Rep. Shaw appointed as House Deputy Majority Whip
This week, I was honored to receive another leadership post in the House of Representatives when I was appointed by House Majority Whip Matt Ramsey to serve as a member of the Deputy Whip team for the House Majority Caucus.
Members of the Deputy Whip team are responsible for monitoring legislation as it moves through both chambers of the General Assembly and helping their fellow House members understand the details of bills and resolutions.
"Representative Shaw has quickly developed a reputation as a thoughtful and dedicated legislator," said Rep. Ramsey. "He will be instrumental to the effectiveness and success of the Majority Caucus during the 2015-16 legislative term in his role as Deputy Whip."
I would like to thank Whip Ramsey for appointing me to serve in this very important role within our Majority Caucus in the House. I am excited about this opportunity to work with my colleagues on the Whip team and in the Majority Caucus as we ensure the passage of meaningful legislation that our caucus stands behind.
Governor Proposes Budget: Also this week, I had the pleasure of joining my colleagues on the House and Senate Appropriations Committees for hearings and initial work on the annual state budget for fiscal year 2016, which begins July 1, as well as the amended budget for the remainder of the current fiscal year.
As a member of the Economic Development Subcommittee, I paid particular attention to the reports and budget requests of the Departments of Agriculture, Transportation, Forestry and other agencies covered by our subcommittee. We will be working to make sure the taxpayers' investments in these programs will pay off in the form of creating jobs and keeping Georgia's economy moving in the right direction.
The FY 2016 budget proposed by Gov. Nathan Deal totals almost $21.8 billion. As he proclaimed a week earlier during his State of the State message, education is the top funding priority in the governor's budget, with $10.9 billion - just over half of the overall budget - going to K-12 schools and Georgia's colleges and universities.
The proposed education appropriations include $280 million to partially restore previous K-12 funding formula austerity cuts - which can help local school systems increase instructional days, raise teacher pay and end teacher furloughs -and an additional $173 million to accommodate growth in the K-12 schools.
Funding for the Medicaid and PeachCare healthcare programs total $2.9 billion in the governor's budget plan, followed by $1.2 billion for the Department of Corrections, $1.2 billion to service the state's debt and $1.1 billion for general government costs. The plan also includes $984 million for the Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Disabilities, $876 million for transportation, $678 million for public safety, $553 million for human services and $389 million for other healthcare programs.
A 1 percent pay increase for state employees is reflected in the budget, along with at $34 million increase for the Division of Family & Children Services to hire 278 additional child welfare caseworkers, and $1.2 million to hire four more lawyers and four additional auditors or investigators for the State Ethics Commission.
As part of his continuing criminal justice reform initiative, the governor is also proposing a $5 million increase in funding of the state's drug courts and accountability courts and $15 million to hire educators and operate two charter schools, offering classes to inmates seeking to obtain a high school diploma.
Overall, the proposed FY 2016 budget reflects an increase of $946.2 million, or 4.5 percent, over the appropriations plan approved by the General Assembly last year.
For the amended FY 2015 budget, which runs through June 30, Gov. Deal has proposed an overall increase of $87 million, which includes $35 million for grants to help classrooms across the state gain greater access to broadband internet.
The House Appropriations Committee will be the first to act on the amended FY 2015 and annual FY 2016 budget plans later in the legislative session, which resumes Jan. 26.
Unemployment rate falls to 6.9%: Georgia's good economic news of recent months continued in December when the state's unemployment rate declined to 6.9 percent, down from 7.2 percent in November and a half-point lower than the 7.4 percent rate from December a year ago
According to Labor Commissioner Mark Butler, last month marked "the first time in eight years that we've had job growth in December. I'm especially pleased that we had very strong 2.7 percent over-the-year job growth, which gave us our largest December-to-December growth since 1999."
New unemployment claims were down by 12.7 percent from December 2013.
Education Reform Commission: Gov. Deal has announced the appointment of a 34-member Education Reform Commission, which will study the state's education system, including its funding formula, and provide recommendations to improve the system, increase access to early learning programs, recruit and retain high-quality instructors and expand school options for Georgia's families.
The commission will be chaired by former University of Georgia President Charles Knapp and includes members of the General Assembly, educators and school system administrators, business leaders and other professionals. The commission will convene throughout the year to comprehensively review the state's education system and QBE funding formula in order to provide recommendations on possible executive, legislative and agency fixes. The recommendations will be sent to Deal by Aug. 1 of this year, with some going into effect as early as the 2016-2017 school year.
In making the announcement, Gov. Deal said, "My vision for K-12 education in Georgia is a system driven by student need that provides local school and district leaders with real control and flexibility. With this commission now in place, it is my hope that we will work together to make education more accessible and effective in preparing our state's students for the rigors of college and the workforce. Georgia families depend on our classrooms, and now it's time we take the responsibility in full to provide the high-quality, technologically advanced education they so deserve. I fully anticipate this commission will help bring my vision to reality and I'm grateful for the members' willingness to serve."
Please feel free to contact me throughout the session with your thoughts on these and other issues, or whenever I can be of service. My legislative office is located at 508-A Coverdell Office Building, Atlanta, GA 30334; phone 404-656-0213 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.