On Monday, January 14, 2019, the Georgia House of Representatives convened for the first day of the 155th Legislative Session of the Georgia General Assembly. After completing our business of swearing in and electing officers (see my nomination speech of Speaker Ralston HERE) in the House Chamber Monday morning, the House and Senate reconvened that afternoon for a joint session for the inauguration of Georgia’s 83rd governor, Brian Kemp. Thousands of citizens gathered to witness as Governor Kemp took the oath of office at Georgia Tech’s McCamish Pavilion in Atlanta. Gov. Kemp then administered the oath of office to Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan and other constitutional officers. Our new governor began his term with an impactful inaugural address and encouraged our leaders and citizens to continue to build on our state’s accomplishments. The governor finished his address by calling for bipartisan leadership with the hope of Georgia becoming a “state united.”
Three days later, on Thursday, January 17th, the House and Senate reconvened for another joint session with Gov. Kemp to hear his first annual State of the State address. This annual speech before a joint legislature, judiciary, special guests and the public gives the newly elected governor the opportunity to present his assessment of the current condition of our state government and offer his goals for continued progress and success in the new year.
Gov. Kemp began his State of the State address by reflecting on the leadership and legacies of Governors Sonny Perdue and Nathan Deal. Gov. Kemp commended the work that has been done to make Georgia the epicenter of job growth, the Hollywood of the South and soon to be the Cyber Capital of the World. He also praised Deal’s criminal justice reform initiatives and announced that he will continue to build on those reform efforts during his time in office. Throughout his speech, Gov. Kemp celebrated Georgia’s victories, while challenging us to accomplish even more.
As governor, Brian Kemp vowed to continue to work with state and local officials to recruit industry leaders to Georgia. He highlighted Georgia’s rising wages and low unemployment rate – the lowest it has been in 18 years. In the last eight years, Georgia has seen 800,000 new private sector jobs created, which includes industries like agribusiness, aerospace, aviation, healthcare, manufacturing and transportation infrastructure. To continue this incredible achievement, Gov. Kemp will establish the Georgians First Commission to review regulations that make it difficult for companies to hire, expand and invest in our state.
Gov. Kemp also expressed his commitment to strengthening our public schools by recruiting and retaining top talent for our classrooms by keeping teacher pay competitive. Therefore, Gov. Kemp’s 2020 budget proposal includes a $3,000 permanent salary increase for certified Georgia teachers, which would be the largest teacher pay increase in our state’s history. Gov. Kemp also promised to look out for our hardworking teachers by ultimately raising teachers’ pay by $5,000 during his term in office. The governor’s proposal would be a tremendous investment in Georgia’s public schools and in our students throughout the state.
Not only did Gov. Kemp pledge to invest in school personnel, but he also outlined his plan to prioritize school safety. Starting with the Amended Fiscal Year 2019 budget, Gov. Kemp will include $69 million one-time funding for school security grants. Under the governor’s proposal, all 2,294 public schools in Georgia would receive $30,000 dollars to implement school security priorities that would be determined by local school boards, administrators, teachers, parents, and students. This would allow each school community to prioritize safety according to their specific needs.
In another effort to keep our classrooms safe, Gov. Kemp challenged the General Assembly to address mental health issues that lead to violence in our public schools. To aid in this effort, Gov. Kemp’s budget proposal includes an additional $8.4 million in funding through the APEX program from the Georgia Health Policy Center. APEX is a successful pilot program that increases access to mental health services for school-aged youth. Our state officials would partner with the APEX program professionals to implement critical resources for struggling students.
Gov. Kemp continued by announcing another priority – tackling the rise of gang activity in Georgia. Over 71,000 confirmed gang affiliates reside in Georgia and at least 1,500 suspected gang networks are located throughout the state. To address this growing threat, his proposed budget will include $500,000 to form a gang taskforce within the GBI. The proposed taskforce would be comprised of highly qualified law enforcement officers and prosecutors to stop and eradicate organized crime.
Gov. Kemp went on to highlight the importance of equal opportunities for all citizens in our state, regardless of their zip code or county. For this reason, Gov. Kemp will work closely with the House Rural Development Council and our colleagues in the Senate to expand access to high-speed internet, quality healthcare and great education for rural Georgians. He advocated for strategic partnerships to ensure that every region of the state has access to opportunities.
