By Curt Yeomans, Gwinnett Daily Posts
Starting with a biblical story about two homes — one built on a rock and the other on sand — Gov. Brian Kemp used a theme of building for the future through his first State of the State Address to the Georgia General Assembly.
Among the big items he announced were plans to provide a 2 percent merit pay increase for all state employees and raise teacher salaries by $3,000 while also funding school safety improvements, address mental health issues among students and staff in high schools, look for flexibility in addressing Medicaid issues and battle gangs, drugs and sex trafficking.
“We have more than unites us than divides us,” Kemp told the General Assembly. “Join us and let’s put hardworking Georgians first. I say pick up that hammer and some nails and together, let’s build a safer, stronger Georgia.”
The speech was a chance to look at some of the issues Kemp wants to push during the 2019 legislative session as well as some of his priorities for the state’s 2020 budget. Education, crime and health were key parts of Kemp’s address.
The urged the legislature to continue full funding for public schools in the state, but the teacher raises he announced are expected to be built upon at a later date. He called the $3,000 salary increase a “down payment” on a campaign promise to raise all teacher salaries by $5,000.
But he also laid out some funding ideas that he has to address school safety issues. A big part of that will be $69 million for one-time school security grants which would be split up so each school gets $30,000 for security improvements. He also pitched increasing APEX program funding by $8.4 million to address mental health issues in high schools.
“Together, we will secure our classrooms and protect our state’s most treasured assets: our children,” Kemp said.
Kemp said he intends to build on Nathan Deal’s criminal justice reform efforts, but he also wants to address gangs in Georgia, saying the gangs are “pawns for the Mexican drug cartels, pushing opioids and drugs.” In addition to drugs, the governor also tied gangs to the issue of sex trafficking.
He told legislators he wants to set aside half a million dollars that will serve as initial funds to set up a gang task force in the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to fight gangs and go after drug cartel “kingpins” who are in the state.
“This highly qualified group of experienced law enforcement personnel and prosecutors will work with local district attorneys and law enforcement to stop and dismantle gangs in Georgia,” Kemp said.
“By utilizing the criminal gang and criminal alien database, which will be funded with existing resources from the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, we will track and deport drug cartel kingpins who are terrorizing our communities.”
On the health care front, Kemp said he wants to work with legislators to grow rural hospital tax credit and tackle a shortage of doctors. He also wants to put $1 million in the Department of Community Health’s budget to “craft state flexibility options for Georgia’s Medicaid program”
“We will expand access without expanding a broken system that fails to deliver for patients. We will drive competition and improve quality while encouraging innovation.”
He also touched on his Georgians First Commission, which he created by executive order on his first day in office to review regulations that might be seen as prohibiting companies from growing in the state.
“We will work to make government more efficient and put hardworking Georgians first,” Kemp said. “I’m confident that we can build a stronger, more diverse economy.”