John’s Fireside

John Wilkinson1

Social Media Updates

Senator John Wilkinson shared Casey Cagle‘s video.

As Georgians, we owe our farmers a great debt. Our farmers are the lifeblood of Georgia communities, and they deserve a strong and dependable partner in the Governor’s Office. That is why I am proud to have worked with our agriculture industry time and time again to expand its opportunities, and why I will continue to do so as your governor.

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Senator John Wilkinson updated their cover photo.

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Praying for the families of the correctional officers who gave their lives in Putnam County yesterday. No resources will be spared to bring the fugitives to justice. Thankful for all the public safety personnel who sacrifice so much to keep us safe. We need to remember everyday and thank them at every opportunity.

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It was a pleasure to welcome the State Officers from all the Career Technical Student Organizations to the State Capitol today. Especially pleased to have the opportunity to visit with SkillsUSA Georgia Treasurer Grace Clayton from Stephens County High School and SkillsUSA Georgia Executive Director Ashley Brown. Quite an impressive group of young people!

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Senator John Wilkinson updated their cover photo.

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Thanks to Lt. Governor Casey Cagle for giving me this opportunity. We need to find new ways to support the law enforcement personnel who serve and protect us.

For more information about the COPS Task Force, please follow the link provided: ltgov.georgia.gov/press-releases/2017-05-25/lt-governor-cagle-announces-compensation-police-and-s…

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Senator John Wilkinson updated their cover photo.

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It was an honor to present Jeret Royston of the Franklin County FFA with the Warren Wilkinson Memorial WLC Scholarship at the Georgia FFA Convention in April. Jeret will have the opportunity to attend the Washington Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C. this summer where he will come together with FFA members from across the U.S. to discover how to become an effective leader by learning his purpose, how to value others, and how to take action. Congratulations, Jeret!

To learn more about the Washington Leadership Conference and Georgia’s scholarship recipients, read more here: www.gaaged.org/page.aspx?ID=60

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Senator John Wilkinson updated their cover photo.

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2016 Session Updates; Weeks 11 & 12

The 2016 Georgia General Assembly session officially came to an end on March 24th as the Senate adjourned Sine Die. The term “Sine Die” is Latin for “without assigning a day for a further meeting or hearing”. Therefore, when the gavel came down on Thursday night, the General Assembly adjourned until January 2017. Legislators and staff worked hard until the midnight deadline to thoroughly discuss dozens of pieces of legislation for the benefit of all Georgians. I have provided a recap below of some of the legislation that stood out to me in the past couple of weeks.

This week the General Assembly gave final approval of the 2017 Fiscal Year budget, which will now go to the governor’s desk for his approval. The final budget includes a 3 percent pay increase for state employees including teachers, school bus drivers, and lunchroom workers.  It has been several years since we have been able to reward these workers for the important role they play in the lives of our young people.

In addition, our Georgia State Patrol is receiving a much-needed raise with the new budget. Their pay is ranked among the lowest in the nation.  They render outstanding service to all the citizens of our state.  After several years without a raise, they will receive an additional 6% in salary with the new budget.  Also, we are providing a cost of living adjustment to our state retirees for the first time in many years.

Other state departments and agencies receiving a necessary increase in funding are the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the University of Georgia. This will add new UGA extension agents after many positions were cut around the time of the 2008 recession, and new research faculty positions in the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. Additions such as these allow the booming agriculture business in Georgia to continue to thrive and grow for years to come.

Finally, keeping education in mind, the budget includes $12,545,000 for the expansion of the Clarkesville Campus of North GA Technical College. Without funds dedicated to our trained and skilled workers who attend our state’s technical colleges, our state would not be able to grow and flourish.

House Bill 757, which after weeks of discussion and studying, became a combination of the Pastor Protection Act, the First Amendment Defense Act and the federal Religious Freedom and Restoration Act. The bill passed both chambers last week and will now go to Governor Deal’s desk for his consideration.

If the bill is signed by the Governor, it will allow those with deeply held religious beliefs to worship and practice how they believe is right. This bill also includes language requiring a public employee to complete the duties and responsibilities of their position and ensures that discrimination of any person or group will not be legalized. This effort took more than a year of hard work and discussion by some of our state’s top leaders, and it will now go to the governor’s desk.

