Starting on Monday, January 13, 2020, the Georgia General Assembly will begin its race towards the finish line. The Georgia Constitution only grants the assembly 40 days to complete all its work. While the days do not have to be continuous, the assembly’s traditional deadline of late March or early April does not allow for much dawdling.
With that in mind, it is never too early to double check who your elected officials are at Open States. Make sure to enter your entire home address, as multiple elected officials can represent the same ZIP code. You can also confirm their contact details and committee assignments at the official Georgia General Assembly website.
Remember, your elected officials cannot represent your opinions if you have never taken the time to educate them on issues of importance to you. Whether you have new folks or old folks, be sure to take some time to re-introduce yourself. Your elected officials work for you, so put them to work for your interests! A government of the people and for the people only works if the people raise their voice. We at the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) are counting on you to do just that.
For a quick recap on how a bill becomes a law in Georgia, be sure to check out Georgia Public Broadcasting’s short video on the legislative process.
2020 Session Theme: Budget, Budget, Budget
As the Georgia General Assembly’s only required task, the passage of our state’s balanced budget is always a highlight of each year’s session. However, this year is sure to be one for the books as Governor Kemp, in early August, directed state agencies to propose massively impactful, 6 percent cuts to their fiscal year 2021 budget. To put that into perspective, the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD) alone was tasked with finding areas to cut, totaling approximately $56 million. Agencies submitted proposals in September, which provided us all with a preview of what to monitor during the upcoming session.
Although many of the cuts come from state agencies’ administrative and operational budgets, there are service areas that will likely be impacted. For example, DBHDD has proposed cutting approximately $1 million from each of the following developmental disability service areas: Marcus Autism Center, family support services and assistive technology and research.
Also impacted by the governor’s directive will be DBHDD’s yearly proposal for new Medicaid NOW/COMP waiver slots. Typically, DBHDD requests additional funds for approximately 125 new waivers each year. In addition, they request funds to annualize approximately 250 waivers from the previous fiscal year. For the upcoming fiscal year, DBHDD only requested to annualize 125 waivers, and they are not requesting funds for any new NOW/COMP waivers. Given the waitlist of over 6,000 people in Georgia for NOW/COMP waivers, GCDD is very concerned by this change.
Finally, although GCDD receives primarily federal funding to continue the great work being done around the state, GCDD does receive state funding for our fantastic IPSE programs. GCDD is particularly concerned that the 6 percent budget cut will mean that IPSE funding is scheduled for a $50,000 cut for fiscal year 2021!
It is important to note that the changes are only proposed changes as of now, and cuts could be reorganized as the session progresses. Due to the possibility of additional cuts to services we care about, GCDD will be relying on your strong advocacy skills throughout session. Following Governor Kemp’s State of the State address in mid-January, the Governor’s Office of Planning & Budget will officially release Kemp’s budget recommendations. While ultimately the House of Representatives and the Senate decide what is included in the budget, the governor’s recommendations usually serve as guiding light. Be on the lookout for many updates on the budget, including what you can do about the proposed changes. We will also be including budget updates in our public policy calls and newsletter.
GCDD’s 2020 Public Policy Direction:
Disability in ALL Policy!
The Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities is governed by a 27-member board, appointed by the governor and comprised of at least 60 percent individuals with developmental disabilities and family members. Other members include policymakers that represent various agencies and organizations having a vested interested in persons with developmental disabilities.
Each year, the council comes together in the fall to formulate a legislative agenda to bring about social and policy changes that promote opportunities for persons with developmental disabilities and their families to live, learn, work, play and worship in Georgia communities. This year our council approved changes to our public policy department, which will allow GCDD to engage with legislators to ensure people with developmental disabilities are considered in ALL policy. Our 2020 legislative priorities are as follows:
HEALTH AND WELLNESS
We are committed to advancing sound policies that improve the overall health (physical, mental, emotional and sexual) of people with developmental disabilities and their loved ones. The following topics will be highlighted in our health and wellness policy initiative:
- DD Waivers
We will always include eliminating the waiting list for NOW and COMP waivers in our policy initiatives until the waitlist in Georgia is ZERO. These waivers allow individuals with developmental disabilities who qualify for an institutional level of care to receive the supports they need to live healthy lives in the community. As of August 2019, 6,048 Georgians with developmental disabilities were on the waiting list for a NOW or COMP waiver. Our advocacy around this very important issue remains as crucial as ever.
- The Shortage of DSPs: Workforce Crisis
We believe that a competent, well-trained and caring workforce of direct support professionals (DSPs) is essential to the health and wellbeing of individuals with disabilities who utilize home and community-based services. We support strategies to address this crisis so people with disabilities can have the care they need.
- Gracie’s Law (Organ Transplant Discrimination)
We support the Nobles family and Representative Williams in their efforts to ensure that people with developmental disabilities are not denied an organ transplant simply because of their disability status.
