Legislature Ends Successful Session
The Georgia Legislature completed their session around 12:30 a.m. on Tuesday, April 5, after passing several bills addressing common public concerns throughout Georgia. These bills now sit on Governor Brian Kemp’s desk, waiting to be signed into law. “We passed many bills to address issues that I commonly heard citizens discuss back home,” Senator Blake Tillery (R19, Vidalia) commented. “I am very proud of the work the state Legislature has accomplished this session, and I hope I have represented our people well.”
Among these passed bills is legislation permitting Constitutional Carry, which allows citizens to carry a weapon without having a permit, as well as a bill that permits the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to be able to investigate election fraud, for which the government has set aside $590,000.
Education was also a hot topic for the Georgia Legislature, as bills were passed to protect students and involve parents in their children’s education. The Unmask Georgia Students Act bans school systems from imposing mask mandates within schools, while the Save Girls’ Sports Act bans transgender females, which is defined as those who were born and considered a male biologically, from competing in girls’ sports within the state.
The Protect Students First Act works to avoid racial discrimination by the continued from page
prohibition of local school boards and administrators from promoting or encouraging “divisive concepts” within curriculum. The Protect Students First Act not only ensures these concepts will not be infiltrated into students’ education, but also ensures that curriculum and training programs encourage students and employees to practice tolerance and respect to avoid judgment based upon race. Some of the examples of these concepts are the instruction that one race is superior to another, the explanation that some ideas are “fundamentally or systematically racist,” and the practice of making students feel “less than” or guilty because of their race or ethnicity.
The Parents’ Bill of Rights gives parents the right to review curriculum and instructional material within their child’s class during the first two weeks of each nine-week grading period to ensure parents are involved in their child’s education.
According to Tillery, who has served as the Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee for three years, the newly- passed Georgia budget also fully funds the QBE, or Qual ity Based Educa tion, formula for school systems. This type of funding is determined by number and type of students, (gifted, special education, etc.), along with the training and experience of teachers. In the formula, the amount of FTEs, or Full-Time Equivalent Students, are recorded twice a year, along with how many classes each FTE attends for six segments of the school day. This number of classes is multiplied by the QBE funding for each program, which yields the total amount of funding the school will receive.
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Training and experience of staff members is calculated separately and added to the determined student financial gain.
Tillery also shared that a large portion of the approved budget will return to his district, with Brewton-Parker College and Southeastern Technical College both receiving a portion of $10 million in educational finances. This funding will be devoted to funding college completion grants to aid students nearing graduation with unmet financial needs. Also, every student who currently attends a private college is eligible for $900 in financial aid a year, while new students will receive $850 per year.
The new budget also provides a $5,000 per year pay raise for state and university employees, as well as transforms the $2,000 previously approved bonus for teachers into a pay raise. Though the full budget is not in effect until July 1, these employees may begin to see the benefits from this decision this month.
An additional $100 million has been set aside to accomplish Kemp’s plan to raise the 401k retirement match for state employees from 3% to 9%, and to pay unused leave to employees when they retire. Funding will also increase for programs that help individuals with disabilities to stay home to receive care and avoid be- continued from page
ing sent to a nursing home. Usually, the state only adds 100 slots to the program, which has a 7,000-person waiting list, each year. With the $10.3 million boost the program is receiving, 513 new slots will open up for these individuals, which is the maximum amount of new slots that can be created right now by disability support providers, according to Tillery.
The Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities will receive a $180 million increase to help address the mental health crisis throughout the state. There is also a 1% reimbursement boost for intellectual and developmental disability providers, as well as an additional $13 million to provide raises, beyond the state employee raise, for nurses and other staff at state psychiatric hospitals. Funding has also been set aside to purchase new psychiatric beds, expand a program of mandatory assisted outpatient treatment, and care for more than 200,000 people who struggle with mental illness, development disabilities, or drug/ alcohol addiction.
Funding will increase for the state’s crime lab and medical examiner, and prison guards and juvenile justice facility employees will receive an additional $2,000 pay boost. The budget also dedicates $4 million to increase salaries for guards who work at private prisons that house Georgia inmates. The state plans to increase surveillance within jails as well, as $10 million will be spent on prison technology programs, including a program to help find or jam illicit cell phones.
Overall, the total new budget spends $30.2 billion of the state’s revenue and $57.9 billion overall with federal resources.
“This session was a little strange because of the large number of retiring legislators within the Senate and House of Representatives,” Tillery remarked. “Around 25% from each legislative body are retiring. This isn’t unheard of, because the average tenure of a legislator is around 7 years – yet, with having been in the legislature for 6 years, it is odd to be in a position where I am about to be entering seniority as far as tenure.” He continued discussing the session. “I feel that many good things were accomplished in this session, Many bills passed that needed to be passed, and lots of good discussion occurred,” Tillery added. “We even had several bills that did not pass, such as an act I proposed to put stricter regulations on telemarketers. The Legislature truly worked hard to attempt to solve several of the state’s issues, and I’m proud of what was accomplished.”
“I am also very proud and impressed with Representative Leesa Hagan,” he remarked. “She caught on very quickly to routines and practices that may be difficult to transition into, and is very well-respected by the General Assembly.”
Hagan, (R-156, Lyons), also shared her thoughts on the Legislative Session, praising specifically the work to pass the education bills. “As a former classroom teacher, I highly value our children’s education,” she noted. “I have found that their parents’ involvement in the educational process had a direct correlation with student success. So I support any reasonable measure that empowers parents having a say in what goes on in the classroom.”
She further discussed, “This session, we considered many bills that fall into that category, and I feel good about the work we did. Although my votes did not reflect any negative feedback about the schools in the 156th District – because I haven’t received any and believe our educators are doing a great job – I did hear concerns from many constituents and fellow legislators about disturbing situations in other parts of Georgia.”
“Having a positive learning environment is a win for Georgia students no matter where they live and go to school,” she emphasized.
Both Hagan and Tillery agree this legislative session was both productive and successful in nature, and are very pleased with the outcomes of the deliberations.