A bill I helped sponsor, Senate Bill 364, passed in the House this week by a unanimous vote. SB 364 reduces the percentage that student growth accounts for in the evaluations of teachers from 50 to 30 percent, and requires student growth to count for 40 percent of the evaluations of principals and assistant principals, in certain schools. It also allows for multiple, formative student assessments to be used in place of an end-of-grade assessment.

HB 579 is a bill I carried in the Senate that allows farmers to haul farming supplies on the highway as long as the vehicle operator is over the age of 16 and is a licensed driver. The vehicles also have to display the “slow moving vehicle” triangle caution sign.  I also sponsored SR 1018 which encourages EPA to withdraw the Waters of the United States mandates.

There were a large number of other important bills passed this session, and as always, I encourage you to reach out to my office with questions or visit the state legislature’s website at www.legis.gov.

It is an honor to serve as your senator and I thank you for your feedback and support.  If I can be of any assistance, please feel free to reach out to my office at 404.463.5257 or by email at john.wilkinson@senate.ga.gov.

 

2016 Session Updates; Weeks 9 & 10

The 2016 Georgia General Assembly session officially came to an end on March 24th as the Senate adjourned Sine Die. The term “Sine Die” is Latin for “without assigning a day for a further meeting or hearing”. Therefore, when the gavel came down on Thursday night, the General Assembly adjourned until January 2017. Legislators and staff worked hard until the midnight deadline to thoroughly discuss dozens of pieces of legislation for the benefit of all Georgians. I have provided a recap below of some of the legislation that stood out to me in the past couple of weeks.

This week the General Assembly gave final approval of the 2017 Fiscal Year budget, which will now go to the governor’s desk for his approval. The final budget includes a 3 percent pay increase for state employees including teachers, school bus drivers, and lunchroom workers.  It has been several years since we have been able to reward these workers for the important role they play in the lives of our young people.

In addition, our Georgia State Patrol is receiving a much-needed raise with the new budget. Their pay is ranked among the lowest in the nation.  They render outstanding service to all the citizens of our state.  After several years without a raise, they will receive an additional 6% in salary with the new budget.  Also, we are providing a cost of living adjustment to our state retirees for the first time in many years.

Other state departments and agencies receiving a necessary increase in funding are the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the University of Georgia. This will add new UGA extension agents after many positions were cut around the time of the 2008 recession, and new research faculty positions in the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. Additions such as these allow the booming agriculture business in Georgia to continue to thrive and grow for years to come.

Finally, keeping education in mind, the budget includes $12,545,000 for the expansion of the Clarkesville Campus of North GA Technical College. Without funds dedicated to our trained and skilled workers who attend our state’s technical colleges, our state would not be able to grow and flourish.

House Bill 757, which after weeks of discussion and studying, became a combination of the Pastor Protection Act, the First Amendment Defense Act and the federal Religious Freedom and Restoration Act. The bill passed both chambers last week and will now go to Governor Deal’s desk for his consideration.

If the bill is signed by the Governor, it will allow those with deeply held religious beliefs to worship and practice how they believe is right. This bill also includes language requiring a public employee to complete the duties and responsibilities of their position and ensures that discrimination of any person or group will not be legalized. This effort took more than a year of hard work and discussion by some of our state’s top leaders, and it will now go to the governor’s desk.

A bill I helped sponsor, Senate Bill 364, passed in the House this week by a unanimous vote. SB 364 reduces the percentage that student growth accounts for in the evaluations of teachers from 50 to 30 percent, and requires student growth to count for 40 percent of the evaluations of principals and assistant principals, in certain schools. It also allows for multiple, formative student assessments to be used in place of an end-of-grade assessment.

HB 579 is a bill I carried in the Senate that allows farmers to haul farming supplies on the highway as long as the vehicle operator is over the age of 16 and is a licensed driver. The vehicles also have to display the “slow moving vehicle” triangle caution sign.  I also sponsored SR 1018 which encourages EPA to withdraw the Waters of the United States mandates.

There were a large number of other important bills passed this session, and as always, I encourage you to reach out to my office with questions or visit the state legislature’s website at www.legis.gov.

