The third week of the 2021 legislative session under the Gold Dome began on Tuesday, January 26. This week was especially busy as we spent four days in session, and several House committees held their first meetings, both virtually and in-person, to begin considering legislation. During our third week of session, the House Appropriations Committee and its subcommittees passed the Amended Fiscal Year 2021 (AFY 2021) budget and sent a finalized supplemental budget to the House Rules Committee. On Thursday, January 28, my colleagues and I voted on and passed House Bill 80, the AFY 2021 budget, on the House floor.
In June 2020, the original Fiscal Year 2021 budget was set using a revenue estimate of $25.9 billion and reduced funding for all state agencies in preparation for a state revenue decline due to the pandemic. Our state’s economic outlook has improved greatly since then as businesses have safely reopened and much needed federal relief has been distributed. The House’s version of the AFY 2021 budget is based on Governor Brian Kemp’s comprehensive budget proposal for the remainder of the fiscal year, and his revenue estimate for the AFY 2021 budget is $26.56 billion, which is an increase of $654.3 million, or 2.4 percent, compared to the original budget. Directed by the governor’s proposal, HB 80 restores critical funding and reflects the House’s priorities, such as restoring 60 percent of previous reductions to K-12 education funding formulas and boosting grant funding to support our public health agency as it addresses the pandemic. This budget also recognizes $2.7 billion in federal funds that are meant to help our agencies, colleges and local school systems respond to COVID-19.
K- 12 Education
The largest expenditure in the state budget each year goes toward K-12 education, and as such, HB 80 designates a total of $9.6 billion, or 43.4 percent, of the state’s general funds to our K-12 education systems. Last year, the Quality Basic Education (QBE) formula funding was reduced by $950 million to account for a 10 percent decline in state revenue, and, at the time, it was impossible for the General Assembly to pass a constitutional, balanced budget without making reductions. However, since state revenues have increased, we were able to restore 60 percent of this reduction to the QBE formula in HB 80. The House also appropriated $41 million for a midterm adjustment to the QBE formula, holding schools harmless for the 35,264, or 2 percent, decline in student enrollment due to the pandemic. Also, as a result of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the House’s version of the amended budget reflects $144.6 million in federal funds for the Department of Early Care and Learning for the Child Care and Development Block Grants.
The House’s supplemental budget also includes important funding for higher education in our state. In the House’s AFY 2021 budget, the University System of Georgia (USG) receives $70.1 million that was not included in the FY 2021 budget; this accounts for the USG’s 1.8 percent enrollment growth and a half percent increase in square footage for its campuses throughout the state. Just as we restored funding for K-12 education, we also restored $8.1 million, or 60 percent, to the USG B-Unit programs, such as the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Medical College of Georgia Hospital/Clinic, among others. HB 80 also adds $3.5 million in new funding for enrollment growth at the Technical College System of Georgia.
