Legislative Update – Week 5

On Monday, February 10, legislators returned to the State Capitol for the fifth week of the session. Last week, we voted to postpone meeting on the House floor in order to devote additional time to the state budgeting process, and this week, the House Appropriations subcommittees held several meetings to finalize the Amended Fiscal Year 2020 (AFY 2020) and Fiscal Year 2021 (FY 2021) budgets. Crafting the state budget is always an arduous process, and the fifth week of session proved to be especially significant as we dedicated our time to gathering more information on potential budget adjustments. Our state Constitution requires us to have a balanced budget, a practice our counterparts in Washington should look to adopt!

Governor Brian Kemp previously instructed our state agencies to reduce spending by four percent in AFY 2020 and six percent in FY 2021, saving taxpayers millions of dollars on inefficient operational costs. Gov. Kemp’s recommended budget would reduce operational spending by $216 million in the AFY 2020 budget and an additional $341 million in the FY 2021 budget. Even with these reductions, the FY 2021 budget is still set at several hundred million dollars above the current fiscal year’s budget.

Over the last ten years, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Human Resources has worked to secure additional state funding to improve mental health services and bolster programs that provide treatment for citizens with substance abuse issues in Georgia, and this week, we learned more about budget adjustments in these areas. The governor’s proposal for the AFY 2020 budget would amend the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities’ budget to save $34.3 million.  The Appropriations Committee will look carefully at how these savings can be achieved while continuing to provide quality services to the people who need them.

This week, we also examined areas of Gov. Kemp’s budget that includes services for our rural communities.  Each of our 159 counties has its own local health department, which is sometimes the closest, if not the only location where citizens in rural areas can receive health care services. These health departments provide preventative care, offer innovative telehealth services for residents to receive care remotely via video conference and conduct necessary environmental health inspections of restaurants and hotels.  While these departments find ways to save our tax dollars, the House will continue to lead the charge in creating legislative solutions that aid rural communities, improve the quality of life and ensure access to basic health care services for rural Georgians.

We also spent time this week examining proposed budget adjustments for agricultural education and research programs that aid the state’s farmers and agricultural industry in a variety of ways. In prior budgets, the General Assembly appropriated additional funding for programs like the University System of Georgia’s Agricultural Experiment Stations and Cooperative Extension Services. Under Gov. Kemp’s AFY 2020 budget proposal, these programs would be reduced by approximately $6.2 million, and the programs would see a reduction of more than $7.6 million in the FY 2021 budget. This would reduce funding for vacant positions, contractual services, operating expenses and maintenance costs for these programs. Agriculture is the number one industry in Georgia, and we will remain committed to maintaining this title as we consider funding for these programs.

We received word this week that the federal government is taking steps to support the growth and expansion of the Savannah harbor and Port of Savannah, which is one of the busiest ports in the country and an economic driver in our state. President Donald Trump announced that his budget proposal includes $93.6 million in funds for the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project, which will deepen Savannah’s harbor to allow for larger vessels. This vital project has a total projected cost of $1 billion, and these federal funds will help the project stay on track to finish by 2022. Additionally, the Georgia Ports Authority announced that the Port of Savannah has been awarded $34.6 million through the Port Infrastructure Development Grant by the U.S. Department of Transportation to modernize the port’s loading docks. The Port of Savannah plays an important role in global commerce, and these investments will provide a great opportunity for the port to remain a worldwide leader in imports and exports.

By the end of the fifth week, the House Appropriations Committee began voting on portions of the AFY 2020 budget from the subcommittees on transportation, education and economic development. Next week, the committee is expected to take up the remaining portions of the amended budget from the other appropriations subcommittees and consider the entire AFY 2020 budget bill. In the meantime, we will also keep working to finalize the FY 2021 budget bill.

Just like your budget at home, our state budget needs to be reasonable and thrifty.  I support the Governor’s effort to reduce spending wherever we can do so without negatively impacting critical services. 84998536_2756319674403597_276204068290953216_o.jpg

We were honored to celebrate Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Day at the Capitol on February 12.  It was my pleasure to host Tyler Thomas and his family from Walton County, and to see representatives of the many young people who are served by this top-notch provider. Chief Bill Owens and members of the Monroe Fire Department also visited this week during Firefighters’ Day.  Our first responders do a fantastic job and I am grateful for their service.

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While the state budget bills continue to make their way through the legislative process, I encourage you to reach out to me with any questions or concerns you have regarding the process or any budget recommendations. My Capitol office number is 404-656-5024, and my email address is bruce.williamson@house.ga.gov. Please contact me anytime.

