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Rep. Ron Stephens: Working for a safer, healthier state
Ron Stephens
Rep. Ron Stephens

Rep. Ron Stephens

Guest columnist

The Georgia House of Representatives reconvened for the ninth week of session and Legislative Day 28, otherwise known as Crossover Day, on Monday, March 6.

Crossover Day is a crucial deadline for the House and Senate as this is the last day for bills to pass out of their chamber of origin in order to remain eligible for consideration this session. By the end of the week we had completed 31 days of the 40-day session.

We are scheduled to adjourn Sine Die on March 29.

The big news was the passage of the Fiscal Year 2024 Budget which was sent to the Senate. Each legislative session, the General Assembly has a constitutional obligation to pass a balanced state budget, and this week, the House of Representatives passed House Bill 19, or the Fiscal Year 2024 (FY 2024) budget.

The FY 2024 budget will go into effect on July 1 and is set at a revenue estimate of $32.4 billion, which is $2.2 billion, or 7.4 percent, more than the Fiscal Year 2023 (FY 2023) budget. This budget reflects many of the House’s priorities that focus on keeping Georgians safe, healthy, and prosperous, and I want to bring your attention to just a few of our major initiatives.

As usual, funding for education makes up more than half of the FY 2024 budget. Georgia’s K-12 public school system would receive a record-setting $13.1 billion to fully fund the Quality Basic Education (QBE) formula.

Within this QBE funding, the Georgia Department of Education would be allocated $6.3 million to cover the cost of breakfast and lunch for reduce-paying students, which is expected to provide free breakfast for approximately 32,000 children and free lunch for 64,000 children. This budget would also make significant investments to support higher education, especially for programs that support our high-demand medical career fields. H.B.

19 would also provide an additional $26.7 million to bring the HOPE Scholarship program factor rate to 95 percent of the previous year’s tuition costs; this funding would provide more financial relief to every student that is eligible for the scholarship.

Another portion of the House’s FY 2024 budget is dedicated to providing much needed pay raises for our state’s public workforce. This budget includes $13.2 million to provide $4,000 in targeted salary adjustments for state law enforcement officers across various agencies to help increase competitiveness with surrounding states.

Other state employees and teachers would receive $2,000 raises, and certain agencies that need additional support recruiting and retaining workers would be able to provide even higher raises for critical positions. All of our retired state employees would receive a one-time $500 payment through this proposed budget.

To promote a safer Georgia, we set aside $2.7 million for a cold case specialty unit for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and $1.5 million for 21 additional positions in the GBI Division of Forensic Sciences to address the backlog of firearm, chemistry and toxicology evidence processing. The state’s 28 sexual assault centers would also receive $2.5 million for dedicated sexual assault nurse examiner positions at each of these vital centers.

Numerous Medicaid rate increases are also included in this budget. The state’s Medicaid program would receive a total of $35.1 million for reimbursement rate increases for health care providers, including primary care, OBGYN, home and community- based services, speech pathology, audiology therapy and more. The Medicaid program would also receive $2.8 million to cover adult dental services to increase access to oral health care; currently, the state only extends dental coverage for emergency dental care for Medicaid recipients.

Services for our more vulnerable populations, such as those with developmental disabilities or behavioral issues, would also receive an increase in funding in the House’s version of the budget.

This budget would add funding to increase the number of slots for the New Options Waiver and Comprehensive Supports Waiver Program to a total of 375 slots; this Medicaid waiver program provides incredible support to help those with intellectual or developmental disabilities to live and thrive on their own.

The House also recognizes the need for emergency mental health care in this budget, and as such, we included $29 million to support the establishment of behavioral health crisis centers in Fulton County, Augusta, Dublin and Rome. To retain our state’s mental health care workforce, the House dedicated $10.1 million in this budget to increase salaries for state psychiatric hospital staff to bring them closer to market salary.

Finally, HB 19 includes $2.25 million to increase staffing resources for the 988 suicide and crisis hotline.

My office number is (404) 656-5115 and my email is

I look forward to continuing this session and serving all of you.

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