The State Capitol halls are lively with excitement as we near the end of the legislative session and with only three days remaining, the pace is quickly accelerating. Legislators are working diligently to pass their bills before the midnight deadline on the 40th legislative day. In an effort to save taxpayer dollars, Georgia has one of the shortest sessions in the nation and although there is less time, we are still completing the same amount of work. The remainder of this session will be dedicated to moving influential bills and examining each section of the 2014 Fiscal Year Budget to ensure each dollar is properly allocated.
Thursday, the Senate unanimously approved the juvenile justice system reform bill, which will save taxpayer dollars and provide more options for young offenders. Currently, Georgia spends $91,000 a year to house each youth in a youth detention center and more than 60 percent of those children reoffend within three years of being released. HB 242 will offer more community-based sentencing options, such as rehabilitation and counseling, as an alternative solution to having nonviolent criminals behind bars. By focusing on creating an efficient system of rehabilitation and counseling we are striving to equip these children with the adequate skills to keep them out of the system for good. Due to the Senate making changes to the bill, it will now go back to the House for their approval.
Passing a balanced budget takes time, and there are approximately 1,600 items that must be reviewed and researched by the Appropriations Committee. The Senate is constitutionally-mandated to pass one bill each year, the balanced budget. The Fiscal Year 2014 budget is set at $19.8 billion due to a 5% growth in revenues from Fiscal Year 2013. The budget will allocate an additional $224 million to our current Medicaid program and $147 million to K-12 education which has seen a 1.63% enrollment growth over the last year. The bill will now move to a conference committee where Senate and House leaders will iron out mutually agreed upon solutions.
Apart from the budget, on the first day of this legislative session, the Senate adopted a set of very strict ethics standards. In the past Georgia has been considered one of the worst states in the nation for ethics, we have now enacted a new blueprint that will change the culture of lobbying at the State Capitol.
These reforms affect every elected official in Georgia, ranging from the Governor to county or municipal offices. Further, the bill respects local control and responsibility by supporting individual bodies to adopt their own ethics criteria. The criteria cannot allow for committee, sub-committee, caucus or delegation exceptions and must comply with the following requirements:
- Gift caps must be capped at $100, although the cap may be set at a lower amount
- The policy must have a clear enforcement provision for violations
- The policy must be made publicly available for citizen review
Any entity that does not adopt an ethics policy that caps lobbyist gifts at $100 will be subject to a limit of $0. In the July 2012 election, 87.2% of Republican primary voters endorsed the maximum dollar amount. The Senate bill also keeps existing laws regarding lobbyist registration and reporting in place and protects those who are expressing constitutionally protected views and are not paid for their efforts. HB 142 will now return to the House for consideration on the committee substitute.
I remain committed to supporting policies that promote business growth and get Georgians back to work. The end of session is near, however as always, it is a pleasure to serve you, the constituents of the 25th Senate District. If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact my office at (404) 656-0082 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.