dedication to serving this great state.

When I was sworn in last week it marked my eighth year as the representative of this wonderful community. I was thrilled to be joined this inauguration by my mom and dad and my 7-year-old son, Jacob.

The opening week of the legislative session is almost all pomp and circumstance, a series of welcome speeches and hopeful outlooks as the first pieces of legislation begin to enter into the sharp focus of the legislative process. This year was no different, as inclement weather once again allowed the House of Representatives to play host to a gubernatorial inauguration.

In addition to his inauguration speech, Governor Nathan Deal addressed Georgians in his annual State of the State Address on Jan. 14, 2015. He encouraged us to recognize Georgia’s successes but also to realize there are significant challenges that lie ahead.

He explained, and I concur, that these great challenges will require great cooperation. Gov. Deal spoke to critical items such as: maintaining an adequate fiscal reserve, improving on our already strong business climate, and continuing Georgia’s commitment to educating its children.

Among the governor’s proposals, he outlined a desire to consolidate numerous state agency functions under the Department of Community Supervision, a new department, which will coordinate casework among various state agencies.

Often times the same citizens are utilizing separate, but overlapping, services within DFACS, Department of Corrections, and Pardons and Paroles. It is the governor’s goal to provide more efficient and seamless communications between these agencies, which will save taxpayers money and provide better service to our state’s citizens.

Following the State of the State, both chambers of the General Assembly, the House and Senate, break for a week so that the two appropriations committees can begin analyzing Georgia’s budget. We are constitutionally mandated to balance our state’s budget and this task dominates the majority of our time each year. Legislators gather to listen to forecasts and trends and the governor’s recommended budget priorities, all in an attempt to utilize the people’s money as wisely as possible.

One priority for Gov. Deal is the continued reform of our criminal justice system. Gov. Deal expanded the use of accountability courts in his first four years, which is resulting in safer communities and reduced recidivism rates and savings for taxpayers.

Based on these facts and numerous individual stories of Georgia’s offenders moving away from what they have done to reach for what they can do, the governor is asking for an additional $5 million expansion of the accountability courts. He is also proposing the creation of two charter schools that will operate from within Georgia’s prison system to offer inmates the ability to gain a high school diploma and better job prospects after they have served their time, which will lead them to be productive citizens, rather than repeat offenders.

Last year, without raising taxes, we provided the single largest education budget increase in seven years. The governor has recommended another increase in education funding this year as revenues continue to rise.

The governor also recently announced a newly formed commission which will examine Georgia’s educational funding formula, commonly referred to as QBE. This is the formula the that determines education funding levels. It is antiquated, outmoded and long overdue for reform. I look forward to the outcome of this reform commission.

The start of every General Assembly is filled with hearty welcomes and earnest stories from the past year. It is a time to welcome new faces and remember those we might have lost. However, now that the ceremony and pageantry of the first week is over it is time to get down to the people’s business.

Rest assured, for my part, I will work as hard as I know how to represent the citizens of Fayette and Coweta County. Thank you so much for the honor of being your representative and do not hesitate to call me if I may be of service.

[Rep. Matt Ramsey (R-Peachtree City) was first elected to the District 72 post in December 2007. He is a law partner with Warner, Hooper, and Ramsey, P.C., in Peachtree City. His email is matt.ramsey@house.ga.gov.]