We began our fifth week of session on Monday, Feb. 8 of last week and by the end of the week we were halfway through the legislative session. This week we focused our efforts on protecting your religious freedoms, bringing more transparency to education, and making life easier for our active duty military families as well as our Veterans.
Along with a full week of floor votes and committee work I was thrilled to welcome 24 of Polk County’s brightest sophomore students from both Cedartown and Rockmart High School to the Capitol as part of their participation in Polk Youth Leadership. I enjoyed getting the opportunity to visit with these future leaders and discuss the legislative process with them.
On Feb. 11 I was proud to join each and everyone of my House colleagues in voting to support House Bill 757, also known as the Pastor Protection Act, which passed unanimously. HB 757 provides much needed certainty to pastors and other clergy members that they will not be required to perform any marriage which violates their faith.
This bill further protects churches, synagogues and other places of worship as well as religious organizations from being required by state or local government to host an event which violates their religious doctrine. The Pastor Protection Act also protects businesses, like Chick-Fil-A, which close on Sundays out of respect for their faith, from any ordinance which might require them to be open on a day of rest (Saturday or Sunday).
We are blessed by the freedom of religion in our great nation, and I was proud to stand with a united House to support the rights of all Georgians to uphold your religious values.
Education continues to be the top priority of the Republican led Georgia State House. As your representative, I believe you have a right to know how your tax dollars are being spent in your local schools. That is why I was proud to support HB 659 which continued our efforts to increase transparency in Georgia’s school systems.
HB 659 would require each local board of education and state charter school in Georgia to make financial information for each individual school available for the public on their website as a way to provide transparency within our public schools. Furthermore, each school and district would send budget information to the Department of Education, where the information would then be compiled by the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement and published on its website as well.
This legislation would require the posting of the costs of all materials and equipment, staff salaries and benefit expenditures, professional development including annual training and tuition, facility maintenance and small capital projects, and new construction or major renovation on a cost-per-square-foot basis for each individual school. Similarly, the local school board would be required to publicly post their annual budget, along with audits, ratio of expenditures to revenues, total dollar amount of local property tax revenue the school system is authorized to collect in addition to the total program mill levy, and the total dollar amount of all other tax revenue collected to their website as well.
Education funding accounts for more than half of our state budget each year and transparency of those funds is essential to establishing an open dialogue about the needs of our local school systems. Most importantly, by passing this legislation, we can continue to serve the best interests of our students and teachers at both the state and local level
Many of you have contacted me with concerns regarding the instructional forms that are being used in some classrooms in Georgia. Like you I want to make sure the materials used to educate our children reflect our Georgia values. House Bill 739 provides much needed oversight to both parents and the state to help monitor these instructional materials by creating mechanisms for both the State Department of Education and local boards of education to study and recommend instructional material and content. As a part of this process, for both state and locally approved instructional material, either the local or State Board of Education would post a list of all proposed instructional material and content on their website for public viewing in addition to making all proposed instructional material and content available for individual review upon request.
The legislation serves as a way to increase parental involvement, increase transparency, provide greater access to proposed classroom material, and allow for more local control of our education system. This bill gives parents the opportunity to be more involved in their child’s education by providing input on the materials that are being taught in the classroom and I am confident more parental involvement will ultimately result in a better future for Georgia students.
We owe a great deal of gratitude to those brave men and women who are serving in our country’s military and should take every step we can to support Georgia’s military spouses and veteran population. HB 821 would require all state licensure boards to streamline the licensing process, specifically for military spouses and transitioning service members who move to Georgia from another state.
The bill would allow eligible service members and spouses to qualify for temporary occupational licenses, licenses by endorsement, or expedited licenses to better facilitate their entry into Georgia’s workforce. Military spouses and transitional veterans are eligible if they hold a license from another state where the training, experience, or testing meets or exceeds that of the Georgia license requirement they are seeking.
Transitioning veterans are also eligible if they are currently on active duty status or are within 24 months of their retirement and have received a specialty, certification, training, or experience in the military while a service member that meets or exceeds that of the Georgia license requirement they are seeking.
We have 12 military bases throughout this state and have the fifth largest military population in the nation, and this bill addresses a real concern thousands of military families have faced. Streamlining the licensure process for qualified military spouses and transitioning veterans will give these individuals who want to enter our workforce and provide for their families the chance to do so in a more efficient and simple manner. I was honored to join my colleagues in an act of solidarity to give back to those veterans and their families who have given so much for this state and our nation.
I cannot focus on this week without also taking a minute to pause and reflect on the tragedies that touched our community. This week our community suffered a horrific tragedy at the JCG Feed Mill in Rockmart that cost one young man his life and caused life threatening injuries to others. In recent days, our community has lost many of our best citizens including one of my best friends Jimmy Lester. I ask each of you to pray for those affected by the explosion at JCG and for the families of those who lost loved ones within our community. This is certainly a difficult time for the 16th District, but I know our resolve is great and that together through prayer and the strength of God we will get through these trying times.
With 20 days completed in the 2016 session, I am proud of the work we have already accomplished, and hope you are too. It is my honor to serve as your Representative. I take my responsibilities seriously, and make it a point to carefully weigh any legislation which crosses my desk for a vote. To help me accomplish this goal, please feel free to contact me to share your opinion on pending legislation or if I can help you in any other way. My cell phone is 770.324.2275 and you can reach me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, I ask you to keep me and our other state officials in your prayers.
May God Bless You and Your Family,