It is an honor to serve as your senator and I thank you for your feedback and support.  If I can be of any assistance, please feel free to reach out to my office at 404.463.5257 or by email at john.wilkinson@senate.ga.gov.

 


 

2016 Session Updates; Weeks 7 & 8

This week was our busiest yet here at Georgia’s Capitol as we worked long hours to discuss and pass legislation before we reach Crossover Day on February 29th. Crossover Day is observed the 30th legislative day of session, and serves as the last day for legislation to pass the chamber in which it originated in order for it to ”crossover”  to the opposite chamber for consideration. Any bill that does not receive a passing vote in its original chamber will not move forward in the legislative process and must be re-introduced next year.

The last two weeks have been full of legislative action for your state Senate. Since my last update, we have passed many significant pieces of legislation. One of our top priorities at the Capitol is education. I was pleased to support Senate Bill 364, which gives local school systems the flexibility to reduce the number of teacher classroom assessments and reduce the number of standardized tests for students. This will allow for our teachers to spend less time on testing and evaluations and more time with students in the classroom. This bill passed the Senate unanimously. The Senate also passed Senate Bill 312, regarding the HOPE Scholarship, which raises the minimum scholarship payment to $2,000 per semester for scholarship recipients and also states that scholarship recipients can be awarded up to one-hundred percent of the cost of tuition at lower cost schools. This bill will enable some students in our state to attend college who previously did not have the opportunity due to a lack of financial support. The Senate also took a stand last week in favor of our religious freedom in the state by passing House Bill 757. This bill will protect our religious rights and the rights of our faith-based organizations from discrimination resulting from their view on marriage. This bill will protect clergymen from conducting religious ceremonies that conflict with their religious views. It is important that we stand up for our fundamental right of religion in our great state.

Over this past week, I recognized FFA Day at the Capitol by sponsoring Senate Resolution 887. Georgia’s FFA chapter is composed of nearly 39,000 current members, which makes it the third largest FFA association in the nation. Georgia FFA State President Avery Duncan, from Franklin County, joined me in the Senate Chamber on Tuesday to thank my fellow colleagues for supporting the organization. We were also honored to be visited by new University of Georgia Head Football Coach Kirby Smart and Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin as guests in the Senate chamber. It truly is a humbling experience to represent Northeast Georgia during these special times at the Capitol.

It is always an honor to have visitors from District 50 here at the Capitol and I encourage you to attend as many public events as possible. As the legislative session continues, I look forward to working on your behalf.  If I can be of any assistance, please feel free to reach out to my office at 404.463.5257 or by email at john.wilkinson@senate.ga.gov.

 


2016 Session Updates; Weeks 5 & 6

The crisp, cool February weather made its way through Georgia this week as your state legislators arrive at the halfway point of the 2016 legislative session. We have been passing a number of bills that will benefit people all over Georgia, and we will continue to do so. I was proud to have a number of visitors from District 50 and some great Georgia organizations here at the Capitol recently, and I always welcome new or familiar faces.

When a state legislator wishes to highlight the accomplishments of a person, organization or community, we create a resolution to present to the entire chamber. Last week we celebrated Georgia Farm Bureau Day at the Capitol and this week, it was great to recognize a part of District 50 for Habersham County Day at the Capitol with Senate Resolution 814. Habersham County is home to some of the state’s most popular tourist and natural attractions, including Panther Creek Falls, the Chattahoochee and Soque Rivers and the “Niagara Falls of the South,” Tallulah Gorge. I was joined by Chairman of the Habersham Chamber of Commerce David Foster, who spoke of the importance of maintaining the community’s natural beauty.

Along with Habersham County Day at the Capitol, I stood with other members of the Senate to recognize February 10, 2016 as Young Farmers Day and to thank the Georgia Young Farmers Association for their contributions to the state with Senate Resolution 822. I was joined by Georgia Young Farmers Association President Derrick Wooten who thanked the Senate for their support of Georgia’s future agricultural leaders.

Congressmen Tom Price and Rick Allen visited the Senate on Monday to recognize the role state legislatures play in working with the federal government. Rep. Price currently serves as Chairman of the House Budget Committee and was a member of the Georgia Senate from 1996 until 2005 when he ran for District 6 of the U.S. House of Representatives. Rep. Allen was elected to Congress in 2012 and currently serves on the Agriculture Committee, as well as the Education and Workforce Committee. It is great to have these respectable men serving Georgia at our nation’s capital.

