By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Budget requests take center stage
Hitchens Bill
Rep. Bill Hitchens

Last week in the Georgia General Assembly, it was the traditional time to return home for most members as we celebrate the life of Martin Luther King Jr. For those of us assigned to the Appropriations Committee in either the House or Senate, it is the time that those committees meet jointly to hear testimony from state agencies on what their budget needs are. 

By our state constitution, all state spending must be approved by a majority of your representatives and senators in the General Assembly. Testimony in the joint appropriations hearings included the FY2021 amended budget, which allows the governor and the General Assembly to make up emergency needs and budget shortfalls for the remainder of the fiscal year that ends June 30. We also were given broad numbers regarding the FY 2022 general budget which begins July 1.

I was also given some new committee assignments, including named chairman of the Public Safety Appropriations Subcommittee. With my broad background in public safety and leading the Georgia State Patrol, the speaker of the House asked me to chair this major subcommittee. I was also named to the Defense and Veterans Affairs Committee, the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee, the Rules Committee and the Transportation Committee. I was also named to the especially important Economic Development and Tourism Committee, which is extremely important for Effingham and Chatham counties.

One of the problems we face in our public safety sphere is new requests for additional funding to deal with the rise of civil disturbances and the continued backlog of case investigations. Many state agencies were involved with civil disturbance unrest across the state, particularly in Atlanta, Brunswick and at the Capitol. Because of these added costs for the state, we need to adjust the FY 2021 budget to provide additional funding to our public safety agencies and our first responders.

Looking forward to the next fiscal year, one of the more important budget concerns is the state crime lab backlog. Autopsies, DNA testing and drug identification all have backlogs, although they have been cut almost in half during the past year.

A nationwide shortage of forensic pathologists, which has impacted Georgia, is going to require us to be more competitive with salaries. There are approximately 500 board certified forensic pathologists in the country and there are about 1,000 jobs.

In addition, soon, 14 new scientists will begin working in the crime labs across the state, 12 of which will be doing DNA and drug identification. In addition, funding has been provided to outsource evidence to laboratories that meet the GBI’s strict standards. Two contracts have been let, so the DNA and Drug Identification backlogs should soon be rapidly reduced.

In conclusion, I encourage you to please let me know of issues that are important to you in Effingham County and Chatham County. I am in office 401 of the State Capitol. My office phone number is (404) 656-7855 and my email is I look forward to this session and serving all of you.