Legislative session week 2
I was back at the Capitol on Tuesday following the Martin Luther King holiday. Tuesday, all day was a joint House Senate Appropriations Committee meeting. The morning started with the Governor talking about his recommendations for both the amended FY16 budget and the AFY 17 budget. Once the Governor completed his remarks and answered questions, we move to hearing from the different agencies and departments. Those who wanted very little changed spent their time sharing the highlights of the last year. While others, gave a line-by-line account of what is in the budget and why it was different that previous years. This process then continued on Wednesday and Thursday in the appropriation subcommittees. Once we start putting the budget back together, I will go into more details of what is in the budget. However, there are two areas I do want to discuss. The first is in the Board of Regents budget. If you do not know, the Board of Regents oversees the University system of Georgia, which includes UGA, Georgia Tech and most of the Universities in the state. I am concerned that in their bond request was $60 million for “major repairs and renovations” that Chancellor Huckaby could not give me a list of these projects. To ask for $60 million dollars and not tell us where you want to spend it is not acceptable. In addition, he presented a graph that showed $60 million was a standard amount they received, but showed they needed $211.7 million for “major repairs and renovations”. I also requested that he give us the entire list, as it appears we are not taking care of our current buildings around the state. I cannot see how we justify approving bond money for new construction of buildings at our colleges if we are not taking care of the ones we have. I have made a formal request for this information and hope it will come soon.
My second concern is in our DFCS budget. I know the tragic stories have affected us all in recent years. During the presentation of the budget, I asked if any specific items could help prevent these tragedies. The overload of the caseworkers was clearly the number one issue. DFCS caseworker should be handling no more than about 15 cases at a time. Right now, the average statewide is 19 per caseworker and in some counties caseworkers or over 25. Starting pay for a caseworker with a Bachelor’s degree is about $28K. To fully staff caseworkers to be down to the 1:15 ratio that is needed would cost about $10 million of additional spending. They did not even ask for it in the budget. We all want to be fiscally responsible and reduce the size of government, but those areas where government is needed; we should be doing what is needed. I have to believe we can find $10 million in wasted spending somewhere in the $23 billion to save the lives of some children.
I introduced two bills this week, both coming from constituent request. HB796 relates to service dogs. Service dogs are specially trained dogs to help people perform a daily life activity. The one most of us are familiar with are Seeing Eye dogs that help the blind. HB796 puts into law the definition of a service dog or service animal as follows: ‘Service animal’ means an animal that is trained to assist, do work, or perform tasks for a physically or mentally impaired person and which is actually utilized for the purpose of aiding such person in performing one or more major life activities. Such term shall also include those animals actively being trained to assist, do work, or perform tasks for a physically or mentally impaired person. The bill also does three additional things. It allows the Department of Human Services to authorize private agencies to issue cards to service dog owners that summarize the law granting these animals access to public places. 796 also makes it a misdemeanor to try to pass off an animal as a service animal when it is not one. It also makes it a felony to intentional kill or harm a working service animal. This bill was brought to me by several members of the blind community as what they call “fake” service dogs are creating problems for the true service dog.
The second bill I introduced this week was HB797. This bill repeals mandatory wearing of helmets by adults on mopeds and motorcycles. Several people have asked why I brought this bill, as I am not an avid rider (although I have ridden bikes in the past). The helmet issue was originally brought to me by a constituent regarding three wheel vehicles and specifically a Polaris slingshot. (Really cool vehicle if you haven’t seen one). I took this to the Chairman of the Public Safety Committee and he had no problem with removing the mandatory helmets for adults. He has been a bike rider for over 50 years and requested I include mopeds and motorcycles for adults only, which I did. I have been over whelmed by how much passion there is on both sides of the issue. As this bill goes through the committee process, my focus will be to continue to work for my constituent and remove the mandatory helmet for his slingshot and other 3 wheeled vehicles. I not sure how many adults actually ride a moped, but I do not see a need for mandatory helmets there either. As for motorcycles, it will be up to the committee members to decide if we join the 32 other states that do not require adults to wear helmets.
Legislative session week 2