Andrew Allison, Director
Kessarin Horvath, Sr. Communications Associate
Week Five Highlights
By: Sen. Blake Tillery (R – Vidalia)
Our work in Atlanta has reached a rhythm now. Daily votes in the Senate Chamber are becoming a common occurrence and committees are meeting more often, and longer, to discuss legislation. Since passing our first bill last week, we’ve been able to vote out several more that we believe will better the lives of Georgians. This includes the Amended Fiscal Year 2021 (AFY21) budget. Even more bills have been introduced too; a result of us talking with you to find the best ways we can address new and old problems. While some of this information may sound familiar now, here’s an overview of the areas that affect you the most.
Tuesday, the Senate unanimously voted to pass House Bill 80, the AFY21 budget. Thursday, we agreed to the House amendment and the budget was sent to the Governor to sign. In a process that took a record amount of time, the shape of our budget and the speediness in which we were able to accomplish it wouldn’t have been possible without the efforts of Georgians everywhere. Thanks to Gov. Kemp’s steadfastness, Georgia was able to open our doors, and economy, earlier than other states. This placed us at an advantage – revenue numbers increased by about $654 million and with contributions from state workers, you were able to continue putting food on your tables. Our ability to restore funds wouldn’t have been possible without you, the taxpayers, who showed up each and every day to keep our state running. Thank you for the strength you’ve shown throughout the pandemic.
When we first started tackling the FY21 budget back in June, our numbers were a lot worse and we were looking at a 10% budget cut across the board. With $26.5 billion total now, we were able to restore 60% of our budget cuts to education and prioritize allocations to public health – the two areas arguably hit the most during COVID-19. Here’s a breakdown of the AFY21 budget:
Education and Higher Education:
- $567 million to the Quality Basic Education (QBE) formula for grades K-12 and to fully fund growth. An additional $70 million went to the University System of Georgia and $30 million to the Technical College System of Georgia for their growth. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, our educators in our area were innovative. They adjusted to the changes in learning and were attuned to the needs of each student.
- $20 million to fund rural broadband initiatives and provide grants for local governments. Expansion of broadband to underserved areas has been an initiative of myself, and the legislature, for years. This issue matters for education and business.
- $770,000 to add five positions within the Department of Public Health: chief medical officer, deputy commissioner, chief data officer, senior programmer and a financial manager. In speaking with Dr. Toomey and the rest of the Department, we found areas where the agency felt stretched and want to provide them with the resources they need to continue with their COVID-19 response efforts and make the most of their federal dollars.
- $27 million to modernize public health surveillance systems and support future epidemiology surveillance; this pairs with $894.6 million and $110 million in federal funds for epidemiology and lab capacity and COVID-19 vaccine preparedness, respectively. This will help streamline the vaccine scheduling and distribution process, creating an easy to manage and read database to track shipments. We’ve heard your frustrations with getting a vaccine. We want to make sure our healthcare workers are best equipped to help administer the vaccine and that you’re able to get the protection you need against the virus.
- $35 million for the Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) formula to help with COVID-19 efforts specialized in indigent care.
- $19 million total in nursing homes to assist with vaccination efforts, as well as $9 million to skilled nursing centers to increase Medicaid growth allowance by 5% to assist them with their daily rates.
- A utilization of existing funds to supplement a 10% pay increase for correction officers and juvenile detention officers to help with attrition, reduce turnover and support our state’s agency in the long run. An additional $1.3 million in federal funds is also provided to our county jails to help them respond to their pandemic needs and help reduce the spread within state prisons.
- $455,000 to increase funds for domestic violence shelters and sexual assault centers to try and fill in, on the state level, federal funds that shifted.
- Increased funds within the Department of Labor to fund a Chief Labor Officer that will facilitate unemployment claims and financial audit requests. The General Assembly is currently working on a piece of legislation that will outline the duties of the position but in short, it’s intended to make sure you’re able to get your unemployment claims and continue supporting your families.
- $25 million increased funds for the Forestland Protect Act (FLPA) which goes to local governments with large amounts of forestlands, like ours.
Aside from the budget, one more election bill has been introduced since we talked last week. Senate Bill 93 would limit the use of portable or moving polls to situations where the existing facility is seen as unsafe. All the election bills we’ve discussed earlier have been assigned to the Senate Ethics Committee, which recently met to assign four of them to specific subcommittees. There are now over a dozen elections bills, as we discussed in detail last week. I expect them to receive a hearing and receive a full vote by the committee in the next week or so.
Closer to home, many of you know Jeff Davis County EMS/EMA building was destroyed by fire last weekend. Tommy Purser at the Jeff Davis Ledger did a great job in his coverage of the event. Almost every ambulance was lost and the 911 system for the community was crippled. Like South Georgians do, our neighbors rushed to help. Appling County took over temporary 911 services to help protect Jeff Davis County residents. Appling and Coffee County both provided ambulances to handle calls. The state predicted a four to six week period before semi-normal operations could resume. Sheriff Preston Bohannon and his team, along with great assistance from the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, had Jeff Davis’s 911 and emergency response system back up less than 96 hours. I’m thankful to live in a region with neighbors that care and with competent public servants who love our community.
As we look ahead at the work still to come, please reach out with any questions you may have about the budget, election concerns or any other legislation. I’m here to serve you in the state Capitol.
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Sen. Blake Tillery serves as Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. He represents the 19th Senate District, which includes Appling, Jeff Davis, Long, Montgomery, Telfair, Toombs, Treutlen, Wayne, and Wheeler counties and a portion of Liberty and Tattnall counties. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.