We convened for the final two days of session last week, worked past midnight on both days to ensure that important legislation for our state had every opportunity to be considered this year.
Of all of the legislation passed by the General Assembly this session, one of the most important Bills was HB 751, which establishes the state budget for Fiscal Year 2017 (the Budget).
The Budget is the only piece of legislation that we are constitutionally required to pass each session. The Budget will guide all state spending from July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2017.
The House funded a number of its priorities, including: rate increases for health and human service providers; salary adjustments for K-12 teachers, Pre-K teachers, bus drivers, nutrition workers and school nurses; and salary increases for public health nurses, sworn law enforcement officers and other critical positions needed to address retention issues.
HB 751 appropriates more than half of the annual budget for education spending, where local school boards will not only be able to give salary increases, but will also have the ability to eliminate furlough days or increase classroom instruction days for education.
The final version of HB 751 also adds important funding for public safety, healthcare, and transportation initiatives throughout Georgia, all while keeping our state's total debt low, our "rainy day funds" high, and maintaining our AAA bond rating.
Three important education-related measures were passed:
SB 18, establishes new policies within the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) to allow active duty military or veteran students to obtain academic credit for previous college-level learning attained prior to their enrollment. SB 18 would require any institution within TCSG to grant academic credit for college-level learning accomplished before enrollment obtained through military service that was substantially related to the coursework credit given by the TCSG.
SB 329, expands the Quality Basic Education Act (QBE) to award high school diplomas to students who complete dual credit coursework. SB 329 awards a high school diploma to students who complete college dual-credit coursework, and have earned certification to work in an "in-need" industry as determined by the State Board of the Technical College System of Georgia. Students who meet these requirements to receive a high school diploma would also be eligible to receive the HOPE Scholarship or participate in the Move On When Ready dual-enrollment assistance program.
SB 348, would provide increased opportunities for Georgia's students by simplifying the process to create a college and career academy. A college and career academy operates as a partnership and collaboration between businesses, high schools and postsecondary institutions to advance work force development and work based learning programs for its students to prepare them for college and the workplace.
Other significant Bill which received final passage last week include:
SB 304, the "Pursuing Justice for Rape Victims Act" (the Rape Kit Bill). unanimously passed the House. The Rape Kit Bill requires a recently collected Sexual Assault Evidence Kit, commonly called a "rape kit," to be sent directly to the Georgia Bureau of Investigations (GBI) for analysis at the victim's request. Sadly, there are a vast backlog of rape kits that have gone untested. This Bill, working in conjunction with increased funding for the GBI will help those rape kits to be processed more quickly so that victims in our state can have their cases prosecuted so they may find justice and closure.
SB 367 I reported on more fully last week received final passage. This Bill provides for major reforms to our Criminal Justice system, and will save taxpayers' dollars by reducing recidivism rates, and keeping our streets and communities safer. SB 367 also expands our State's Accountability Courts and Community-Based Treatment Centers for juveniles.
a Constitutional Amendment to be on the ballot in November that would direct the sales tax revenues from fireworks sales to be used solely for trauma care in Georgia. Please study this issue carefully so you can make an informed decision at the ballot box.
Now that these bills passed both the House and Senate, and the General Assembly's 2016 legislative session has adjourned sine die, the future of these bills are currently in the hands of the Governor Deal.
As stipulated in our state constitution, the governor has 40 days to sign or veto the legislation. This means that any bill or resolution that the governor has not vetoed by Tuesday, May 3, 2016, will become state law in the coming months.