The House reconvened on Monday, February 1, to start our fourth week of the 2016 legislative session. With a month of session behind us, we are hard at work in the General Assembly working on meaningful legislation that will have a positive impact on all Georgians. Numerous bills have been approved and passed out of their respective committees and many made their way to the House floor this week for a vote before the entire House of Representatives. Some bills have been voted down or changed significantly.
Budget work continues everyday for the different facets of the 2017 Budget. My committee on Education met with the Ga Dept. of Education folks on Thursday. We did a lot of fact finding and understanding on what the Governor and the Dept. had planned for the budget areas they are responsible for. Lots of questions were asked! These committee meetings are taped and are available for all Georgians to look at from the Georgia House of Representatives website. It’s a bit complex for here to explain, but I can send you a step by step how to look at any of the house meetings you might want to look at. If you ever hear me talk, you will learn that the committee meeting is where our main work is done. It’s a good place to keep an eye on what we are doing.
It is no secret that for this year and for the past few years, education is one of the General Assembly’s top legislative priorities; therefore, we unanimously passed House Bill 801 (Jan Jones, R-Johns Creek) this week to encourage students to take college courses in certain areas. HB 801 would change the GPA weighting system for HOPE Scholarship recipients who take certain science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) courses. HB 801 would direct the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia to select bachelor-level STEM courses to receive extra weight when calculating the HOPE scholarship GPA while a student attends college. Under HB 801, a student completing a class selected for extra weight would receive .5 added to his or her grade when calculating the HOPE scholarship GPA. To qualify for additional grade weighting, identified core and major courses must be determined to be academically rigorous and lead to jobs in high demand STEM fields. By providing additional GPA weight to courses where our state sees the most need, we are making strides to bridge the skills gap in Georgia without risking the scholastic fulfillment of our students.
A vital workforce is essential to a thriving economy; therefore, enacting legislation that will reinforce our state’s business climate and that will arm our citizens with the tools they need to succeed in Georgia’s job market is crucial. Much like HB 801, we also passed House Bill 402 (Eddie Lumsden, R-Rome) this week, which is another measure that seeks to close the skills gap in Georgia. HB 402 passed our body unanimously and is an effort to increase business partnerships and participation with local public school systems for K-12 work-based learning programs. Work-based learning programs allow students age 16 and older to participate in a structured learning environment at an employer’s job site for a portion of the school day, while also receiving academic credit. Modeled after Georgia’s drug-free workplace program, HB 402 would offer businesses that participate in the program a discount of up to five percent on their worker’s compensation insurance premiums as an incentive to encourage participation. It is important to instill a strong work ethic in our teens, and Georgia’s work-based learning program is an excellent way to teach students the true value and responsibility of employment. By encouraging these partnerships through the passage of HB 402, we are not only providing businesses with greater program incentive, but we are also providing students with the invaluable, hands-on experience in the workplace at a young age.
We also passed a measure this week intended to ease the burden on our public safety officers who spend their entire careers working to protect the well-being of all Georgians. House Bill 421 is legislation to provide enhanced disability benefits to community supervision officers employed by the Department of Community Supervision who become permanently disabled due to an act of external violence or injury incurred in the line of law enforcement duty. Under HB 421, deputy conservation rangers with the Department of Natural Resources, parole officers with the State Board of Pardons and Paroles, probation officers with the Department of Corrections, and any community supervision officer with the Department of Community Supervision would be eligible for a monthly disability compensation of $5.00 per month for each year of creditable service. The bill further calls for a minimum monthly disability retirement benefit equal to two percent of their monthly earnings beginning the month their permanent disability occurred until mandatory retirement age. Our community supervision officers do far more than we realize to keep the citizens of our State safe, and I was proud to vote for this legislation to show our appreciation for their sacrifice.
This week we saw a bunch of folks from our region, Our Firefighters, Nurses, Veterinarians, Agriculture leaders and Farm Bureaus, Librarians, Game and Fish Rangers, and Pastors from around the State. I had the opportunity to recognize the 21 winners of Leadership awards and State 4-H offices including our very own Trent Whisenant, from Murray County on the House floor.
As we continue through the legislative session, I hope that you will contact me if you have questions or concerns about these bills, or any other legislation that may come before us. As your State Representative, it is my job to represent your thoughts and opinions in Atlanta, and I would like to hear from you. At the recent Mardi Gras in the Mountains, a fundraiser for Ga. Mtn. Hospice, a lot of folks shared their opinions on a variety of matters with me. I don’t mind at all hearing from folks. Please call ahead if you are in Atlanta during the legislative session; I would love to see a face from home., or call my office at the State Capitol and let me know what I can do for you and your family. My Capitol office number is 404-656-7857,and my email is email@example.com.