Under the Gold Dome…Rep. Noel Williams
Monday, March 1 brought the beginning of week eight under the Gold Dome. As we continue our 2021 legislative session, we turn our attention towards, “Crossover Day,” set to take place on March 8. Last week was productive as we successfully passed the full 2022 Fiscal Year budget. We also spent two full days in committee meetings reviewing legislation still under consideration. Our final day of session, or “Sine Die,” will be on Wednesday, March 31 which means we are into our final month of the legislative session.
2022 Fiscal Year Budget
We are pleased to announce that we have successfully completed our only constitutional obligation of passing a passing a balanced budget for the upcoming fiscal year. Also known as, House Bill 81, this comprehensive budget covers July 1, 2021 through June 30, 2022, and is set at $27.2 billion. Nearly 90 percent of new funding will go towards education and health and human services agencies.
Like past years, education is the largest single expenditure in the state’s budget, totaling $10.2 billion. Fortunately, we were able restore 60 percent of the reductions made to K-12 education funding formulas in the Fiscal Year 2021 budget.
Budget allocations also consider the need for expanded mental health core and crisis intervention services within our healthcare sector. Therefore, $58.5 million will go towards the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities Funding which is as follows:
- $2.7 million to provide addictive disease services to an additional 2,100 people.
- $6.5 million to provide mental health services to an additional 5,200 people.
- $12.3 million for a rate increase for intellectual and developmental disability providers.
- $7 million for a first-in-the-nation behavioral health crisis center for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
- $2 million to expand the Georgia Apex Program and suicide prevention training in schools.
This budget also recognizes:
- $39.5 million for the new Rural Innovation Fund
- $10 million to establish a broadband infrastructure grant program for rural communities.
- $7.63 million in new revenue for transit projects across the state.
The full fiscal year budget in now under consideration in the Senate, where they will either agree to our budget or make their own recommendations. Like any given year, we don’t expect to see full passage of the budget until the final days of session.
Election Law Update
We have been dedicated to ensuring the security of our sacred elections process. We believe that free and fair elections are the cornerstone of our democracy. Recent events occurring within our elections cycle have shaken the faith of Georgia votes. There is no doubt that restoring trust and confidence in our system is critical.
To address these concerns, we successfully passed House Bill 531. This bill is a comprehensive election reform package that that works to strengthen absentee ballot requirements, standardize voting procedures across Georgia’s 159 counties and ease restrictions on military voters. Access is also of great importance as every Georgian legally eligible to cast a ballot should be able to do so.
We are committed to removing barriers to access and providing all voters with critical election resources and information. Partisan voices and dark money groups want you to believe that safeguards equal suppression. This is false. We can—and WILL—enhance election security while increasing voter access legally and fairly.
Tax Cuts & New Jobs for Georgians
We are pleased to announce the passage of a number of bills aimed at assisting our state’s economic recovery through tax relief and job growth. These bills came in the form of House Bill 593, House Bill 586 and House Bill 587.
House Bill 593, or the Tax Relief Act of 2021 will cut income taxes during the tax year 2022 by the following:
- Increasing the standard deduction for taxpayers that are single and heads of household from $4,600 to $5,400 and
- Increasing the standard deduction for a married couple filing jointly from $6,000 to $7,100.
- Increasing the standard deduction for married couples who file individually from $3,000 to $3,550.
In short, HB 593 would save Georgia taxpayers approximately $140 million, allowing taxpayers to keep more of their hard-earned money.
Further, we overwhelmingly passed House Bill 586, the “Georgia Economic Recovery Act of 2021.” This bill will extend a number of sales tax exemptions for manufacturing and other businesses. Exemptions include:
- Sales tax exemptions for projects of regional significance and for supplies in select manufacturing industries.
- Tickets for fine arts performances from sales taxes to bolster an industry gravely impacted by COVID-19.
House Bill 587, or the “Georgia Economic Renewal Act of 2021,” also passed overwhelmingly. This bill would make multiple amendments to Georgia’s income tax laws, including a tax credit to incentivize manufacturers of medical equipment to locate and create jobs in Georgia. The bill also makes way for an additional tax credit to attract high-impact aerospace defense projects to our state.
To ensure the continued support of the less populated areas in the state, we successfully passed House Resolution 185 and House Bill 32. HR 185 reauthorizes the House Rural Development Council, which has been key in our efforts to spur economic growth and bring jobs specifically to rural Georgia.
House Bill 32 seeks to recruit and retain 1,000 Georgia teachers to extremely rural or low-performing schools by offering a refundable income tax credit of $3,000 for certified teachers for up to five years. This credit would be available to teachers who work in a high-need subject area at a rural school or at a school that performed in the lowest five percent of schools.
Monitoring Devices in Nursing Homes
Last week also brought the passage of House Bill 605 to protect Georgians by allowing electronic monitoring devices, such security cameras, to be installed in residential rooms of skilled nursing facilities, intermediate care homes, assisted living communities or personal care homes. Stipulations of the bill are as follows:
- Required consent from any roommate if applicable.
- Allows internet access through an outside service provider for these monitoring devices.
- Required signage at the entrance of a resident’s room to notify that the room has an electronic monitoring device in place.
Further, HB 605 would protect a resident’s privacy and rights to keep recordings confidential, and it would prohibit a facility from discriminating against residents who wish to utilize these devices. We are hopeful this legislation will lessen cases of elderly abuse and give loved one’s piece of mind.
This week we will resume are legislative business in completion of week nine. As always, please be on the lookout for future updates regarding your House of Representatives. If you need anything at all, please let me know. Thank you for allowing me the honor of serving you under the Gold Dome.