As the state continues to grapple with COVID-19, the House also prioritized funding to support our public health agency, which has been pivotal in our state’s handling of COVID-19, as well as other health-focused initiatives. To improve the state’s current response plan, HB 80 includes $18 million for the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) to replace and modernize its outdated epidemiologic surveillance system; with these funds, the DPH would also be able to implement further infrastructure improvements that would help keep track of COVID-19 cases. Likewise, HB 80 provides $285,997 for the DPH to hire three essential leaders to help navigate the agency’s COVID-19 response: a chief medical officer, a deputy commissioner of public health and a chief data officer. We also recognized more than $1 billion from federal relief packages to support the DPH, including funding for epidemiology and laboratory capacity, COVID-19 vaccine preparedness and public health crisis response. The House approved $19.3 million to increase the Medicaid growth allowance for skilled nursing centers by five percent, totaling a rate increase of 3.5 percent. Skilled nursing centers have been some of the hardest hit by the pandemic, and this allowance would assist these centers that have experienced large revenue losses and increased staffing costs associated with COVID-19. As a result of the federal “Families First Coronavirus Response” Act, HB 80 captures $372.9 million in savings for the AFY 2021 budget from a temporary 6.2 percent boost in the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) rate. In HB 80, we also appropriated $1.8 million in start-up costs for the Patients First Act and the state’s 1115 Medicaid waiver, which will be effective July 1, 2021. Further, our version of the AFY 2021 budget provides $15.4 million to support the increased utilization of the AIDS Drug Assistance Program during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Georgia’s human services agencies also receive important appropriations in the House’s amended budget. In the AFY 2021 budget, my colleagues and I recognized various federal investments that protect essential programs for the Georgia Department of Human Services (DHS) and the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD). HB 80 acknowledges more than $130 million in federal relief funds for human service agencies used for a variety of pandemic response-related grants, and the bill also recognizes an additional $35 million in savings from the enhanced FMAP rate, which will ensure funding for certain essential programs within the DHS and the DBHDD. Furthermore, HB 80 utilizes $1.7 million in FMAP savings for a new 10-bed behavioral health crisis center to specifically serve Georgians with a mental health diagnosis and/or an intellectual or developmental disability. We also allocated $4.7 million to the DHS to anticipate an increase in Medicaid services resulting from the Patients First Act. Finally, HB 80 supports foster care in our state by partially restoring $176,500 for the Georgia Multi-Agency Alliance for Children (MAAC) to provide educational services to more than 80 foster children, in addition to the more than 1,700 children already served through this program.
Criminal Justice & Public Safety
In HB 80, we also identified funding opportunities to help our criminal justice and public safety agencies conduct their work more efficiently. In our AFY 2021 budget, my colleagues and I allocated more than $427,000 to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) for recruitment and retention of medical examiners. Georgia’s medical examiners conduct nearly 40 percent more autopsies than the recommended amount due to staff shortages caused by low wages, and this funding would make these positions more competitive. At the governor’s recommendation, HB 80 also includes an additional $223,600 for the GBI to expand the state’s gang database with critical gang-related information provided by local law enforcement. Additionally, the amended budget accounts for $100 million from the CARES Act for public safety agencies to help other state agencies as they continue to respond to the pandemic.
Economic Development & Transportation
The House also designated funding in the AFY 2021 budget to assist Georgia’s economy as it continues to recover from the pandemic. The House reaffirmed its commitment to rural broadband expansion by allocating $20 million for the OneGeorgia Authority to launch its new broadband infrastructure grant program, which would greatly assist rural areas in leveraging resources to address broadband needs that are specific to each rural community. This funding would also provide for a grant administrator to oversee and maintain this broadband program. Furthermore, the AFY 2021 budget recognizes the following CARES Act funding that specifically supports transportation efforts in our state: $25.7 million in CARES Act payments to the Atlanta-region Transit Link Authority and $410.8 million in CARES Act funding for the Georgia Department of Transportation’s Airport Aid program.
Georgia Department of Labor
The House’s AFY 2021 budget recognizes more than $60 million in federal funding for the Georgia Department of Labor (GDOL) to address workforce issues resulting from the pandemic. This includes funding for the department’s Unemployment Insurance (UI) Program, the Short-Term Compensation Program and the Dislocated Worker Program. Many Georgians have experienced unemployment since the start of the pandemic, and the GDOL staff have certainly been overwhelmed by the continual high number of UI benefit claims submitted each week. With this federal funding, the GDOL will be able to better process and pay claims to Georgians.
These are just a few of the highlights of the House’s amended budget. The AFY 2021 budget will now go through the legislative process in the Senate, where it will undergo further review. Next, the House Appropriations Committee and its subcommittees will begin to focus on the Fiscal Year 2022 budget. As my colleagues and I continue to work on the state budget bills, I encourage you to reach out to me with any questions or concerns you have regarding the state’s budgeting process or any other legislation that interests you. My Capitol office number is 404-656-0213, and my email address is email@example.com. Please contact me anytime.
