Several important bills passed the House this year, none more important than the budget.
Georgia did financially very well during COVID, fourth best in the nation, while suffering about the same average of fatalities as other states. Because of the governor’s prudent policies, we now have a $3.7 billion surplus from last year. This year’s numbers are even better, as revenues are up 16% more than expected. Therefore, the budget this year will include several pay increases; to teachers, state troopers, and state and university employees. It also includes a tax exemption for military retirees, something I’ve been working on for years. It also includes a $1.6 billion income tax cut for everyone, and another one-time tax cut refund credit worth from about $250-$500 to every citizen. And, to offset the soaring price of gas caused by the president’s war on American-made fossil fuels and the horrible War in Ukraine, Georgia is enacting a one-time tax holiday on fuel through May.
Education is also seeing a lot of bills. We are fully funding Education again, and are backfilling the cuts that were made during COVID. To my knowledge, this is the first time we’ve ever backfilled expenditures from previous years. The “Parents Bill of Rights” is a bill that provides transparency between parents and educators, giving parents a clear process for increased participation in their child’s education. Transparency is almost always good in a free society. Another bill ensures that pornography is not allowed on internet that is provided by schools. Another bill seeks to ensure that “divisive ideologies” are not taught in schools, while the “Unmask Georgia Students Act” allows parents to opt out of school mask mandates.
Law and order is a big focus this year. The House instituted greater penalties for fleeing the police, unlawful possession of guns, possession of child pornography, child molestation and human trafficking.
We’re also helping farmers with the Freedom to Farm Act. But the biggest focus this year is on Mental Health. Studies everywhere have shown that millions of Americans, especially children, are suffering greatly due to the COVID restrictions. HB 1013, led by the Speaker, ensures that insurers must meet their lawful obligations to treat mental health issues. Thirty-three other states protect their citizens this way. The bill passed the House almost unanimously.
I am working on two bills this year. The first is a much needed update (on a law that was passed in 1985) on licensure requirements for mental health counselors. The bill streamlines the process, which is taking forever due to excessive bureaucracy. If the bill passes, nearly 2,000 more counselors will be working in Georgia almost immediately, with another 7,000 on the way. The other bill that I am working on is a direct request from the Secretary of Defense regarding military spouse licensure. Twenty-eight states offer this grace to their military families. Georgia should do the same.
Speaking of the military, my heart breaks for Ukraine. The entirety of my military career, and my father’s military career, has been spent trying to keep the Free World so strong, that no despot would dare such a brazen assault. For almost 80 years, both Democrat and Republican presidents wisely kept that peace.
But it’s not just the military that must remain strong. When the Free World is not energy independent, then the Free World is reliant on bad-actors like Russia, Iran and Veneela.
A few years ago, for the first time in decades, America was Energy Independent. We were in a position of strength, and thus, the bullies of the world remained reluctantly passive. Now, because of Biden’s America-last policies, we are begging those very same nations, as well as OPEC, to sell us the very same Energy we were producing ourselves.
The results are catastrophic. Not only do American workers produce that energy more cleanly, but we do it at a price that doesn’t double in a year. But vastly more important is the cost of human lives, slaughtered civilians – women, children…even babies – that would still be alive if Putin thought that America wasn’t weak.
Like the American soldier who protects us, like the American farmer who grows our food, American Energy Independence is a national security issue.
Rep. Dave Belton is a Republican from District 112, representing Morgan and Newton counties in the Georgia House of Representatives.