Now that the “small” or amended budget for 2021 is done in the House and off to the Senate, we spent the last week starting up our committee work.
I am on many committees. I chair Special Rules, which primarily oversees the study committees that will be conducted the following year. I am also the secretary of Education, which oversees the largest bite of the budget at 43%. I’m also on Economic Development and Tourism, Energy and Telecomm, Appropriations, Creative Arts and Entertainment, and Interstate Cooperation.
The committee I am most active with is a combined House and Senate body that I created. The Governor’s Joint Defense Commission works to make Georgia the friendliest state in the nation for our 120,000 service members and 750,0000 veterans.
I am working on many bills this year.
The first is HB 32, the Teacher Tax Credit bill. It is exactly the same as last year’s HB 736 which passed unanimously in the House but was lost in the Senate because of COVID. It would be an incentive for teachers who choose to work in a very rural or poorly performing school $3,000 for five years. The pilot program would be capped at 1,000 total teachers, so the cost would be $3 million a year.
The second is HB 33, involving Military Retirement Income Tax Credits. Only eight states in the nation tax military retirement, and Georgia is one of them. Almost all our bases are near the borders of South Carolina, Alabama, and especially Florida, which do not tax military retirement income. Thus, Georgia is losing tens of thousands of well-qualified, patriotic, hard-working veterans to our neighboring states. HB 33 is based on the South Carolina model, which phases the cuts in over five years. The cost is $30 million. We spend nearly a billion dollars to attract movie stars; why don’t we do that for our veterans?
HB 34 is an Audiology Compact bill that would allow speech therapists to work in Georgia if they have a license in another participating Compact state. I have passed several Compact laws before. They are requested by the military so their dependent spouses can easily practice their trade when they move to a new duty station. Compacts also increase healthcare accessibility, especially to rural areas.
HB 288 would revise minimum sentences before a convict would be up for parole. It arose from the horrible Peter Mallory case where a convicted peddler in child-pornography was sentenced to 1,000 years of prison for his loathsome deeds. However, much to everyone’s disgust, he was given parole after serving only seven years.
HB 289 would simplify the requirements for a young person to get a driver’s license. The current law is a bizarre mish-mash, haphazardly passed on the floor of the Senate that is nearly impossible to understand. This bill would also allow young people who enlist in the military to take the driver’s test without having to wait a full year. This is important to the military, as well as to our brave Georgia sons and daughters who devote their lives to protecting our freedoms.
I am also the co-sponsor of a Return to Work bill that would allow retired teachers to return to the classroom at full pay if the local system is willing to pay their TRS portion. I have been working on this bill for four years now, and am glad the governor has included it in his Teacher Pipeline Package.
If that seems like a lot of bills, it is. Most legislators do not pass any bills at all. I have been blessed to fully pass more than 20 bills of my own over the past few years. More importantly, because of my work with my Military Affairs committee, I have led the passage of more than 45 new laws to help our military.
Dave Belton is a Republican from District 112, serving in the Georgia House of Representatives, serving Morgan and Newton counties.