This Week Under the Gold Dome: Budgets, Guns and HOPE

As we near Crossover Day, many of the most prominent issues discussed this session are beginning to come across the desks of House members.  Last week was the first of what is likely to be a frenetic sprint to the finish.  Here are the week’s highlights:

House Passes FY 2015 Budget:

On Monday, the House voted 169-4 to pass the state budget for Fiscal Year 2015.  The budget amounted to $20.8 billion.  54.1% of the budget was appropriated for education and 23.1% of the budget was appropriated for health and human services agencies.  Public safety agencies received 8.4% of the budget.  The House made minor adjustments to the Governor’s budget proposal including $750,000 for Meals on Wheels and senior center nutrition programs, $460,816 to increase the annual foster care allowance by $100 per child and $874,000 for a 0.5% increase for developmental disability providers.  As Georgia continues to emerge from the Great Recession, this budget is a small step forward to restoring our investments that are critical to a bright future.  However, in terms of our most important investments like education, we still have a long way to go.  House Bill 744 now moves to the Senate for their consideration.

Creation of the “Zell Miller Grant Scholar” for the HOPE Grant

On Wednesday, the House passed House Bill 697 authored by Representative Stacey Evans that creates the Zell Miller Grant Scholar that provides full-tuition scholarships to students who receive a HOPE grant and earn at least a 3.5 cumulative GPA.  This is the second bill passed in as many years that strengthens our technical college system and invests in Georgia’s economic future by providing scholarships to students who are training for careers in demand and who are most in need of help to pay for school.  These bills help reverse policies that predated a 25% decrease in full-time enrollment in our technical colleges and caused 11,471 students to lose HOPE.

Legislation Allowing Firearms in Bars, Churches and Local Government Buildings

On Thursday, the House voted 119-56 to allow firearms to be carried in more public venues in Georgia.  The bill makes it legal for gun owners to carry their firearms in churches, bars and government buildings that are not protected by security personnel.  While a full campus carry provision was not included in this legislation, the possession of a firearm on college campuses and at K-12 campuses has become a misdemeanor.  The legislation expands limitations for mental illness reasons to those who have been adjudicated mentally incompetent to stand trial or anyone who was adjudicated not guilty by insanity.  This legislation will cost our small municipalities more money through the need to address security provisions in government buildings and allows a potentially deadly mix of alcohol and guns in bars across the state.

Spencer’s House Bill 750 that allows for non-profit organizations that promote access to affordable housing to be exempt from the requirement of getting a state license to offer low-interest mortgages is awaiting assignment from the Rules committee to be debated and voted on by the entire House.

This week, the House is in session on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday for days 27-29.  The House will reconvene on March 3rd for Crossover Day (day 30), the last day for legislation to pass out of the House if it is to be considered by the Senate.  After that, there are just 10 legislative days to Sine Die.  As always, connect with Spencer on Facebook and Twitter to get the latest on the events under the Gold Dome.  It is an honor to serve as your representative in Georgia’s Legislature.  Have a great week!