Monday, February 7 marked the start of the fifth week of the 2022 legislative session. Each day this week grew increasingly longer as more legislation made its way to the House floor, including the bill for the Amended Fiscal Year (AFY) 2022 budget. Not only was this week filled with debates on legislation in the House Chamber and in our committees, but Chief Justice David Nahmias of the Supreme Court of Georgia also delivered the annual State of the Judiciary address in the House Chamber.
This week, we passed one of the most important bills of the legislative session, House Bill 910, to amend the state budget for the current fiscal year ending June 30, 2022. Last year, the original Fiscal Year 2022 budget was set at a revenue estimate of $27.2 billion, but I am pleased to report that Georgia’s economy has since made an outstanding recovery, and the state anticipates robust collections for the rest of this fiscal year. The AFY 2022 budget is set at $29.8 billion, and this amended budget will allow the state to utilize about $2.6 billion in new funds before the current fiscal year ends in July. With these projections in mind, I’d like to bring your attention to the areas of the House’s version of the amended budget that focus on education, health, public safety, as well as the state’s workforce and infrastructure.
This new funding in the amended budget presents a much needed opportunity to allocate funding towards our state’s aging infrastructure and vital workforce needs. Our budget dedicates more than $900 million to the state’s infrastructure needs, such as replacing agency vehicles and school buses, upgrading state technology and maintenance, repairs, infrastructure and design for state facilities. This AFY 2022 budget also makes a sizeable investment into retaining and recruiting state workers, including an allocation of more than $900 million for salary increases for state employees, educators and other school employees. Before July 1, full-time, benefit-eligible state employees would receive a $5,000 salary adjustment, our teachers would receive a $2,000 supplement, and many other school employees would receive a $1,000 supplement.
Georgia’s K-12 education system is the largest budget expenditure and totals $11.16 billion, or 43.3 percent of the general funds in the state budget. Due to the rebound in state revenues this last year, this amended budget restores $383 million that is needed to fully fund our K-12 education system using the Quality Basic Education (QBE) formula. The House’s version of the AFY 2022 budget also includes $93 million in additional QBE funding for enrollment growth of 11,926 new public school students, $188 million to purchase 1,747 public school buses and $5 million to help schools purchase alternative-fuel vehicles.
My colleagues and I were also able to allocate the necessary funds to help promote better health for Georgians, both physically and mentally. HB 910 includes $263 million to meet the projected need from increased enrollment in the state’s Medicaid program. This budget also includes an additional $1.7 million for the Georgia Board of Health Care Workforce to fully fund residents in graduate medical education programs. Furthermore, $500,000 is designated to the Morehouse School of Medicine’s new nursing program. Under the budget area for the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, HB 910 provides $416,875 for Georgia Options and the Matthew Reardon Center for Autism; these programs have been great partners to the state and provide incredible support services to children and adults with developmental disabilities. This budget also appropriates $10 million to fund service cancelable loans for mental health practitioners to expand the workforce to meet increasing demands for services. HB 910 also includes $310,000 for the Georgia Crisis and Access Line to implement the National Suicide Lifeline in our state.
This budget also prioritizes keeping Georgians safe and supporting our law enforcement agencies and corrections system. This version of the AFY 2022 budget allocates $1.3 million to support our judicial system’s critical operations. HB 910 also includes $23.6 million to replace almost 600 vehicles for the Georgia Department of Corrections, Department of Community Supervision, Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) and Department of Public Safety. For the health, safety and security of offenders in our correctional system, this budget designates $432 million to the Georgia Building Authority for a state prison facility transformation and various technology projects. HB 910 also mirrors the governor’s recommendation to provide $4.6 million in new funds to the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council for the Georgia Crime Victims Emergency Fund to help offset lower than normal probation fee collections, as well as $1.8 million in unallocated training funds, totaling $6.5 million in increased funding for this important initiative.
HB 910 includes funding for a number of other House priorities over the next several months. The governor recently announced that the electric vehicle company Rivian will bring nearly 7,500 new jobs to Georgia, and to support this initiative, this budget includes $112 million in the Georgia Department of Community Affairs to support the local development authorities around the company’s new site. This version of the budget also includes funding for improvements to several state facilities, including the Georgia World Congress Center, the Georgia National Fairgrounds and Jekyll Island State Park. Finally, HB 910 designates approximately $483,000 to allow the GBI to hire four election complaint investigators.