As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your state representative.

Legislative Update – Week 3

On Monday, January 27, the General Assembly returned to the Gold Dome for the third week of the 2020 legislative session.       It was a busy and productive week where we heard the results of key study committees and had several visitors from Walton County.

Each year, I am honored to host Leadership Walton for their day at the Capitol.  New classes of emerging leaders are selected to study civic issues in our community so they can be prepared to lead our community going forward in both the adult and youth programs.  This week, they met with our legislative delegation, heard from committee chairs and department directors and had a chance to meet Governor Brian Kemp.

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A large group from Monroe First United Methodist Church visited this week.  It was such a blessing to be surrounded by my fellow worshippers and know that they are praying for the success of our great State.

We began our legislative work this week with reports from study committees, councils and commissions who have been working throughout the year while we are not in session. House Resolution 37 was adopted last session establishing the Georgia Commission on Freight & Logistics for the 2019 calendar year. The commission was authorized to analyze and recommend comprehensive public policy that would support our freight and logistics industries, including our distribution centers in Walton County.  House Resolution 214 reauthorized the House Rural Development Council to improve economic opportunities in rural areas of the state. Finally, House Resolution 589 was adopted in 2019 to create the House Study Committee on Maternal Mortality to study issues that impact maternal health. Each of these groups issued in-depth final reports that included policy recommendations, which will guide us as we craft sound and effective legislation this session.

This week, the Joint House and Senate Transportation Committee approved the Georgia Commission on Freight & Logistics’ final report and legislative recommendations. The commission’s proposal seeks to address workforce development, truck parking, freight rail investment and funding gaps, and recommended that their work be extended through 2020.The House Transportation Committee approved House Resolution 935 this week, which would reauthorize the commission for the 2020 calendar year. If this resolution is adopted by the House and Senate, the commission would spend the next year further exploring the challenges and opportunities for change for Georgia’s freight movement and mobility.

The House Transportation Committee approved another important legislative measure this week that was a recommendation of the Georgia Commission on Freight & Logistics. House Bill 820 would establish the Georgia Freight Railroad Program within the Department of Transportation (DOT), and this vital program would enhance the state’s investment in our freight rail system, which handles approximately 27 percent of all freight in Georgia. I am eager to see this measure make its way through the legislative process so that we can continue to improve these infrastructures in our state.

The House Rural Development Council also submitted several legislative recommendations supporting our agriculture industry, which is one of our state’s largest industries, as well as expanding funding for rural broadband. The council also proposed solutions for providing adequate health care by creating tax incentives for rural physicians and developing a state-funded residency program to bring health care workers to rural areas.

Members of the House Study Committee on Maternal Mortality’s final report includes strategies such as extending Georgia’s Medicaid coverage for pregnant and postpartum women and mandating a postmortem examination for any maternal death. The study committee also seeks to increase accessibility to health care through telehealth services. Maternal health will remain a top priority in the House during the 2020 session, and these recommendations will guide us as we focus our legislative efforts to prevent maternal mortality.

Members of the House observed International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Monday, January 27, 2020, which marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. This powerful day commemorates the catastrophic genocide that resulted in the deaths of 6 million Jews and 11 million others. To honor the lives that were lost during the Holocaust, the General Assembly passed legislation during the 2019 session to create a memorial in the State Capitol. Members of the General Assembly, along with Israel Consul General Anat Sultan-Dadon, joined together to unveil the new memorial this week. My colleagues and I also recognized International Holocaust Remembrance Day in the House chamber and adopted a resolution to in recognition of this day. This tribute in the State Capitol will serve as an important reminder that we should never forget the events of the Holocaust, and it will educate Georgia citizens to help ensure that such atrocities are never committed again.

Lastly, on Thursday, January 30, Gov. Kemp signed the first major piece of legislation of the 2020 session. House Bill 276 was passed via a conference committee report during the first week of session and allows the state to collect taxable revenue from marketplace facilitators whose online platforms or apps are used to sell goods or services in excess of $100,000 or more annually. This new law will go into effect on April 1 and will help level the playing field for small brick-and-mortar businesses that currently have sale tax charged to their products.

Next week is sure to be even busier at the State Capitol as we enter into the fourth week of the legislative session. My colleagues and I will continue to take up meaningful legislation in our committees and on the House floor in the coming weeks, so I encourage you to provide me with your input and thoughts on any proposed legislation that is important to you. You are always welcome to visit my Capitol office, which is located at 415-B State Capitol, anytime. You can also reach me at my Capitol office at 404-656-5024 or by email at bruce.williamson@house.ga.gov.

As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.