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Update from the Capitol: Weeks 2 and 3

By: Sen. Tyler Harper (R- Ocilla)

Things have been busy here at the Capitol, with two shortened weeks, one due to Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations and another due to the anticipation of inclement weather. Despite our abbreviated schedule, we have had an efficient and busy two weeks.

 

Last week, we had what we call “Budget Week”, a time when we don’t officially gavel in for any legislative days, but attend budget hearings which include an overview of the governor’s budgetary priorities for the session. The Senate and House Appropriations Committees heard from the heads of various state departments to determine their needs for the upcoming Fiscal Year 2020 budget. Passing a balanced budget is the only constitutional duty required of the General Assembly and this process ensures that state funds are allocated conservatively, fairly and responsibly. As a member of the Appropriations Committee, this is a charge that I take seriously and I will do all I can to see to it that the needs of District 7, and of the state as a whole, are represented in our final budgets.

There are a few proposals made by Gov. Kemp that I’m particularly eager to follow through the budget process. Specifically, the call for a two-percent pay raise for all state employees, a $3,000 pay raise for teachers and a two-percent raise for other school personnel. In keeping with the theme of education, Gov. Kemp has also called for $69.8 million to go towards school safety. In addition, I want to highlight the $35.7 million allocated to the Forestland Protection Act grant. As Chairman of the Natural Resources and the Environment Committee, I will work to ensure that Georgia’s bountiful natural resources are utilized to their full potential. Additionally, I am enthusiastic about the $3.9 million appropriated for a dual investigative-drug office, as well as $500,000 for a gang task force which will operate under the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. I believe that safety is paramount to a prosperous state and I will work towards the goal of a just and crime-free state for my constituents--and for all Georgians. 

Gov. Kemp’s commitment to rural Georgia was also reflected in his budget priorities. In the AFY 2019 budget, $3.5 million are allocated for audio-video and film equipment so students in rural school systems have the opportunity to be a part of Georgia’s fast-growing film industry. To support rural health care, $18.7 million was allotted for the Indigent Care Trust Fund to assist with our rural hospitals. An additional $641,000 is recommended for faculty at Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service programs, $656,000 for 12 Coop Extension Service Education positions, and $500,000 for loan repayment awards for rural Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs), physician’s assistants, dentists and physicians. These items are just a brief overview of an amended 2019 budget that is estimated to total $26.9 billion and a 2020 fiscal year budget that is estimated at $27.5 billion. I will be sure to keep everyone in District 7 updated throughout the budget process on any projects that benefit our communities.

This week brought the beginning of committee meetings and the introduction of bills. As Vice Chair of the Senate Public Safety Committee, I can proudly say that Senate Bill 25 passed. SB 25 clears up any confusion regarding when it is safe to pass a school bus, and changes language that confusingly allowed drivers to pass a school bus when they are separated from the bus by a turn lane. Not only does this measure increase safety for students, but it also clarifies the law for both drivers and law enforcement. This bill is the first of many that we hope to pass this year to improve the livelihood and safety of all Georgians.

Over the next few weeks, the legislature will be busy putting the Governor’s proposals to paper and putting together both an amended version of the 2019 fiscal year budget, as well as the general 2020 fiscal year budget. The committee for which I serve as chairman, Natural Resources and the Environment, will hold its first meeting soon. You can follow the progress of the committees and legislation on the Georgia Senate website. Please feel free to contact my office at any time to talk about pending legislation or address other concerns in our district – my door and phone lines are always open.

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Sen. Tyler Harper serves as Chairman of the Natural Resources and the Environment Committee. He represents the 7th Senate District which includes Atkinson, Bacon, Ben Hill, Berrien, Coffee, Irwin, Pierce and Ware counties and portions of Charlton and Wilcox counties.  He may be reached at 404.463.5263 or via email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.