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Budget bolsters local education

POSTED: March 27, 2014 5:36 p.m.

On Thursday, March 20, the 2014 legislative session came to an end when the House and Senate completed the 40th and final legislative day. There were several key legislative actions that I want to bring to your attention.

On day 39, we gave final approval to House Bill 744, the state budget for fiscal year 2015. As the only piece of legislation that we are constitutionally required to pass, the fiscal year 2015 budget will guide all state spending from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015. The final version of this budget includes many of Governor Deal’s original budget recommendations such as increased funding for education and the final installment of the Savannah Harbor deepening funds.

One of the most noteworthy features of the budget is a $314.3 million increase to Quality Basic Education (QBE), which will provide local school systems with the flexibility to eliminate teacher furlough days, increase instructional days, or provide other locally determined expenditures. Increased funding was also designated for higher education, including $7.2 million for the creation of a new Zell Miller Grant for technical college students. In addition to carrying through with Governor Deal’s spending recommendations, $460,816 was added to increase the clothing allowance for foster care children by $100 per child.

Other additions to the budget began in conference committee between the Senate and House, including $1.5 million in funding for the vital Meals on Wheels and senior center nutrition programs.  Funding was added to launch enhanced services through our comprehensive network of public health offices for training providers to recognize and correctly diagnose autism for early intervention. The nearly half a million that is appropriated in the budget shows a strategic, grassroots beginning to address what has become one of the most chronic health conditions in children.

We also passed Senate Bill 365, which is a continuation of a multi-year criminal justice reform effort undertaken in Georgia. The legislation includes several measures to help non-violent, first time offenders get back on their feet and become law-abiding, working citizens. One provision provides judges with the flexibility to issue limited driving permits to certain offenders for the purpose of attending court-ordered required programs, seeking employment, or going to work.

Another measure in SB 365 calls for non-violent offenders to complete a treatment completion certificate program, and would require review hearings for juvenile offenders who are placed into foster care.  Improved liability protection to employers who hire former offenders who have successfully completed Department of Correction’s pre-release programs was included in the statute. These programs will make offenders more marketable to employers, all part of an effort that benefits the offender and reduces the prison cost by reducing recidivism rates.

Protection for our children was enhanced by SB 358 which would expand who can file a missing child report. Reports filed with the Missing Children Information Center will now include individuals and institutions that are responsible for the care of foster children. The Missing Children Information Center is responsible for filing all missing children reports submitted by local law enforcement agencies.

However, the current law does not specify that a report can be filed by a foster parent or foster care agency. This legislation would allow a governmental unit responsible for the child or other person with legal custody of the child to file a missing child report.

Now that each of these bills has passed the General Assembly, they go to Governor Deal for consideration. 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 April 29 will become state law.

With the future of these bills in the hands of the governor, the General Assembly’s 2014 legislative session has adjourned. Although the session is over, I hope that you will continue to contact me with any questions or concerns that you might have regarding our state government. You can reach me at my office at (404) 656-5099 or by email at jon.burns@house.ga.gov.

Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.

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