As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your state representative. ~Beth Camp
The Georgia General Assembly resumed its work on Tuesday, January 19 for the second week of the 2021 legislative session, which is commonly known as “budget week.” The House and Senate Appropriations committees held a series of joint budget hearings this week, where Governor Brian Kemp delivered opening remarks and presented his formal recommendations for the amended budget and upcoming fiscal year budget. Later in the week, House Appropriations subcommittees quickly got to work to further examine the recommendations and requests for the current year’s amended budget. Whether we participated in the budget hearings in-person or virtually, it was a busy week under the Gold Dome as we worked to ensure that critical state funds are spent wisely while our state continues on the road to economic recovery.
The Georgia General Assembly is required by our state constitution to pass a balanced budget each legislative session, and as such, the appropriations process is one of the most important responsibilities we are tasked with each year. This session, my colleagues and I will first consider legislation for the Amended Fiscal Year 2021 (AFY 2021) budget, which adjusts the current fiscal year’s budget to account for changes in revenue. Then, we will turn our attention to the Fiscal Year 2022 (FY 2022) budget, which is the budget for the upcoming fiscal year that begins on July 1 and ends June 30 of the next calendar year and is set at a revenue estimate of $27.2 billion. Last June, in the midst of the pandemic, the General Assembly prepared for the worst when it passed a reduced Fiscal Year 2021 budget, bracing for the economic fallout due to COVID-19. However, I am pleased to share with you that Gov. Kemp reported optimistic revenue projections that will allow us to restore and expand funding in certain areas of the budgets to help rebuild our economy.
One of the governor’s top budgetary priorities is to restore funding and resources to our K-12 and higher education systems to provide Georgia students with high-quality educational opportunities and the essential skills needed to enter the workforce. Consequently, Gov. Kemp’s proposal includes more than $647 million in the AFY 2021 budget and $573 million in the FY 2022 budget for K-12 education. These appropriations would fully fund enrollment growth, regardless of any reductions in enrollment this fiscal year due to COVID-19. Under the governor’s proposal, our higher education systems would also see restored and additional funding to account for enrollment growth during the current and upcoming school years. Gov. Kemp also announced that Georgia’s education system is estimated to receive more than $3.5 billion from the federal Education Stabilization Fund to ensure that our teachers and school systems are equipped with the necessary resources to provide the best education possible to Georgia students throughout the pandemic.
Gov. Kemp’s budget proposal also reinforces the critical role of Georgia’s expansive transportation infrastructure, which fuels our tourism and logistics industries, as well as attracts businesses looking to bring well-paying jobs to Georgia. To properly maintain this infrastructure and plan for future economic needs, the governor recommends adding nearly $200 million in both the AFY 2021 and FY 2022 budgets to the Georgia Department of Transportation for roadways, including $38.8 million for the State Road and Tollway Authority (SRTA). Leveraging more than $500,000 in future Guaranteed Revenue Bonds, the SRTA would focus on developing our toll system and reducing traffic delays on busy interstates. Gov. Kemp’s budget also accounts for $110 million in general obligation bonds for transportation. This bond package includes $100 million to repair and replace bridges and $10 million to upgrade our more than 1,000 miles of short-line rail, both of which play an essential role in supporting Georgia’s manufacturing and agricultural industries.
The governor’s budget also seeks to promote growth and prosperity across our state, particularly in rural areas that have faced unique challenges during the pandemic. To that end, the FY 2022 budget proposal includes nearly $40 million for the OneGeorgia Authority to establish a Rural Innovation Fund, which would offer resources for public-private partnerships tailored to meet the specific needs of every rural community. Additionally, Gov. Kemp recommends an appropriation of $20 million in the AFY 2021 budget and an additional $10 million each year going forward for the OneGeorgia Authority to establish a broadband infrastructure grant program. Many of us have been able to adapt to working from home using virtual apps and programs during the pandemic, yet rural communities with limited broadband access have struggled with remote learning and work-from-home environments. This appropriation would provide rural communities with access to funding that would enable them to leverage federal, local and private resources to implement much needed broadband expansion.