During a joint session on Tuesday, Chief Justice Nahmias provided a comprehensive update on how the judicial system has adapted to the pandemic, as well as the challenges the courts still face. The chief justice highlighted that one of its most helpful responses to the pandemic has been leveraging technology and offering virtual court proceedings to keep cases moving along in almost all of our courts. However, our courts are still working tirelessly to address the backlog of cases that have resulted from the pandemic, particularly among serious criminal cases that continuing to strain the system. To that end, the chief justice touted the state’s substantial federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) grant funding that was recently allocated to the judicial system to address case backlogs, with priority being given to backlogs of serious violent felony cases, such as murder, armed robbery and aggravated sex crimes. The chief justice also informed us that the judicial system’s main priority going forward will be resolving this backlog and handling the influx of new criminal cases due to higher crime rates than before the pandemic began.
Additionally, the chief justice commended the General Assembly for its legislative efforts that have helped the judicial system try to restore and expand its civil and criminal case capacity. Last session, the General Assembly passed legislation to provide the courts with some much-needed statutory tools, including legislation that authorizes judges to extend statutory speedy trial deadlines at the local level to prevent potentially dangerous offenders from being released without a trial. Our legislative efforts have also allowed more criminal cases to move forward sooner and allowed more cases to be tried by judges rather than juries if the defendant consents. Going forward, the chief justice shared a common legislative goal of improving the state’s mental health system due to the fact that those with mental illnesses are more likely to be incarcerated than hospitalized. He reminded us that the state’s accountability courts have been tremendously successful in dealing with offenders with mental and behavioral health issues, reducing recidivism rates and helping offenders re-enter society. However, Chief Justice Nahmias also stated that communities across the state still need additional resources to better serve Georgians with mental health needs. Fortunately, Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) and the Behavioral Health Reform and Innovation Commission recently introduced legislation that would bring comprehensive reforms to Georgia’s mental health care delivery system. The chief justice expressed his appreciation for these efforts to address mental health policies that would impact the judicial system, as well as improve our mental health system across the board.
We also passed the following bills on the House floor this week:
- House Bill 56, which would provide an additional superior court judge in the Blue Ridge Judicial Circuit;
- House Bill 263, which would allow for an updated mortality table to be used when determining the amount of retirement benefits of survivors of deceased probate judges;
- House Bill 412, which would create the Georgia Behavior Analyst Licensing Board, set the operating standards for the board and include licensing requirements for applicants for a behavior analyst license;
- House Bill 430, which would revise the definition of “advanced nursing practice” to include clinical nurse specialists and contains the educational or certification requirements, amend the definition of “advanced practice registered nurse” (APRN) to include several nursing specialties, provide eligibility requirements for licensing of APRNs and renewal requirements for licenses;
- House Bill 780, which would transfer all full-time state-wide business court judges from the Judicial Retirement System to the Employees’ Retirement System starting July 1, 2022;
- House Bill 826, which would create a ballot referendum for area residents to consider the creation of the City of Lost Mountain;
- House Bill 840, which would create a ballot referendum for area residents to consider the creation of the City of Vinings;
- House Bill 891, which would act as the annual housekeeping bill for sections of Georgia’s code that relate to banking and finance;
- House Bill 899, which would help phase out the use of the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) formula as the predominant interest-rate average and, instead, would allow a recommended benchmark formula replacement for any contract, security or instrument that uses LIBOR;
- House Bill 1011, which would remove the permit requirement for low-speed vehicles to use an amber strobe light and clarify that permits for emergency vehicles to operate flashing or revolving emergency lights would be valid for five years from the date of issuance;
- House Bill 1045, which would revise the year from 2022 to 2026 at which the required contribution rate for new or newly covered employers to make into unemployment insurance increases from 2.64 percent of wages to 2.7 percent of wages, as well as change the dissolution date of the Subsequent Injury Trust Fund;
- House Bill 1049, which would add two members to the State Board of Long-Term Care Facility Administrators and increase the number of board members who are nursing home, personal care home or assisted living community administrators, bringing the total number of board members to 11 after June 30, 2022;
- House Bill 1055, which would increase the defined weight limit for an “all-terrain vehicle” from 2,500 pounds to 3,500 pounds.
When we return to the State Capitol on Monday, February 14, we will have another packed week under the Gold Dome. While this session is getting busier by the day, one of my top priorities will remain connecting with my constituents to hear your feedback about the work we are doing in Atlanta. I encourage you to reach out if you have any questions or concerns regarding legislation that has been discussed or passed so far. You can reach my Capitol office at 404-656-0152, or you can email me directly at email@example.com.
As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your state representative and legislative voice here at the Capitol.