This week the General Assembly also passed the 2016 Amended Fiscal Year budget, which provided additional funding for bettering our education system. This was the only piece of legislation we were constitutionally required to pass, but that doesn’t mean we can go home just yet. We still have several other important pieces of legislation that need to be researched and discussed before they pass through the hands of the state legislature. Please contact me if you have any questions about what is in the budget or visit the website for the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget:  https://opb.georgia.gov/

It is always an honor to have visitors from District 50 here at the Capitol and I encourage you to attend as many public events as possible. As the legislative session continues, I look forward to working on your behalf.  If I can be of any assistance, please feel free to reach out to my office at 404.463.5257 or by email at john.wilkinson@senate.ga.gov.

 


2016 Session Updates; Weeks 3 & 4

With the pace of session picking up, I am working hard to make sure that the voices of people in Northeast Georgia are being heard as our days are flying by. Your other legislators and I are now attending committee meetings to discuss whether or not certain legislation will be brought to the Senate floor. Last week we were presented with Gov. Nathan Deal’s budget recommendations on the Amended Fiscal Year (AFY) 2016 budget, which takes into account extra funds that our state has earned this year, and the Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 general budget. There is much to be done, but I am looking forward to the challenge.

There are thirteen Appropriations subcommittees in the Senate that study each section of the state’s balanced budget to make sure funds are being distributed fairly and responsibly. As Chairman of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee and as a member of the Education Appropriations Subcommittee, I have been woking closely with those two sections of the budget.

Much of the additional funding in the AFY 2016 budget will go toward education. Our state continues to grow, and with growth comes more students to educate. It is impossible to predict the number of students who will enroll in our schools before the school year begins.  The amended budget makes it possible for our state to fund midterm enrollment growth. $98.1 million was put into the budget to pay for the services required due to the increase in students. For example, having more students will require more teachers and additional facilities. $27.1 million was added in the amended budget for HOPE Scholarships, as well as $3.1 million for Zell Miller Scholarships to meet our projected need.

The state budget is in its best shape since the recession of 2008, and we have already made great progress on deciding how funds will be allocated in 2017. Our tax revenue in FY16 grew by 6.3% over FY15 collections. This is a solid indication that our state’s economy is continuing to recover and allows us to deal with the challenges associated with our growing population. Please contact me if you have any questions about what is in the budget or visit the website for the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget: https://opb.georgia.gov/

It is always an honor to have visitors from District 50 here at the Capitol and I encourage you to attend as many public events as possible. As the legislative session continues, I look forward to working on your behalf. If I can be of any assistance, please feel free to reach out to my office at 404.463.5257 or by email at john.wilkinson@senate.ga.gov.

 


2016 Session Updates; Weeks 1 & 2 

For your Georgia lawmakers, a new year brings excitement and a fresh look at the needs of our people. Monday, January 11, 2016, marked the beginning of the second session of the 153rd Georgia General Assembly.  We have been preparing for months by looking at new topics and hearing the needs of our constituents. There will be 40 days to present, discuss and vote on legislation to be considered for signing by Gov. Nathan Deal in 2016. There are a number of topics that have caught my attention and I look forward to making the best possible decisions for District 50.

I pledge to work hard during the legislative session to educate myself on the most important issues affecting the daily lives of each and every person in Northeast Georgia. During his annual State of the State Address held on Wednesday, January 13, 2016, Gov. Nathan Deal announced plans to introduce legislation this year that would increase state school funding by $300 million and increase pay for our teachers and state workers by three percent. Our teachers and state employees have worked hard for the past several years without a pay raise.  Now that  our economy is improving, it is important to reward the ones who teach our children and provide vital state sevices.

The members of the State Senate have identified several priorities for discussion during the session.  We will be working to assess our state’s antiterrorism plan because live in a dangerous world and it is important that we are proactive to make the citizens in our state as safe as possible.  We will be considering legislation regarding religious freedom and the defense of the 1st amendment.  It is important that we reaffirm our commitment to the right of all our citizens to worship without fear of government intrusion or harrassment.  Healthcare infrastructure stabilization will also be an item for discussion.  It is critical for us to keep the playing field level in healthcare and to ensure that quality health care is available to all our citizens, especially in the rural parts of our state.

