United States: Georgia Weekly Legislative Update

Georgia's House lawmakers passed today a record $25 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2018 beginning July 1, including provisions for a 2 percent raise in pay for public teachers, a 20 percent salary hike for state law enforcement officers, and a 19 percent increase for DFACS child protection employees. The spending blueprint, passed at the session's halfway point, also provides for a $1.15 billion bond package for state construction projects, including a new state appellate court building, a state-owned training center, and new K-12, college, and technical school buildings across the state. It comes after Governor Nathan Deal signed earlier this week a supplemental 2017 budget to make use of added midyear revenues. While the size of the annual budget is a record for the state, Republican leaders state that when adjusted for population growth and inflation, the budget is comparable to state spending in the 1990s.

Days remaining until Crossover Day: 8 legislative days

SUPPLEMENTED: Georgia Governor Nathan Deal approved an amended budget for the current fiscal year at a special signing ceremony Wednesday in Augusta, the site of a new $50 million cyber security training and incubation center.

The new spending blue print makes use of the 3 percent growth in revenue over last year, using those funds to establish the Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center, a 20 percent increase in pay for state law enforcement officers, and a $109 million increase for public schools to accommodate enrollment growth.

SPEAKING OF SIGNING: The Governor this week signed a three-year extension of the Medicaid fee provider fee for hospitals, which generates upwards of $300 million in state revenues and another $600 million in federal Medicaid matching funds annually.

GOING TO POT: The Senate on Thursday moved to dilute the state's still-young medical marijuana regime, reducing the allowable level of THC from 5 percent to just 3. While the legislation would lower the allowable THC threshold, it would also expand the list of approved conditions to include autism.

SOMETHING'S BREWING IN REGULATED INDUSTRIES: The House Regulated Industries Committee on Tuesday advanced compromise legislation that would green light controlled, on-site direct-to-consumer sale by craft brewers and distillers. That bill, SB 95, will migrate next to the Rules Committee.

OPPORTUNITY TURNAROUND: The Governor's second attempt to breathe new life into Georgia's chronically failing schools was introduced this week by 5 House Republicans leaders. 

The original plan, a constitutional amendment known as Opportunity School District that failed to pass muster with voters last November, would have empowered the Governor to intervene in local school districts by placing low-performing schools under the authority of a special superintendent appointed by the Governor. 

The new proposal would provide for a "Chief Turnaround Officer" who would report to the state board of education and directing a network of "turnaround coaches" to develop a "system of assistance and support" in concert with local boards. While the so-called Chief Turnaround Officer would not report to the Governor, he or she would be empowered to replace the staff of failing schools or cede district control to "successful" districts or nonprofit charter school operators.

OPIOID CRACKDOWN: A proposal to help crack down on the opioid epidemic in Georgia cleared the Senate Health and Human Services Committee by a narrow one vote majority. The bill imposes criminal penalties on a medical provider who "knowingly and intentionally" fails to check the state database maintained on drug prescriptions before prescribing opioids to a patient. The bill now heads to the Senate Rules Committee.

UP-VOTING THE 'UPSKIRT' BAN: The Senate unanimously voted to mend a startling gap in Georgia invasion privacy statute that state's Court of Appeals had ruled allowed for the lewd practice of "upskirting," the surreptitious filming of photographing of a person's undergarments.

The bill was inspired by a ruling last year that a Houston County grocery store employee had not violated state law when he used his cellphone to take lewd photographs of a female customer. The bill's sponsor, Larry Walker of Perry, said he found the "general public was pretty shocked to find out it was not already against the law to do that."

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