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State budget could cut out teacher furloughs
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Monday, Feb. 17, marked the sixth week of the 2014 legislative session and a very important one. We passed the fiscal year 2015 budget, as well as many other significant pieces of legislation.

House Bill 744, the fiscal year 2015 budget, is an initial guide for all state spending to occur from July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2015. The budget was set by the governor’s revenue estimate of $20.8 billion, a 4.6 percent increase from the fiscal year 2014 budget.

Nearly 72 percent of the new revenue is budgeted for K-12 and higher education expenses. These funds, totaling $916 million, will help finance enrollment growth, increase opportunities for technical education, and distribute more dollars to local school systems in hopes of eliminating furlough days and raising salaries for teachers.

New revenue will also provide for an increase in salaries for correctional officers and additional child protective service workers.

While education received top priority in the budget,  House Bill 697 creates a Zell Miller Grant Scholar designed to cover 100 percent of tuition for those students who maintain a 3.5 GPA or above in Georgia’s technical colleges. When this tuition program ended in 2011, a 20 percent reduction in technical college enrollment occurred. This legislation also helps close a technical skill-gap, making Georgia more attractive to those businesses that are looking for skilled labor empowered by this opportunity.

In addition to passing legislation to improve educational opportunities, we also passed several pieces of legislation to protect Georgians’ constitutional rights. One such measure was House Bill 875, a comprehensive bill that expands Second Amendment rights for law-abiding citizens.

Under HB 875, Georgia weapons carry license holders would gain broader access to those government buildings that do not provide active security at entrances.

HB 875 also allows veterans under the age of 21 who have been honorably discharged from service to receive a weapons carry license. It also eliminates the re-fingerprinting requirement for weapons-carry license renewals and prevents the confiscation of weapons or ammunition by the state, which is currently legal in the event of a state of emergency declaration by the governor.

Article V of the U.S. Constitution allows for states to call a constitutional convention so amendments can be made to the constitution. Under Article V, a constitutional convention may be called if at least two-thirds, or 34 states, petition on the same subject.

This week, the Georgia House passed a series of bills and resolutions to call for a constitutional convention that would focus on the failure of Congress to balance the federal budget. We in Georgia live within our means, and a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution would help control America’s growing debt and make the nation’s economic future more secure for our children and grandchildren.

With less than a month left in the 2014 legislative session, I hope that you will take a few moments to call or visit my office, so that I can know what issues are of most importance to you and your family. Your thoughts and opinions are always welcome.  The phone number to my office is (404) 656-5099.