Although there are a number of issues planned for discussion, the Georgia General Assembly is only required to pass a balanced budget each year. To make sure this happens, we will need to work together to pass an Amended FY 2016 Budget for this year, and a General FY 2017 Budget for next year. After the budgets are completed, your other legislators and I will return to regular session days.

Every week during the legislative session, the Capitol is filled with many visitors attending events and meeting with their legislators. Throughout the first week, we celebrated Dalton Day on Tuesday and the Okefenokee reception was held on Wednesday.  Both were held at the Freight Depot across the street from the state Capitol where lawmakers and visitors stopped by for great food and great conversation.

It is always an honor to have visitors from District 50 here at the Capitol and I encourage you to attend as many public events as possible. As the legislative session continues, I look forward to working on your behalf.  If I can be of any assistance, please feel free to reach out to my office at 404.463.5257 or by email at john.wilkinson@senate.ga.gov.

 


Habersham County District Tour

Tuesday, October 6th, I had the great opportunity to meet with a number of elected officials and citizens in Habersham County. The morning began with a round table discussion in Cornelia with city leadership, followed by lunch with Habersham County officials at the Habersham EMC. After lunch we headed to Quality Foods for a meet & greet. While there, I had the opportunity to visit with customers while I helped them carry their groceries to the car! We finished the day with a great round table discussion in Demorest. It was a great and productive day. The most effective tool I have when representing our district at the Capitol is feedback and insight from our citizens. I would like to thank everyone that participated in the round table discussions giving me further guidance as how I can work best on the behalf of District 50. I would also like to thank Habersham County for their warm welcome.

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UGA Farm Tour

On September 3rd, I had the opportunity to participate in the University of Georgia’s Annual Farm Tour. The farm tour serves as an opportunity to showcase the agriculture industry’s $72 billion impact on Georgia’s economy. The tour also strengthens the relationship between the University of Georgia and the agriculture community by allowing an open dialogue between individuals with a vested interest in Georgia agriculture. As Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, I am grateful to have the opportunity to participate in this great partnership with UGA and other state leaders.

UGA Farm Tour Wilkinson

Rabun County District Tour

Thursday, August 27th, I had the great opportunity to meet with a number of elected officials and citizens in Rabun County. The morning began with a round table discussion in Clayton with city leadership and community activist.  I was then treated to a tour of the brand new Northeast Georgia Food Bank. This Food Bank is a pilot program and one of the first in the entire nation! I learned about the great services and partnerships that this facility will offer to our North Georgia communities. I look forward to the opening of this facility and plan to make another visit in the future.  After the tour, I was able to sit down with County officials to discuss their concerns.  Following my visit with Rabun County officials, I ended the day in Dillard where I was welcomed by city officials and citizens from Dillard, Sky Valley and Mountain City. All in all, it was a great day and I am humbled that so many folks joined in on our round table discussions. The best tool I have when representing our district at the Capitol is feedback and insight from our citizens. I would like to thank everyone that participated in the round table discussions giving me further guidance as how I can work best on the behalf of District 50.

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Jackson County District Tour

Tuesday, June 9th, I had the pleasure of meeting with a number of elected officials in Jackson County. The morning began with a round table discussion in Commerce with city leadership and council members. Following the Commerce meeting, I was treated to a Toyota Plant Tour. I then went to Jefferson, where the Mayor and entire City Council joined me for lunch and conversation. Following my visit with Jefferson officials, I made my way to the Jackson County EMC where I was able to sit and talk to the Jackson County elected officials. The day was a great way to touch base with one of the communities that I enjoy serving. Feedback and insight from our District 50 leadership is a great way to ensure that your voice is heard and needs are met down at the state Capitol. I would like to thank everyone that participated in the round table discussions for lending their time and guidance as I work on the behalf of District 50.

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2015 Session Update; Week 7 & 8

Thursday, March 5, the Georgia State Senate passed two significant pieces of legislation.   Senate Bill 133 will create Opportunity School Districts in Georgia and Senate Bill 129 ensures that Georgians can continue to express their religious beliefs without discrimination.

