Here is a legislative update released by the office of state Rep. Ronnie Mabra:
“The Georgia General Assembly convened Tuesday through Friday of last week bringing us to legislative day 24. As Crossover Day quickly approaches we are working tirelessly to pass bills. Crossover Day is the day 30 where bills will pass from the House and move forward to the Senate where the bill will stand-alone.
“This week, we passed several bills, and among those was one of our most important pieces of legislation of the year: House Bill 751, the Fiscal Year 2017 (FY2017) state budget. This budget will serve as a spending guide for the state beginning July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2017. The FY2017 budget is the largest budget in our state’s history at $23.7 billion, which is an increase of $673.9 million, or 2.9%, over the amended FY2016 budget. The House was able to secure funding for several of its priorities, including: education funding, additional funding for transportation as a result of the Transportation Funding Act of 2015, health care and economic development funds.
FY2017 includes a $300 million appropriation for K-12 education for local school boards to give salary increases, eliminate furlough days or increase instruction days for education. The House version of FY2017 also includes $5.1 million for a 3 percent pay raise to teachers in Agriculture Education and Tech/Career Education programs, school bus drivers, lunchroom workers, nurses, and Regional Education Service Agency (RESA) employees. The budget provides an additional $28.6 million in funding for Pre-K teachers for salary increases up to three percent, as well as increasing salaries for assistant teachers.
“The FY2017 budget also provides funding for higher education initiatives in our state, including the HOPE and Zell Miller Scholarships. HB 751 allocates $59.1 million for FY2017 for Zell Miller and HOPE Scholarship recipients. FY2017 also appropriates $29.4 million in funding to the Move on When Ready dual enrollment program and an additional $1.2 million to the North Georgia Military Scholarship Grants program. Additionally, the budget establishes two new service loan programs of $100,000 each for large animal veterinarians and the Georgia National Guard to address the need for skilled individuals in those fields. Finally, HB 751 includes $44.4 million for formula earnings based on enrollment and increased square footage at both the University System of Georgia and the Technical College System of Georgia. College students will not experience a tuition increase next fall due to the diligence of the Board of Regents to keep college affordable and the work of the governor and General Assembly to provide adequate formula funding.
“FY2017 has allocated $66.7 million to offset Medicaid enrollment growth in our state. In order to see that all Georgians are in close proximity to quality healthcare, the House version of the FY 2017 budget includes several initiatives to ensure that basic services are available in underserved areas. This includes $200,000 to maintain the rural dentistry loan program; $100,000 to establish a loan repayment program for physician assistants and advance practice registered nurses; $100,000 for the Georgia South Family Medicine Rural Residency Training Program; and $200,000 for OB/GYN physicians who want to return to practice in underserved areas. FY2017 also provides a one-time start-up grant of $250, 000 for the Champions for Children program, also known as the “Katie Beckett waiver,” which provides grants to families with medically fragile children who do not qualify for Medicaid.
“As a result of House Bill 170, the Transportation Funding Act of 2015, FY2017 appropriates $825.6 million in new state general and motor fuel funds to help improve the state’s roads and bridges to keep freight and our commuters moving safely and efficiently. Of those funds, $543.1 million are budgeted for capital construction and maintenance projects; $204.7 for routine maintenance; and $41 million in Local Maintenance and Improvement Grants (LMIG). An additional $1 million in bonds were also allocated for the repair, replacement, and renovation of our state’s bridges to ensure safety for all who travel on our roadways. Prior to the passage of HB 170, Georgia’s roads averaged resurfacing once every 50 years. I encourage you to view their website and the list of upcoming projects at www.GAroads.org.
“Georgia has been at the forefront of criminal justice reforms, and since the implementation of these reforms, state juvenile justice facilities have seen a 25 percent decrease in population. To maintain this progress, FY2017 includes an additional $3.8 million to expand the state’s accountability courts, which are aimed at providing community alternatives, as proven alternatives to sentencing, to rehabilitate offenders and juveniles. FY2017 also allocates $5.6 million to support educational initiatives in the state prison system, including operational costs for two charter high schools and expansion of GED fast track, vocational, and general education programs. By providing these individuals with beneficial skills, it will make their transition to re-entry more seamless and reduce their chances of recidivism.
”The General Assembly will reconvene Feb. 22 as legislators return for five consecutive days of session, taking us to legislative day 29. During this time, I hope that you will contact me with your questions or concerns so that I can apply your ideas and opinions to these last few weeks of lawmaking. You are always welcome and encouraged to visit my office at the State Capitol.”