Last week was a momentous week, as many important events occurred.

First, was the House and Senate agreeing on the small budget for fiscal year 2020, which is now on the Governor’s desk.

Second, was the House voting on the big budget for fiscal year 2021. Like the small budget, the House agreed with the governor on about 80 percent of his $28.1 billion proposal, which is an increase of $566 million or 2% from last year. The House budget includes a $1,000 teacher pay raise, as well as a 2 percent merit pay increase for most state employees. The General Assembly has increased teacher pay by $4,000 or 11 percent, over the last two years, the biggest ever increase in Georgia history. We also (for the first time) fully funded the education formula for the third year in a row. The House budget also expanded mental health care and crisis intervention services. We also restored access to health care, public health, and public libraries.

The biggest difference to the governor’s proposal is that the House reduced all state income taxes from 5.75% down to a true flat tax of 5.37% for all Georgians. We also included a new Georgia income tax credit that eliminates income taxes altogether for low income Georgians and gradually decreases as the taxpayer’s income increases. No one should pay higher taxes from this move, which also tripled the adoption tax credit. The tax cut will reduce revenues by about $146 million this year and $270 million by 2025.

Last week also included Crossover Day, the last day that a bill must pass one chamber or it is dead. I was very glad that a few “bad bills” that died were measures that would limit local control in areas like short-term rentals or building codes.

We did pass HB 720 which creates harsher penalties against gangs and sex crimes. For some reason, the minority party voted en mass against this bill. HB 993 requires the state registrar to report abuse and neglect of children to DFCS. HB 1037 set boundaries on the existing Film Tax Credit so that it can continue to benefit Georgia taxpayers. HB 881 expands the Safe Haven Law that allows mothers to safely leave newborn children with emergency providers. HB 1032 creates more access to mental health services by rural hospitals. HB 958 decreases regulations for churches or non-profits to help pregnant mothers and/or their newborn babies. HB 1090 requires employers to provide break time to mothers who need to express breast milk. HB 886 requires the state board for veterinarians to maintain a data base of micro-chipped pets. There were also two ETO bills that passed unanimously that would require any leak — no matter how small — to be reported immediately.

Some of my biggest priorities were the three education bills I worked on. The first is a teacher return-to-work idea that allows local school boards to hire retired teachers in special need areas and let them return to work full-time. The second was a targeted teacher incentive that will give a $3,000 fully refundable tax credit to a teacher (for five years) who is willing to move to a distantly rural or turnaround eligible school. The third is a fiscal transparency measure for charter schools that passed a few weeks ago. As I worked very hard on these measures for over two years, I am a little disappointed that some of these bills are not larger in scope (especially the first), but I am nonetheless grateful that they passed the House almost unanimously.

The biggest local news this week for Morgan and Newton counties was the surprise announcement by the governor to locate a temporary, secure location at Hard Labor Creek State Park for patients who are being quarantined for the coronavirus. As I have written extensively about this topic already, I invite you to visit my Facebook page or website at davebelton.com to read my thoughts.

Perhaps the biggest news for the state was the governor’s decision to declare a State of Emergency because of the coronavirus. Thus, we have suspended (but not adjourned) the General Assembly for the next few weeks. The governor also directed most state agencies to telework from home until further notice. The only big item that the General Assembly (by law) must still accomplish is the Senate and then the governor “agree” on the House “big budget”. At a minimum, we will eventually have to go back in session to accomplish that.

I hope you will pray for me as I try to serve the good peoples of Morgan and Newton counties. You may contact me at davebelton112@gmail.com.

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Dave Belton represents District 112 in the Georgia House of Representatives. District 112 includes Morgan County and the eastern portion of Newton County.

Editor

I have been editor of the Rockdale Citizen since 1996 and editor of the Newton Citizen since it began publication in 2004. I am also currently executive editor of the Clayton News Daily, Henry Daily Herald and Jackson Progress-Argus.

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