The House reconvened on Monday, February 1st to start our fourth week of the 2016 legislative session. With preliminaries dealt with, we went to work passing meaningful legislation that will have a positive impact on all Georgians. Numerous bills have been approved and passed out of their respective committees and made their way to the House floor for a vote before the entire House of Representatives.
It is no secret that education is one of the General Assembly’s top legislative priorities; therefore, we unanimously passed House Bill 801 this week to encourage students to take college courses in certain areas. HB 801 would change the GPA weighting system for HOPE Scholarship recipients who take certain science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) courses. HB 801 would direct the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia to select bachelor-level STEM courses to receive extra weight when calculating the HOPE scholarship GPA while a student attends college. Under HB 801, a student completing a class selected for extra weight would receive .5 added to his or her grade when calculating the HOPE scholarship GPA. To qualify for additional grade weighting, identified core and major courses must be determined to be academically rigorous and lead to jobs in high demand STEM fields. During his State of the State address, Governor Nathan Deal targeted 11 areas, all in STEM related fields, under the Strategic Industries Workforce Development Grants as part of his continued plan to strengthen Georgia’s workforce and address the job skills gap. By providing additional GPA weight to courses where our state sees the most need, we are making strides to bridge the skills gap in Georgia without risking the scholastic fulfillment of our students.
HB 402 is a Work Force Development Bill that I authored and have worked on for the last two years. A vital workforce is essential to a thriving economy; therefore, enacting legislation that will reinforce our state’s business climate and arm our citizens with the tools they need to succeed in Georgia’s job market is crucial. Much like HB 801, House Bill 402 is another measure that seeks to close the skills gap in Georgia’s work force. HB 402, which passed our body unanimously, is an effort to increase business partnerships and participation with local public school systems for K-12 Work Based Learning Programs. Work based learning programs allows students age 16 and older to participate in a structured learning environment at an employer’s job site for a portion of the school day while also receiving academic credit. Modeled after Georgia’s drug-free workplace program, HB 402 would offer businesses that participate in the program a discount of up to five percent on their worker’s compensation insurance premiums as an incentive to encourage participation. It is important to instill a strong work ethic in our teens, and Georgia’s work based learning program is an excellent way to teach students the true value and responsibility of employment. By encouraging these partnerships through the passage of HB 402, we are not only proving businesses with greater program incentive, but we are also providing students with the invaluable, hands-on experience in the workplace at a young age.
We also passed two measures this week intended to ease the burden on our public safety officers who spend their entire careers working to protect the well-being of all Georgians. The first was House Bill 421, legislation to provide enhanced disability benefits to community supervision officers employed by the Department of Community Supervision who become permanently disabled due to an act of external violence or injury incurred in the line of law enforcement duty. Under HB 421, deputy conservation rangers with the Department of Natural Resources, parole officers with the State Board of Pardons and Paroles, probation officers with the Department of Corrections, and any community supervision officer with the Department of Community Supervision would be eligible for a monthly disability compensation of $5.00 per month for each year of creditable service. The bill further calls for a minimum monthly disability retirement benefit equal to two percent of their monthly earnings beginning the month their permanent disability occurred until mandatory retirement age. Our community supervision officers do far more than we realize to keep the citizens of our state safe, and I was proud to vote for this legislation to show our appreciation for their sacrifice.
House Bill 690 was another bill passed in the House this week that acknowledges the brave service and sacrifices our public safety officials make for our communities and our state. This bill allows any individual who is a member of the Uniform Division of the Department of Public Safety, a conservation ranger with the Department of Natural Resources, an officer or agent of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, a district attorney investigator paid from state funds, or an alcohol and tobacco officer or agent of the Department of Revenue to claim creditable service towards retirement if he or she previously worked for a local law enforcement agency for up to five years. In order to be eligible to claim those retirement years, officers must be vested in the state’s Employee Retirement System (ERS) for at least 10 years and ineligible for a defined contribution retirement or pension plan while employed at the local law enforcement agency. HB 690 will allow our public safety officers to recoup their years of service, but will have a zero dollar cost to the state. I was proud to support this legislation and show my unwavering appreciation for the public safety community in Georgia.
As we continue through the legislative session, I hope that you will contact me if you have questions or concerns about these bills, or any other legislation that may come before us. As your state representative, it is my job to represent your thoughts and opinions in Atlanta, and I would like to hear from you before the session adjourns on March 24. Please stop by and visit if you are in Atlanta during the legislative session, or call my office at the State Capitol and let me know what I can do for you and your family. My Capitol office number is 404-656-0325 and my email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.