In an effort to protect the health and wellbeing of Georgians, Gov. Kemp’s budget would increase access to affordable health care. Gov. Kemp recommends allocating more than $329 million in the upcoming fiscal year for Medicaid and PeachCare to cover projected needs for some of our most vulnerable citizens. His FY 2022 budget proposal also includes $76 million to implement the Patients First Act, which would allow our state to identify innovative health insurance coverage solutions and increase access to health insurance for low-income Georgians. Gov. Kemp’s proposal for health care funding could alleviate rising health care costs, as well as give employers the ability to expand their business or raise wages for employees.
The state’s fiscal economist, Dr. Jeffrey Dorfman, also joined us during budget week and provided important insight regarding Georgia’s economic forecast as we continue to battle COVID-19. Dorfman shared that Georgia’s successful recovery is partially due to the governor’s decision to reopen the economy last year, as well as the ingenuity of Georgia’s business owners who figured out how to operate amid the pandemic. He also explained that U.S. personal income is still above the March 2019 level by 2.9 percent as the federal government supplemented many incomes last year, and Dorfman stated that he believes that Georgia’s labor market has recovered as best as possible until the pandemic is over. Overall, he reported that consumer spending was strong this past year, which has been held up by various federal assistance initiatives, and this has helped our sales tax collections tremendously. Dorfman also stated that most households are in a much better financial condition than a typical recession, and Georgia’s economic recovery will get stronger as COVID-19 vaccinations continue this next year. We will monitor further economic projections like this as we craft a state budget that takes care of families and businesses here in Georgia.
After the joint hearings concluded, several House Appropriations subcommittees met this week to delve even further into Gov. Kemp’s recommendations to create the amended budget bill for AFY 2021. The Georgia constitution requires the state budget bills to begin in the House; therefore, each Appropriations subcommittee will pass portions of the state budgets, and those portions will be brought before the full House Appropriations Committee, which will review and pass balanced budgets for AFY 2021 and FY 2022. The budget bills will then go to the House Rules Committee to be scheduled for a vote on the House floor. After the budget bills makes their way through the House, the bills will be transmitted to our counterparts in the Senate, where they will begin the same process.
Finally, during the second week of session, the House Committee on Assignments completed its work and announced committee assignments for each representative. I am excited to announce that I have been appointed to serve on the following committees for the next two years: Agriculture & Consumer Affairs;Energy, Utilities, Telecommunications;State Planning & Community Affairs .You can learn more about these committees on our public website here: https://www.legis.ga.gov/committees/house.
We will return to the State Capitol on Tuesday, January 26 for Legislative Day 5. Now that we have received our committee assignments, House committees will begin meeting regularly to consider legislation that best serves you and your family and many of our conversations will continue to revolve around the state budget. I encourage you to contact me with your input and thoughts on proposed legislation or current events that may impact our community. You can reach me by phone at my Capitol office at 404-656-0213 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also write to my new Capitol office, which is located at 508-C Coverdell Legislative Office Building, Atlanta, GA 3033
As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.
On Monday, January 11, 2021, newly elected members of the Georgia General Assembly from across the state gathered at the State Capitol for the first day of the 156th Legislative Session. Since Monday marked the first day of the 2021-2022 term, every member of the Georgia House of Representatives took the oath of office and was formally sworn in by Superior Court Chief Judge Brenda Weaver. It was an honor to take the oath and be sworn in to represent the citizens and of our great district. Once we were sworn in, we promptly got to work to cast our first vote of the legislative session to re-elect our leaders who will guide the House through our next two years of public service. After hearing the nominations, Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) and Speaker Pro-Tempore Jan Jones (R-Milton) were both re-elected to their respective positions. We also convened in the House Chamber to hear Governor Brian Kemp’s annual State of the State address during this busy and exciting week.
The way we conduct our legislative business has changed in many ways due to the threat of COVID-19, and this session is no exception. A bipartisan committee, which was previously appointed by Speaker Ralston, met last fall to further explore solutions to keep House members and staff safe at the Capitol. To that end, many of our committee meetings this session will have in-person and virtual attendance options, and the public can watch live streams of all official House meetings on our website from the safety of their homes. Additional safety procedures have also been implemented at the State Capitol to allow us to meet in-person during the next several months, including a bi-weekly, asymptomatic COVID-19 testing program for House members and staff, as well as guidelines for social distancing and wearing masks. Things certainly looked a lot different this first week of session, but we are committed to serving the citizens of Georgia while keeping the health and well-being of members and staff at the forefront of our minds.
