The Georgia House of Representatives resumed our work last week, beginning the sixth week of the 2019 legislative session. We started by convening for a joint session with our colleagues in the Senate to hear the Supreme Court of Georgia’s new Chief Justice Harold D. Melton deliver the annual State of the Judiciary address. I was extremely impressed, and I’d like to share Justice Melton’s viewpoints with you in this column.
State of the Judiciary
This was Justice Melton’s first annual address and he recounted the accomplishments of Georgia’s judicial branch and the challenges it will face in the year ahead. Due to the great relationships built between the judiciary branch, the state legislature and the executive branch, Chief Justice Melton reported that Georgia’s judiciary branch stands sturdy, stable and strong and is poised to meet the inevitable changes that lie ahead.
In his remarks, Chief Justice Melton praised the success of Georgia’s criminal justice reform initiatives, led by former Governor Nathan Deal. Through these efforts, Georgia has reduced recidivism rates, saved taxpayer dollars spent on Georgia’s high prison populations and strengthened communities by giving non-violent offenders the chance to become law-abiding and productive citizens.
One initiative that has made a critical impact in our judicial system, and I’m very proud of, is our accountability courts, or “specialty” courts, which provide effective alternatives to sentencing for nonviolent offenders. These specialty courts have been highly successful in combatting return offenders because judges, social workers and volunteers take the time to understand the struggles and the individual backgrounds behind the people they serve.
Chief Justice Melton went on to say that although Georgia continues to set a national example with our criminal justice reform measures, our communities can have even more success by addressing the root cause of criminal behavior before it reaches the courts. Chief Justice Melton challenged the House and Senate to consider initiatives that engage high risk individuals earlier in the timeline. An extraordinary number of Georgia children are placed in foster care, and the challenges that these children face often put them at higher risk of getting into trouble, dropping out of school, having unplanned teenage pregnancies and ultimately encountering the judicial system as adults. Chief Justice Melton reiterated the importance of keeping children with their families and out of foster care with the help of the Kinship Care program. Kinship Care works to give guardians like grandparents, relatives and even family friends who serve as guardians the legal authority they need to make medical, financial and educational decisions for the children. Chief Justice Melton encouraged us to support these efforts and use these tools to intervene and steer individuals on a better path to reduce the number of court cases and I thoroughly agree with him.
Nonprofit education funding
This week, we also passed House Bill 130 and House Bill 59 which expand educational opportunities for our K-12 students across our state.
In 2010, the Georgia General Assembly established the Georgia Foundation for Public Education (GFPE) to promote and implement educational initiatives and programs throughout the state. Under HB 130, the GFPE would be authorized to qualify as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, the foundation would be able to solicit and accept more funding to carry out its purpose of supporting educational excellence in public schools and at the Georgia Academy for the Blind, Georgia School for the Deaf and Atlanta Area School for the Deaf.
Streamlining school enrollment for Georgia’s military families
Additionally, the House passed HB 59 to ensure that military families that move to Georgia have the same access to public education as Georgia residents. HB 59 would allow parents or guardians on active duty in the military to pre-enroll a student in a local school district when they receive official military orders to transfer to Georgia, instead of requiring the family to establish residency first. This legislation would expedite the enrollment process for these students so that they can continue to learn without interruption. Both of these bills will help foster educational excellence and ensure that Georgia students achieve the best educational outcomes possible.
We have now officially reached the half-way point of the 2019 legislative session. As we get closer to “Cross Over Day,” please don’t hesitate to contact my office with questions or concerns you might have. My Capitol office number is 404-656–0177 or I can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, you are my top priority and I’m grateful to you for allowing me to serve as your Representative!
About the author: Representative Terry Rogers represents the citizens of District 10, which includes portions of Habersham and White counties. He was elected into the House of Representatives in 2011 and currently serves as the Governor’s Floor Leader and the Vice Chairman of the Economic Development & Tourism and State Planning & Community Affairs committees. He also serves as Vice Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Public Safety and the Defense & Veterans Affairs, Regulated Industries, Human Relations & Aging, and Rules committees.