Week 4 legislative update: Mandate relief, budget and tests

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Last week the Georgia General Assembly convened on Monday through Thursday for legislative days 14-17 of the 2010 Georgia General Assembly session. There were several important bills considered on the floor of the House; also a number of significant bills are working their way through the legislative committee process.

On Tuesday of last week the House passed H.B. 908 by a strong bipartisan vote. The measure provides local school systems with additional flexibility and freedom from certain state mandates to help in managing the current budget crunch.

Even as the economy as a whole begins to recover in the months and years ahead, it is widely recognized that the current economic downturn will have a significant impact on state and local revenues for years to come. It is important to give local governments more flexibility from certain regulatory mandates so as to allow for more efficient management of significantly diminished resources.

In that regard, the House passed H.B. 908 that provides for a three-year waiver of several regulations that mandate how certain state dollars are spent. The House will continue to work to identify areas of state regulation that can be relaxed or eliminated to help give public and private sector entities alike the ability to manage through this economic crises.

Last week the results were released on the second audit of Georgia’s CRCT test results. I and many of my colleagues were shocked at the number of schools that were flagged for possible cheating on these tests. Thankfully no Fayette County schools were identified for testing irregularities.

If these allegations are proven true, hundreds (and potentially thousands) of children’s parents, school officials and public policy-makers were denied the knowledge that a given child or classroom of children needed additional help and the ability to direct assistance to such children.

The students are the ultimate victims in any incident of cheating of this nature and it cannot be tolerated. We have too many good, hard-working teachers in Georgia for the few bad apples to undermine the perception of their efforts and the integrity of our testing system in Georgia.

This news further underscores the need for the legislation I introduced earlier this year on behalf of Governor Perdue that sets out a separate offense in state law for willfully and knowingly tampering with such state mandated tests. Current state law is inadequate in the effort to punish violators and deter potential violators.

HB 1121 will rectify the statutory inadequacies and give state and local officials the tools necessary to address these issues and I will work with my colleagues to move the bill forward in the weeks ahead.

On Thursday the House debated and passed the FY 2010 amended budget by a strong bipartisan vote. The amended budget required a 12.9 percent reduction in the version of the FY 2010 budget passed last year due to revenues coming in $1.15 billion less than expected during the current year.

We have now reduced the size of our state’s budget by well over 20 percent over the past two years. The spending reductions were necessary to get our state’s budget into balance, as is required by our constitution.

It is also important to note that the budget was balanced without the use of tax increases, a road many states are going down.

As has been the case in recent rounds of spending reductions, the smallest percentage reductions were in the most critical core state services such as education and public safety.

Education was again cut less than 3 percent, whereas most other departments were cut between 8 and 12 percent with some greatly exceeding that percentage cut. The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.

As always, I appreciate the feedback I continue to receive from members of this community. Please never hesitate to call on me if I can be of service.

[Rep. Matt Ramsey (R-Peachtree City) was first elected to the District 72 post in December 2007. He is a law partner with Warner, Hooper, and Ramsey, P.C., in Peachtree City. His email is matt.ramsey@house.ga.gov.]

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