Inclusive education policies, starting with early childcare settings and continuing through postsecondary education, are necessary to assist Georgians with developmental disabilities in reaching their full potential. Currently, our education focus includes:
- IPSE Programs
We believe that all students, regardless of ability, should have access to postsecondary education programs in the state of Georgia. Inclusive postsecondary education (IPSE) programs provide students with intellectual and developmental disabilities access to education not otherwise available. Currently there are nine IPSE programs in Georgia serving approximately 139 students. They are Kennesaw State University’s Academy for Inclusive Learning and Social Growth, University of Georgia’s Destination Dawgs, Georgia Institute of Technology’s EXCEL, Georgia State University’s IDEAL, Columbus State University’s GOALS, East Georgia State College’s CHOICE, Georgia Southern’s Eagle Academy, Albany Technical College’s LEAP and the University of West Georgia’s Project WOLVES.GCDD is committed to the growth and support of IPSE programs because we recognize their value in preparing students to live increasingly independent lives within their communities.
- School-to-Prison Pipeline (SToPP)
GCDD works to address the targeted disparity of African American and other minority students who are disproportionately identified in special education. They often end up in the Georgia Network for Educational and Therapeutic Support (GNETS) system or expelled from school, which leads to a higher probability of incarceration. We support policy initiatives aimed at reducing the number of students being placed in the school-to-prison pipeline and look forward to the recommendations of the Senate Study Committee on Educational Development of African American Children in Georgia.
GCDD supports Georgia’s vision for a public system that funds employment supports first. We will work to advance policies that improve competitive, integrated employment options for Georgians with developmental disabilities. Some policy proposals include:
- Phasing out 14(c) certificates that currently allow people with disabilities to be paid subminimum wage
- Increasing the budgets of DBHDD and the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency (GVRA) to assist the organizations in increasing the hourly rate of Georgia’s supported employment services
- Reallocating funds from day habilitation program rates, which continue to be well above the national average, to supported employment rates, which continue to be well below the national average
Reliable transportation options are critical to ensure people with developmental disabilities are truly included in all aspects of their communities. GCDD supports policies that improve current transportation options, including House Bill 511 (HB 511), which aims to create a state agency focused on transit. HB 511 also includes a committee whose purpose is to ensure vulnerable populations, including people with low income, people with disabilities and people who are aging, have access to appropriate transit options. We believe this legislation will improve transportation for people with disabilities, particularly in the rural parts of our state.
GCDD supports policy solutions that provide the infrastructure and funding necessary to address the shortage of accessible, affordable housing options for people with developmental disabilities.
We believe Georgia’s budget highlights our state’s priorities, and GCDD strives to educate lawmakers on the importance on maintaining/increasing budget line items that impact Georgians with developmental disabilities. As described in our budget highlight, we believe it will be critical during 2020’s session to be vigilant of any changes to budget line items that might impact the supports and services on which people with developmental disabilities and their families rely. We will strive to keep each one of you updated on changes, and we know that you all will be ready to advocate when the time comes!
Frequently Asked Questions:
Q How do I find out when legislative committees are meeting?
A You can find the schedule for the House of Representative online at the State House calendar portal and the schedule for the Senate at the Senate calendar portal. If you plan to attend a committee meeting in person, plan to be flexible, as meeting times often change suddenly. Additionally, you can often watch committee meetings online. View State House meetings here. View State Senate meetings here.
Q How do I find the status of a bill?
A If you know the bill number, you can track it by visiting the official Georgia General Assembly website. Or you can read GCDD’s Public Policy for the People e-newsletter and participate in our public policy calls.
Q How can I help my school-aged child learn about the legislative process?
A Consider signing them up to be a page. Pages deliver messages to the senators and representatives when they are meeting in the legislative chambers. It is such an important job that there is even a Georgia law, O.C.G.A. §20-2-692, that states “children who serve as pages of the General Assembly during the school year, either at regular or special sessions, shall be credited as present by the school in which enrolled in the same manner as an educational field trip, and such participation as a page shall not be counted as an absence, either excused or unexcused.” To learn more about becoming a page, visit the Senate page program site and the House page program site.
How to get involved
- Attend GCDD’s Advocacy Days: 1/29, 2/6, 2/19, 2/27, 3/11
- Read GCDD’s e-newsletter Public Policy for the People 1/20, 2/3, 2/17, 3/2, 3/16, 3/30
- Participate in GCDD’s public policy calls at 9:30 AM on 1/13, 1/27, 2/10, 2/24, 3/09, 3/23 Dial-in #: 605-475-4063, Access code: 737-091
- Join GCDD’s Advocacy Network
Governor: Brian Kemp (Republican)
Lieutenant Governor: Geoff Duncan (Republican)
Secretary of State: Brad Raffensperger (Republican)
56 State Senators: (35 Republicans / 21 Democrats)
180 State House: (106 Republicans / 74 Democrats)