Sen. John Albers: Updates from the Capitol

16
Feb

Sen. John Albers: Updates from the Capitol

Your Georgia Desk

From Senator John Albers 

John Albers

 

Updates from the Capitol

We have now completed day 15 of the Legislative Session and things are moving quickly. Committees are meeting and passing bills daily. We are in full swing and I look forward to keeping you updated as we progress at the Gold Dome.

Last week, the Senate and the House of Representatives met for a joint session to hear the Honorable Chief Justice Hugh P. Thompson of the Supreme Court of Georgia deliver his annual “State of the Judiciary” address.  Chief Justice Thompson updated lawmakers on the accomplishments of the judicial branch over the last year and the challenges that lie ahead.

I am happy to report that on Day 14 of this legislative session, the Senate passed the Fiscal Year 2015 Amended Budget. After careful consideration and deliberation from the Governor, the House and the Senate, we determined that education and public safety, among others, will receive additional funding to adequately provide for the people of Georgia.

The Department of Education will receive an additional $126.2 million for midterm enrollment growth and almost $10 million will go to charter schools. The additional funding will allow incoming students to be provided with the supplies and support they need when entering a new school. In addition, the amended budget provides an additional $20 million in competitive grants to local school systems for broadband internet connectivity through the Connections for Classrooms program. These grants will provide teachers to interact with their students through live online instruction.

Public safety is a priority for me and I am pleased to say that we are providing additional funding for quite a few departments in this category. The Office of Highway Safety received an additional $2.8 million for driver education and training in accordance with Jacob’s Law, passed in 2013. The Department of Public Safety will receive an additional $3.2 million to reflect the increase in personnel costs in field offices and services programs.

Previously, in the state of Georgia, the only people who could authorize emergency examinations of people needing involuntary treatment were medical doctors and psychologists. Last year, Senator Renee Unterman, from Buford, sponsored Senate Bill 65, a piece of legislation that allowed licensed professional counselors (LPC) to perform emergency examinations on individuals who are mentally ill or drug or alcohol dependent. These examinations are used to determine whether an individual requires involuntary treatment. SB 65 included a sunset clause that will repeal the act in its entirety on March 15, 2015. This year Senator Greg Kirk sponsored SB 53, which will extend the sunset clause from March 15, 2015 to June 30, 2018. This extension will allow for collection of enough data to determine if it is beneficial to authorize LPCs to conduct these examinations.

Earlier this month we received the first portion of funding from the Federal Government and began working on the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project. On Tuesday, the Senate unanimously passed SB 5, a bill necessary for the state of Georgia to continue receiving funding for the project. This bill is a protective clause assuring the United States Federal Government that the state of Georgia will be responsible for paying for any damage, loss or injury that occurs during the deepening of the Savannah Harbor.

It is no secret that during short-term economic hardship, parents often cannot afford to provide adequately for their children. That is why we came together to pass SB 3, the Supporting and Strengthening Families Act. This bill allows parents or legal guardians to grant another adult temporary custody of their children for up to one year, without having to involve the Department of Child and Family Services (DFCS). Family unit preservation is the goal of this legislation and by providing parents with this option; they can easily reunite with their children when they are ready.

The Senate came together and took a decisive stance on our disapproval of minor sex trafficking in the state of Georgia. This week, we passed SB 8 and Senate Resolution 7, both sponsored by Sen. Renee Unterman, who is a champion for this cause and has fought tirelessly to ensure this legislation gets passed.

SB 8 creates the Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Fund and Commission, which increases the legal ramifications for perpetrators of childhood sexual abuse and increases the legal protections needed by the victims of such crimes. The improved legal protections vary from increases on the statute of limitations to the forfeiture of vehicles used to operate these illegal businesses. Under this bill, any person found guilty of trafficking a person for sexual servitude will be required to pay an additional $2,500 and be listed on the sexual offender registry.

SR 7, a resolution required to create a Constitution Amendment, will need to be approved by you, the voters of Georgia. This resolution will create the Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Fund to provide rehabilitative and social services to victims of childhood sex trafficking. Both SB 8 and SR 7 work in conjunction in our fight to end childhood sex trafficking in Georgia.

As always, please feel free to contact my office at any time to talk about pending legislation or address other concerns in our district – my door and phone lines are always open!

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