By Lynne Riley, Georgia State Rep. (R-Dist. 50)
February 22, 2014
We returned to Capitol on Monday, February 17, 2014 for the sixth week of the 2014 legislative session, and it was a very important one. The House passed the Fiscal Year 2015 budget and many other bills of significance.
House Bill 744, the Fiscal Year 2015 budget, is the guide for all state spending that occurs from July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2015. The budget was set by a revenue estimate of $20.8 billion of state funds, an increase of 4.6% over FY 2014. Close to 72% of the new revenue, or roughly $916 million is budgeted for education expenses. These funds will help finance enrollment growth, increase opportunities for technical education, and distribute more dollars to local school systems to utilize in their best way to maximize student performance.
While education funding is the top priority in the budget, we also passed legislation to increase educational opportunities for Georgians. House Bill 697 creates a Zell Miller grant scholar designation to cover 100% of tuition costs for those students who maintain a 3.5 grade point average or above in Georgia’s technical colleges. Since 2011, the last time HOPE provided a full scholarship to these students, technical college enrollment has declined by 20%. HB697 will help address this decline. This legislation also helps close a technical skill gap, making Georgia more attractive to those businesses that are looking for skilled labor. I am proud to have signed on as a co-sponsor of HB697, and commend the bi-partisan efforts of Rep. Stacey Evans and Rep. Earl Ehrhart on this important legislation.
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. Among the many provisions of HB875, Georgia weapons carry license holders would gain broader access to those government buildings that do not provide active security at their entrances. HB875 also allows veterans under the age of 21 who have been honorably discharged from service to receive a weapon carry license. HB875 eliminates the re-fingerprinting requirement for weapon carry license renewals, prohibits the creation of a database of license holders and lessens the penalty for license holders who carry on college campuses.
Another key component of the U.S. Constitution is Article V. Article V allows states to call a constitutional convention in order to make amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Under Article V, a constitutional convention may be called if at least 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 adding a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Of the 4 bills approved on Thursday, SB371 has been approved by both the House and Senate. With this action, Georgia becomes the 21st state calling for a constitutional convention. The Georgia General Assembly adopts a balanced budget every year, and I believe that Congress should be held to that same standard. I have been involved for a number of years in the Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force, comprised of state legislators and supporters across our nation who are deeply concerned about our children’s future debt burden.
It was a distinct honor to be present in the House chamber as we paid tribute to Jim Chavers, the last surviving member of the 4th Marine Division that fought in Iwo Jima. Considered one of the deadliest battles of World War II, the Invasion of Iwo Jima began on February 19, 1945 and lasted until March 26, 1945. Chavers was one of only 60 survivors from his company of 250. After his time in the Marines, Chavers served as an inspector for the U.S. Customs Service for 33 years. It was a privilege to meet such an outstanding Georgia hero.
With four weeks left in the session, I encourage you to schedule a visit to the Capitol soon to see your legislators at work. You can also stay in touch by visiting our website at www.house.ga.gov to watch the House in action, view live and archived committee meetings, and review legislation that we are considering. I hope to hear from you on your ideas and opinions regarding the issues facing Georgia, and your suggestions on how we can enhance your quality of life. Please call my office at the State Capitol at 404-651-7737.