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Lawmakers agree on budget
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The House and Senate came to an agreement on the FY 2014 general budget on the last evening of session.  From the FY14 state funds, $19.8 million were appropriated for FY 14, including an increase of $56 million in tobacco settlement funds, to help fill a $224 million hole in Medicaid. Enrollment growth of 1.36 percent, $146.6 million, for K-12 schools was fully funded, and $72 million was appropriated for enrollment growth in Board of Regents schools.

A $1.3 million cut to school nutrition programs was fully restored. The tuition equalization grants had $5.25 million restored, as well as $6.5 million in grants for technical college classes for nurses, teachers, and truck driving students.

The House and Senate agreed to appropriate $5 million on community-based juvenile justice programs designed to curb recidivism for troubled youth. In economic development, $9.5 million was appropriated for Regional Economic Business Assistance (REBA) and new funds for the OneGeorgia Authority totaled $20 million.

The FY14 budget also included around $850 million in bonds to help with construction projects around the state. Projects locally include $10 million for a new Health Services Building at Georgia Southern and a new $8.26 million Health Sciences Building at the Swainsboro Campus of Southeastern Technical College. Also included were funds totaling $2.9 million for building renovations at Ogeechee Technical College.

House and Senate agree on ethics reform
The last day of the legislative session saw the House and Senate agree on two ethics bills, bridging a large gap between the two sides. A conference committee decided upon a bill somewhere in between, instituting a $75 cap on gifts, as well as limiting committees to one lobbyist-funded event per year.

Foreign travel will be banned and the bill also empowers the Senate and House Ethics Committees to decide on what caucuses and delegations are legitimate to eliminate the possibility of a one-legislator delegation. A lobbyist was defined as someone who is compensated $250 a year or more to lobby the General Assembly. This definition should protect the rights of citizens to share their opinions with their legislators.

 The House and Senate also agreed on HB 143 dealing with campaign disclosure reports. HB 143 requires legislators to disclose campaign donations on January 31 to make donations more transparent prior to the legislative session. Under previous law, donations were not disclosed until after the legislative session.

The bill also requires all local and county candidates to disclose expenditures with the municipal clerk or county election superintendent instead of the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission. Candidates who raise $2,500 or less will not be required to report their donations.

House and Senate agree on changes to HOPE Grant
HB 372 undoes the changes made to the HOPE Grant, a scholarship for technical schools, last session by lowering the minimum GPA from 3.0 back to 2.0. The changes led to an unexpectedly large drop in attendance at technical colleges, with more than 40,000 students throughout the state dropping out. The governor backed the change as a way to drive workforce development in Georgia.

According to the author of the bill, lowering the GPA requirement is expected to affect the state by $5 million to $8 million while hopefully helping students stay in school. Combined with $6.5 million for strategic occupations, such as truck driving, enrollment should increase.

Next week: A wrap-up of the legislative session.

If you would like additional information regarding a specific piece of legislation, you may access the Georgia General Assembly web site at

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