Legislation a first step toward downsizing state bureaucracy


Last week, the House of Representatives approved legislation that will begin the process of implementing Gov. Nathan Deal’s plan to reduce the budget by consolidating a number of state agencies.

HB 642 would abolish the State Properties Commission and the State Personnel Administration and transfer their functions to a newly created Georgia Services Administration, which would also replace the Department of Administrative services. Under the bill, the Georgia Aviation Authority, the State Accounting Office, the Office of Treasury and Fiscal Services, the Georgia Building Authority, the Office of State Administrative Hearings and the Georgia Technology Authority would be administratively assigned to the Georgia Services Administration.

A related proposal, HB 805, which would revise state law to account for the retirement of employees associated with the State Personnel Administration, was also approved and sent to the Senate for its consideration, along with HB 642.

Meanwhile, the amended budget proposal for the remainder of fiscal year 2012 includes a program to address the problem of labor shortages that were the cause of crop losses for many Georgia farmers last year. HB 741, as passed by the House of Representatives, includes a $75,000 line item for the Georgia Department of Agriculture to create a program to help farmers obtain workers through the H-2a and H-1b federal employment programs.

The need for this program was brought to the attention of the House Appropriations Committee by a number of representatives from areas of the state growing crops that require significant amounts of hand labor, according to Committee Chairman Terry England. Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black has committed to getting this program up and running as quickly as possible if the funds are appropriated to help producers in our state plan for spring and summer planting and harvest seasons.

The H-2a and H-1b federal worker programs provide temporary visas which allow foreign nationals to legally enter the country to perform seasonal agricultural work. Under federal law, the employer must establish its need for the prospective worker’s services. The employer’s need is considered temporary if it is a one-time occurrence, a seasonal need, a peak-load need, or an intermittent need. The employer must also demonstrate that there are not sufficient U.S. workers who are able, willing, qualified, and available to do the temporary work.

The amended budget plan is currently under consideration in the state Senate.

Legislation that would change the Constitution to allow the state to set up charter schools at the local level and require local school boards to provide funding for those schools fell 10 votes short of the required two-thirds vote of approval in the House on Feb. 8. But the following day, House members agreed to reconsider HR 1162 later in the session.

While I support taking steps for the limited purpose of authorizing charter schools, I cannot support HR 1162 in its current form because of its potential for diverting local tax dollars from existing public schools toward any type of “special school” the state creates or designates. Local funding decisions should be made by the elected school board members in those communities. Stronger protection for local school districts and taxpayers must be inserted into this legislation before I can support it.

In education news this week, Georgia’s request for its public schools to receive an exemption from the academic performance requirements in the federal “No Child Left Behind” law has been granted by the U.S. Department of Education. State School Superintendent John Barge said, “This is wonderful news for Georgia’s students, educators and parents. No longer will we be bound by the narrow definitions of success found in ‘No Child Left Behind.’ We will now be able to hold schools accountable and reward them for the work they do in all subjects and with all students.”

Gov. Nathan Deal said, “This waiver will give Georgia the flexibility we need to pursue our goals of student achievement.” Georgia is one of 10 states given a “No Child Left Behind” exemption by the Obama administration, which offered the waiver to free states from the standardized test performance requirements that are part of the education law if the states developed a better accountability plan for their public schools. Georgia’s plan will include an index made up of several different test scores and student attendance rates.

It was announced this week that Georgia schools rank 13th in the nation in the percentage of seniors scoring a 3 or higher on Advance Placement (AP) exams, according to The College Board’s AP Report to the Nation. This report measures progress of the class of 2011. Gov. Deal said, “Our state’s excellent performance on AP exams demonstrates our success in cultivating excellence. With hard work and perseverance, young Georgians have the tools to achieve their dreams. Students who earn passing grades on Advanced Placement tests get a jump start on college and, in the long run, they help the state. These students represent the ‘best and brightest’ and are the future economic engines of Georgia. They also save our colleges and universities money by earning class credits."

As always, I am at your service. Please contact me with your views and concerns about any of the issues we will be addressing at the State Capitol during this upcoming session.

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