As is customary during the first week of session, Governor Kemp came before the joint legislature and judicial branch to deliver his State of the State address on Thursday, January 14. This annual speech gives our governor an opportunity to convey his assessment of the current condition of our state and our shared goals for continued progress and success over the next year. A video of Legislative Day 4, which includes Gov. Kemp’s address, can be found here: https://bit.ly/3snKHU9.
During his address, Gov. Kemp reflected on the many storms our state has weathered since the start of the pandemic. He also reminded us of the steps that were taken this last year to combat the deadly virus in Georgia, including opening mobile hospital units, implementing a widely available COVID-19 testing infrastructure and deploying the Georgia National Guard to assist in response operations. Our state also prioritized personal protective equipment (PPE) procurement and additional health care personnel staffing. Furthermore, Georgia allocated a quarter of a million dollars in CARES Act funds to assist in the fight, and the governor plans to distribute additional federal funding through early March. Through Operation Warp Speed, the state has administered more than 283,000 COVID-19 vaccinations as of Jan. 13. The governor thanked the legislature for passing a PPE tax credit for businesses that manufacture PPE in our state, but implored us to continue to find solutions to allow businesses to operate safely. Together, we observed a moment of silence for the thousands of Georgians that succumbed to the virus and commended our health care heroes who have been on the frontlines saving lives every day. Dr. Kathleen Toomey, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health, was in attendance for the annual address, and we applauded her for her unparalleled leadership that has guided our state’s carefully measured response to COVID-19.
To further protect lives and livelihoods against the virus in the coming months, the governor also laid out some of his top legislative priorities for this year, which include expanding the new PPE tax credit to include pharmaceutical and medical equipment manufacturers. Gov. Kemp also announced his intentions to build upon ongoing efforts to support schools by restoring funding to school systems across our state, fully funding enrollment growth and holding schools harmless for enrollment reductions. The governor went on to discuss several funding initiatives to support teachers, families with special needs children and institutions that serve minority students. The governor then revealed his plans to boost access to rural broadband grants to help improve broadband access across Georgia; this effort is especially critical for new remote learning environments. In addition, he outlined a funding proposal to implement the Georgia Pathways and Access program in order to drive down health care costs and increase access to quality health care. This session, Gov. Kemp will back legislation to reform Georgia’s citizen’s arrest statute, which was grossly misused in the death of Ahmaud Arbery in Glynn County last year. Finally, Gov. Kemp stated that he will push for legislation to protect human trafficking survivors who seek to change their names and allow victims to seek court action against their traffickers or those who knowingly aided in trafficking. As the session progresses, I will update you on any related legislation as it makes it through the legislative process.
Before Gov. Kemp closed his address, he highlighted some of his budget recommendations for the Amended Fiscal Year 2020 and Fiscal Year 2021 budgets. The governor’s budget recommendations do not include any new budget cuts for our state agencies and departments, as well as no furloughs or layoffs for state employees, without increasing state taxes. My colleagues and I will be busy next week reviewing Gov. Kemp’s budget proposals and beginning the state budget process through a series of Joint House and Senate Appropriations Committee hearings, which is commonly referred to as “budget week.” As of today, no committee assignments have been announced.
Now that the 2021 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 recently launched its new public House website, www.legis.ga.gov/house, where you can track our progress throughout the session. It features a new intuitive layout with a number of tools for you stay up-to-date on what’s going on at the Capitol, such as archived committee meetings and an easy to use legislative search function. You can also find links to the official House social media accounts and live streams of next week’s budget hearings on the new homepage.
I welcome you to reach out to me and share your thoughts and opinions as we move throughout the legislative session this year. I can be reached via email at email@example.com, or by phone at 770-530-6798.
Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.