State Rep. Trey Kelley (16th District) and State Sen. Bill Heath (37th District) provide the following columns on a weekly basis for media outlets. We have elected to publish them weekly through the legislative session as part of the Standard Journal’s coverage of state house issues. - KM
We have now completed four weeks of the legislative session. Last week the House undertook many important measures, but I would like to focus your attention on legislation passed last week relating to education and law enforcement.
It is no secret that education is one of the General Assembly’s top legislative priorities; therefore, we unanimously passed House Bill 801 this week to encourage students to take college courses in certain areas. HB 801 would change the GPA weighting system for HOPE Scholarship recipients who take certain science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) courses. Under HB 801, a student completing a class selected for extra weight would receive .5 added to his or her grade when calculating the HOPE scholarship GPA. During his State of the State address, Governor Nathan Deal targeted 11 areas, all in STEM related fields, under the Strategic Industries Workforce Development Grants as part of his continued plan to strengthen Georgia’s workforce and address the job skills gap. By providing additional GPA weight to courses where our state sees the most need, we are making strides to bridge the skills gap in Georgia without risking the scholastic fulfillment of our students.
We also passed two measures last week intended to ease the burden on our public safety officers who spend their entire careers working to protect the well-being of all Georgians. The first was House Bill 421, legislation to provide enhanced disability benefits to community supervision officers employed by the Department of Community Supervision who become permanently disabled due to an act of external violence or injury incurred in the line of law enforcement duty. Under HB 421, deputy conservation rangers with the Department of Natural Resources, parole officers with the State Board of Pardons and Paroles, probation officers with the Department of Corrections, and any community supervision officer with the Department of Community Supervision would be eligible for a monthly disability compensation of $5.00 per month for each year of creditable service. The bill further calls for a minimum monthly disability retirement benefit equal to two percent of their monthly earnings beginning the month their permanent disability occurred until mandatory retirement age.
House Bill 690 was another bill passed in the House last week that acknowledges the brave service and sacrifices our public safety officials make for our communities and our state. This bill allows any individual who is a member of the Uniform Division of the Department of Public Safety, a conservation ranger with the Department of Natural Resources, an officer or agent of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, a district attorney investigator paid from state funds, or an alcohol and tobacco officer or agent of the Department of Revenue to claim creditable service towards retirement if he or she previously worked for a local law enforcement agency for up to five years. In order to be eligible to claim those retirement years, officers must be vested in the state’s Employee Retirement System (ERS) for at least 10 years and ineligible for a defined contribution retirement or pension plan while employed at the local law enforcement agency. HB 690 will allow our public safety officers to recoup their years of service, but will have a zero dollar cost to the state. I was proud to support this legislation and show my unwavering appreciation for the public safety community in Georgia.
With 16 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,