January 13, 2017

The 2017 General Assembly session began on Monday, January 9, with the usual pomp and ceremony of swearing in the House and Senate members.  The Senate officially elected Senator David Shafer President Pro Tem and David Cook as Secretary of the Senate. The Senate also passed a resolution to move cross-over day from Day 30 to Day 28, and condense the Judiciary and Judiciary Non-civil committees into one committee.  The House officially elected Rep. David Ralston as Speaker, Rep. Jan Jones as Speaker Pro Tem, and Bill Reilly as Clerk of the House. The House indicated agreement to the Senate moving up cross-over day, and the House and Senate agreed on an adjournment resolution which sets the calendar for the first four weeks of this session (HR 9).

Republican Chuck Payne won the run-off election on Tuesday of this week to represent Senate District 54 that was vacated by Sen. Charlie Bethel when he was named to the Ga. Court of Appeals.

Governor Deal gave his State of the State on Wednesday and the theme of his speech was “accentuate the positive.”  He compared where we are today to where we were in 2011 when he started his first term as governor.  The Governor touted the state’s current rainy day fund which has dramatically increased from $116M to around $2B, the state’s ability to maintain its AAA bond rating, and the new records we’ve set in trade, film production and tourism.  He also highlighted his budget priorities.

The Governor’s $25B fiscal year 2018 budget (FY ’18) is based on projected revenue growth of 3.6% over the 2017 budget.  Some of the budgets items he highlighted include $3 M in bonds to construct a rehab facility for veterans and $50M to build a new training facility for combatting cyber-crimes and cyber warfare.  He is recommending a 20% pay raise for state-level law enforcement, 19% pay raise for DFCS caseworkers, and 2% increase for teachers and state employees.  He highly encouraged legislators to move quickly in reauthorizing the DCH board to collect the hospital provider fee (bed tax) as it is desperately needed to help fund the state’s Medicaid program, but he cautioned against taking action on other healthcare issues until Congress and the incoming administration indicate what they will do.

Other items in the FY ’18 budget include bonds for $105M for a new judicial building, $73M to complete the new technical college in Hall County, $100M for bridge repair and replacement, $55M for World Congress Center improvements, and $500M for K-12 and college building projects.  Governor Deal is also recommending an increase in payments to doctors for treating Medicaid patients and $21M to increase autism services for children in the Medicaid program.

In his speech, Governor Deal also focused on failing schools and noted that 70% of the 153 schools on the failing list are elementary schools.  He reiterated the need for intervention for these schools and proclaimed his commitment in aiding these students.

The legislature convened Monday through Thursday this week and we have now completed four legislative days. They will be in recess next week, but there will be joint Appropriations Committee hearings on Tuesday and Wednesday, then many legislators will be going to Washington D.C. for the presidential inauguration.

As always, please do not hesitate to contact any of us if you have questions or need information on any legislative issue. All bills can be found on the state’s legislative web site, and live action can be watched in the House and Senate chambers when they are in session.

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