Finally, the governor reminded us that even though different parts of our state face unique challenges, all citizens deserve access to healthcare. He announced that his budget proposal will include an additional $1 million for the Department of Community Health to create state flexibility options for Georgia’s Medicaid program. Gov. Kemp expressed his commitment to working with the legislature to allow greater access to healthcare options that deliver exceptional results, grow the rural hospital tax credit, tackle the doctor shortage and build a healthier Georgia.
Finally, we took time during session this week to honor and remember our dear friend and colleague, John Meadows, who recently passed away shortly after being reelected to House District 5. Chairman Meadows was elected in 2004 and served as the chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee, which serves as a gatekeeper in deciding which bills go before the full House for a vote. With his family present in the House Chamber, Speaker Ralston introduced House Resolution 5 in John Meadows’ memory. House Resolution 5 honors our friend by renaming the entryway of his former office as the “John Meadows Mezzanine.” He left a legacy at the Capitol and will be missed terribly.
Tuesday, January 22 marked the beginning of the second week of the 2019 legislative session, also known as “budget week.” During this eventful week, the House and Senate Appropriations committees held a series of joint budget hearings, and Gov. Kemp presented his budget recommendations for the amended current and upcoming fiscal years to the committees. The joint Appropriations committees and subcommittees also met and began reviewing Gov. Kemp’s recommendations in order to turn those recommendations into actual legislation that will guide our state’s spending. This week was especially busy as we began the arduous process of ensuring that our state revenue is spent wisely to meet the needs of all Georgians.
The state budget process is one of the most important responsibilities we have during the entire legislative session. The Georgia General Assembly is required by our state constitution to pass a balanced budget each legislative session. After hearing Gov. Kemp’s budget recommendations this week, the Appropriations Committee and subcommittees will continue to meet and will ultimately draft two budget bills: the Amended Fiscal Year 2019 (AFY 2019) budget and the Fiscal Year 2020 (FY 2020) budget. The AFY 2019 budget is an amended budget for the current fiscal year, ending June 30, and uses a more accurate estimate of state revenue to account for any differences between the previous estimate and actual revenue obtained. The FY 2020 budget is a full budget for fiscal year 2020 that uses a projected state revenue estimate to guide state spending beginning on July 1.
In addition to hearing the governor’s comprehensive proposal this week, my colleagues and I also heard testimonies from numerous state agency heads, each of whom explained their budgetary needs. The final versions of the AFY 2019 and FY 2020 budgets will specify how much state funding these agencies will receive, so it is important that we also hear from them as we go through this process.
Now that the week’s joint budget hearings are over, the AFY 2019 and FY 2020 budgets will continue to move through an extensive legislative process. The House Appropriations subcommittees will spend time further examining Gov. Kemp’s recommendations before passing portions of the budget out of their respective subcommittees. Each portion of the budget will then be considered by the full House Appropriations Committee, which will pass balanced budget bills for AFY 2019 and FY 2020.
From there, the budget bills will go before the House Rules Committee and be placed on the House calendar. The budget will then be called for a vote on the House floor, and members will have the chance to ask questions about the budget before placing their voting.
Once the House passes the balanced budget, the State Senate will repeat this committee process before voting on the budget on the Senate floor. As the budget moves through the Senate, it will likely differ from the original version as passed by the House. When this happens, the Speaker of the House and the Lieutenant Governor will both appoint a conference committee to resolve discrepancies between the House and Senate versions of the state budget. When the conference committee reaches an agreement, their version of the budget goes back to the House and Senate for a final floor vote. Both chambers must vote on the conference committee’s version of the budget to guarantee that all contents are fully agreed upon by both chambers. After the budget has completed this legislative process, the final legislation is sent to Gov. Kemp’s office where he can veto or sign the budget into law. All legislation must go through this process before becoming law.
Now that session is underway, I will be working diligently on behalf of our entire district while I am at the Capitol. I hope you will take the opportunity to review updates like this to stay informed on legislative matters that affect our district and state. The House website, www.house.ga.gov, has a number of tools to help you stay up-to-date on what’s going on at the Capitol: you can watch a live stream of the House proceedings, view live and archived committee meetings and review legislation we are considering.
Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.
Rep. Lynn R. Smith, House District 70
228 State Capitol
Atlanta, GA 30334