In the eighth week of the 2021 session of the Georgia General Assembly, the House of Representatives passed our version of Fiscal Year 2022 appropriations. 

House Bill 81 covers the fiscal year from July 1, 2021, through June 30, 2022, and increases spending over the current fiscal year by 5.2 percent. 

Nearly 90 percent of the $27.2 billion in state funds will be invested in education and health and human service agencies. Education will receive $10.2 billion, which is the single-largest amount of funding. 

The House bill adds $58.5 million to the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities. That will fund addictive services for 2,700 more people and mental health services for another 5,200. It will provide a rate increase for providers of services to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and will create the nation's first behavioral health crisis center for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Mental health services for children also will be expanded in the upcoming fiscal year. Fifty-nine more schools will participate in the Georgia Apex Program that provides therapy in the schools. We also are taking steps to prevent youth suicides by adding positions for a youth suicide prevention specialist and a suicide epidemiologist; and by increasing funding for suicide prevention training and services in the schools, and the 988 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.  

This budget also recognizes $39.5 million for the new Rural Innovation Fund and $10 million to establish a broadband infrastructure grant program for rural communities. The new excise tax on the ride-share industry is projected to bring in $7.65 million in revenue for new transit projects across the state.  

Now that the House has approved its version of the new budget, the Senate is making its own proposed revisions. A conference committee of House and Senate leaders will finalize the budget prior to the final votes of both chambers and the governor’s signature.

TAX CUT FOR WORKING GEORGIANS

The House passed a handful of bills to cut taxes and to spur economic recovery. The one most likely to impact your family's budget is HB 593, which will cut income taxes by raising state income tax standard deductions. The deductions for single and heads of households will be $5,400; for married couples filing jointly $7,100; and for couples filing separately, $3,550. We expect this to save Georgia taxpayers about $140 million in taxes beginning in 2022. 

Also, to recruit and retain 1,000 certified teachers to work in 100 extremely rural or Georgia's lowest-performing schools, we passed HB 32 to provide refundable income tax credits of $3,000 per year for up to five years. 

SECURING GEORGIA’S ELECTIONS

With more and more Georgians using absentee ballots that are marked privately and away from polling places, the House on March 1 passed HB 531 to ensure the integrity of the paper ballots and their methods of collection.

The bill would do away with the current method of ballot authentication — the subjective comparison of ballot envelope signatures with those on original voter registration applications — and instead require that voters provide copies of their driver’s licenses or other forms of picture IDs. The ballots themselves would remain anonymous.

The bill also would implement a special security paper for absentee ballots and push up the deadline for requesting absentee ballots to 11 days before an election. This has been recommended by the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia and numerous county election directors. 

HB 531 also would better regulate the number, placement and supervision of drop boxes, and it would prohibit the use of mobile voting units except during emergencies declared by the governor at a particular precinct. The bill will add criminal penalties for ballot harvesting of absentee ballots and better regulate third-party mailing of unofficial absentee ballot applications in order to reduce voter confusion. The Secretary of State’s Office would be allowed to mail out absentee ballot applications only to voters who request them.

Under the bill, election officials could begin the early processing and scanning of absentee ballots up to two weeks prior to Election Day. They would be required to start that process one week before Election Day and to notify the public of the dates, times and locations of that work.  

HB 531 would shorten lines on Election Day by creating one voting precinct for every 2,000 voters and by prohibiting out-of-precinct voting by provisional paper ballots that tie up staff who must verify and duplicate those ballots. 

At the request of local election officials, HB531 also would require training of poll watchers and make sure poll watchers can observe vote tabulation. 

Finally, the bill would eliminate “jungle primaries” for statewide offices that are filled by the Governor. The primary for the unexpired term of U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson was an example of a jungle primary, in which 20 candidates ran in the same primary regardless of political party. If HB 531 becomes law, jungle primaries would be replaced by party primary and general special elections.

As you can see, the pace of work under the Gold Dome has intensified. Everything we are going to accomplish must be finished by March 31, which will mark the end of the session. 

Thank you for the opportunity to represent District 116. If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to contact me at 404-463-2245 or at terry@terryenglandforgeorgia.com. May God bless you and your family, this wonderful county, our great state, and our nation.

Rep. Terry England has served in the Georgia House since 2005. District 116 includes most of Barrow County. In addition to chairing the House Appropriations Committee, he is an ex-officio member of the Ways & Means Committee and a member of the Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee, the Education Committee, the Industry and Labor Committee, and the Natural Resources and Environment Committee.

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