Rep. Shaw elected chairman of Georgia’s Legislative Rural Caucus
On Jan. 16, I was honored to have been elected by my colleagues in the General Assembly as chairman of the Legislative Rural Caucus, made up of House of Representatives members and Senators from rural districts throughout the state.
The Rural Caucus, the second largest caucus in the Georgia General Assembly, is a bipartisan group organized for the purpose of taking a leading role in issues and legislation that impact agriculture, natural resources and the needs of the state’s rural communities. I look forward to working with my fellow rural legislators to ensure a strong future for Georgia’s rural economy and way of life.
The same day, House committee assignments were announced by Speaker David Ralston. I was appointed as vice chairman of the House Insurance Committee and as a member of the Economic Development & Tourism Committee; the Game, Fish & Parks Committee; and the Small Business Development Committee.
I introduced a number of legislative proposals during the first week of the 2013 session, including the following:
• HB 88, which would provide Class E and Class F driver’s licenses free of charge to qualified volunteer firefighters.
• HB 102, which would provide special license plates for military veterans in Georgia.
• HB 103, which would allow the issuance of group life insurance policies to certain groups as approved by the Commissioner of Insurance.
• HR 47, which would dedicate the Gov. Melvin Ernest Thompson Memorial Highway in Lowndes County.
On Jan. 17, Gov. Nathan Deal presented his 2013 legislative agenda to a joint session of the House and Senate. The governor said he intends to “move forward with confidence, focusing on the proven foundations of a growing Georgia, those that keep us steady during times of uncertainty but also during times of prosperity; foremost among these are public safety, education, healthcare and economic development.” He outlined the following goals in those areas:
Public Safety: Increase the use of drug, DUI, mental health and veteran courts to reduce the need to add 5,000 prison beds and safe the state at least $264 million; substantially revise Georgia’s juvenile justice system to emphasize community-based alternative sentences for low-risk offenders; lower the blood alcohol level for charges of boating under the influence from .10 to .08, the same as for DUI charges, and increase education and safety measures for younger boat operators and passengers.
Education: Restore the pre-kindergarten school year to a full 180 days; invest an additional $1.6 million to the reading mentor program; add more than $300 million to the fiscal year 2013 and 2014 budgets for K-12 enrollment growth; modernize the Quality Basic Education funding formula; increase the HOPE Scholarship budget by 3 percent and focus more HOPE Grant funds toward occupations where jobs are available.
Healthcare: Authorize the Board of Community Health to apply a provider fee for hospitals to address what would otherwise be a $700 million shortfall in the Medicaid program, which will increase by 100,000 covered individuals even with Georgia opting out of the Medicaid expansion under the new federal healthcare law; add $2 million to the budget to expand residency programs and increase the number of healthcare professionals practicing in Georgia.
Economic Development: Continue to reduce overall government spending and the state tax burden to maintain a low interest rate on state bonds and attract businesses to Georgia; add $50 million in bond funding for expansion of the Savannah Harbor, bringing the state’s total contribution to $231 million, with the remainder of the project to be paid by the federal government.
The governor also urged lawmakers to establish clear rules of ethical conduct, not only for the General Assembly, but to apply equally for all elected officials at the state and local levels.
Following the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees will be holding joint hearings Jan. 22-24 to begin the process for developing the fiscal year 2014 annual budget and an amended budget for the remainder of the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.
Gov. Nathan Deal will present his recommendations for the estimated $19.8 billion state budget plan, followed by more than 20 state department heads for specific requests to the legislative budget writers.
The full General Assembly will be in official recess until Monday, Jan. 28.
Thank you for the privilege of representing you at the State Capitol. As always, please contact me with your views on the issues or whenever I can be of service.