Sunday, March 13, 2011

Capitol Update Week 9 - Budget, Insurance, Zero-Based Next

This week the House passed two key pieces of legislation. House Bill 47, that I co-signed, provides Georgians an option to purchase health insurance plans across state lines by allowing insurance companies licensed in Georgia to sell accident and health insurance policies that are approved for sale in other states. This simple change would create a more open insurance market with greater competition, ultimately resulting in less expensive health insurance options for Georgians.

The other key bill passed this week was House Bill 78, the Fiscal Year 2012 state budget. The 2012 Budget totals $18.1 billion and will direct spending from July 1, 2011 through June 30, 2012. While state funds increased 2 percent as a result of improving economic conditions, total spending for FY 2012 decreased by over 4 percent due to expiring federal stimulus funds. Our per capita spending, not adjusted for inflation, is below 2001 budget levels. We achieved these reductions by cutting spending an average of 7 percent in most state agencies and departments. Within the limited budget, however, we were able to provide some needed improvements that have statewide impact.

Using lottery funds, the House adjusted the Georgia Pre-K program so that it remains financially stable. Originally, the bi-partisan plan for preserving Pre-K would have reduced the program from six hours of daily instruction to just four hours of daily instruction. However, after consulting pre-K teachers and providers, a new decision was reached. Under this new plan, as implemented by HB 78, Georgia Pre-K will remain a full day, six hour instruction program. This ensures full nutritional and educational opportunities for 86,000 children next year.

Instead of reducing the number of daily hours, the new Pre-K plan will reduce the Pre-K year from 180 days to 160 days. Additionally, two more students will be added to each Pre-K class, moving the class size from 20 to 22. Since all Georgia Pre-K classes have a paraprofessional in the room, the student to teacher ratio will max out at 11 to 1. Further, Pre-K providers will receive 94 percent of the operating funds they currently receive, and Pre-K teachers will receive 90 percent of their current salaries.

Other noteworthy portions of the FY 2012 budget include restored Medicaid funding that allows low-income Georgians access to vision, dental, and podiatry services. We also restored funding for Alzheimer's Respite, Meals on Wheels, and Independent Care Waivers that serve aged, blind, and disabled Georgians. This budget also includes more than $19 million for economic development projects that will improve roads, bridges, and airports throughout the state as well as help bring jobs to out of work Georgians.

Next week our daily calendar is greatly expanded with 24 bills on the floor for consideration on Monday and a lengthy calendar expected for Crossover Day on Wednesday - Day 30.

As the end of session draws near, I encourage you to contact me with any comments or questions you have about the legislation being considered at the state capitol. You can reach me at my Capitol office at 404-656-7859 or on my cell at 404-966-5804 or via email at

Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative,

Brett Harrell

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Capitol Update Week 8

This week, as we passed the halfway point of the legislative session, the Georgia House passed several important measures - HB 326 HOPE preservation, HB 200 Anti-Human Trafficking, and HB 87 Anti-Illegal Immigration bills.

Under HB 326, next year, merit-based HOPE scholarship students attending public colleges and universities, as well as technical college students, will receive 90% of 2011 tuitionamounts. HOPE scholarship students attending private colleges and universities would receive $3,600 for tuition. The HOPE Scholarship will continue to require a 3.0 GPA, but will no longer cover books, fees or remedial college classes. The bill also creates the Zell Miller Scholarship, which will offer full tuition to Georgia's public colleges to students who graduate from high school with a minimum 3.7 GPA and1200 on the SAT or 26 on the ACT. To continue receiving the Zell Miller Scholarship these students will have to maintain a 3.3 GPA while attending college. Home school students continue to qualify for HOPE as they have in the past.

House Bill 200 targets the horrendous crime of human trafficking and gives victims of this crime a pathway out of their criminally forced servitude. Gwinnett's own Rep Buzz Brockway co-sponsored and spoke forcefully from the well in support of passage (view Rep Brockway video on HB 200 here).

With nearly 425,000 illegal aliens, Georgia has the seventh highest total illegal population in the nation. After exhaustive public hearings and 21 revisions, the House passed House Bill 87, legislation calling for fair practices for Georgia's laborers and local communities. Under HB 87, employers would be required to verify that newly hired employees are eligible to work in the United States by using the E-Verify system. Additionally, HB 87 requires secure and verifiable identification for official purposes, and helps local law enforcement agencies handle issues associated with illegal immigration. It is important to note that this legislation does not affect the existing H-2A visa programthat provides a legal avenue for foreign workers to temporarily come to Georgia and work with the agriculture industry in our state. Gwinnett again actively participated in this legislation as Rep B.J. Pak assisted in rewriting several sections to improve enforcement, eliminate profiling, provide a private cause of action, and preserve our clergy and non-profit community's ability to continue humane activities.

Now that House Bills 326, 87, and 200 have passed the House, they will make their way through the Senate committee process. If passed by the Senate and signed by the governor, these bills will become law.

Finally this week, HB 291, the bill I authored to prevent non-tax fees added to property tax bills had a preliminary hearing in the Ways and Means Ad Valorem Subcommittee. The meeting was well attended and the bill received great interest. I anticipate additional committee meetings in the near future.

Next week, the House will consider HB 175 that I co-sponsored with Rep David Casas, providing an Online Clearinghouse for local school systems to make online classes available to students across the state.

As I continue to consider sensitive issues and legislation, I need to know how you and your family feel about matters concerning the future of our state. Please feel free to call me with any questions or comments that you might have regarding HOPE, illegal immigration, public safety, or an outstanding member of our local community deserving recognition. You can reach me at my Capitol office at 404-656-7859 or on my cell at 404-966-5804 or via email at

Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative,


Brett Harrell