Let me provide some background for Senate Bill 133.  Several years ago a bill was passed to measure a school’s performance.  In district 50 we are blessed with some of the most outstanding school systems in the state and historically they have received high marks.  Unfortunately, some schools in the state consistently do not perform up to standards.  Recently, as Vice Chairman of the Senate Education Committee, I was invited to accompany Governor and Mrs. Deal along with a small group of legislators on a trip to view schools in New Orleans that had addressed a similar challenge successfully.  We spent two days visiting with parents, teachers, community leaders, school board members, and administrators regarding the progress that had been made.  This experience was helpful to me as the legislation was considered on the Senate floor.  All of our children deserve the opportunity for a good education and I believe this bill is a step in that direction.

SB 133 creates an Opportunity School District (OSD) to address low achieving schools in Georgia.  The OSD will select up to 20 schools in a single academic year, but will not exceed a total of 100 schools.  The schools will be chosen based on their performance over a three-year period, while taking various factors into consideration.  The selection process will include a public hearing allowing for community and parent involvement.  There is not a more important factor in a person’s quality of life than a good education.  I believe this bill provides hope to all of our students for just that.  I am pleased that the initial list under consideration does not include any schools in the 50th  Senatorial district.  This is a testimony to the educational opportunities in our district.

Religious freedom is a cornerstone in the foundation of our country.  To ensure the citizens of Georgia can continue to express our religious beliefs without discrimination we passed Senate Bill 129, the Georgia Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  SB 129 prohibits government from burdening a person’s exercise of religion unless the government admits a governmental interest.  A person can claim a violation of this in defense and receive appropriate relief from the government.  The protections set forth in SB129 do not apply to a situation in which a law is broken or safeties and securities are in danger.

Senate Bill 112 also passed this week.  It is a revision in the law regarding the removal and storage of deer carcasses.  In the future, you will be able to use an electronic device to tag your deer after harvesting it.

Please feel free to contact my office at any time to talk about pending legislation or address other concerns in our district.  I look forward to personally welcoming you to your Capitol.


 

2015 Session Update; Weeks 5 & 6

On Monday of Last week, the Senate passed SB 53, an extension of the sunset clause that was set by SB 65 last year, which would allow licensed professional counselors to perform certain emergency examinations of individuals who are mentally ill, or alcohol or drug dependent.

SB 3, the Supporting and Strengthening Families Act, was passed by the Senate on Tuesday, and states that parents may delegate power of attorney and authority regarding the care and custody of a minor child to another adult for up to one year.

The passing of Senate Bill 8, or Safe Harbor/Rachel’s Law, was a huge step toward ending child sex trafficking in Georgia. SB 8 establishes the Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Fund and Commission, which will offer medical treatment, counseling and other assistance programs to victims of child sex trafficking. This legislation will extend the statute of limitations for actions relating to childhood sexual abuse, provide state regulation of certain adult entertainment businesses and will require anyone found guilty of sexually exploiting a child to be registered in the State Sexual Offender Registry.

Senate Resolution 7 was also approved by the Senate, and calls for a constitutional amendment to be placed in the 2016 ballot for Georgia voters. SR 7 works alongside SB 8, and would permit the General Assembly to provide penalties or fees when a person is found guilty of keeping a place of prostitution, pimping and other types of sexual exploitation of children. The proposed amendment would also permit the General Assembly to impose assessments on adult entertainment establishments. I am pleased to see that we are able to protect the precious lives of Georgia’s children by passing legislation like SB 8 and SR 7.

As we continue to move forward, I will continue working on your behalf.  If I can be of any assistance, I encourage you to reach out to my office at 404.463.5257 or by email at john.wilkinson@senate.ga.gov.


2015 Session Update; Weeks 4 & 5

The 2015 Legislative Session is now in full swing, and weeks four and five in the Georgia State Senate have been nothing short of eventful. My colleagues and I have remained busy with discussions of meaningful legislation, including the passing of several significant bills. During the past two weeks, I was pleased to welcome several visitors from district 50 to the Capitol, and I joined with the rest of Georgia to readily embrace the appearance of some very temperamental weather.

Although skies were sunny last week, Georgia legislators were greeted on Monday of this week by a bout of ice and snow flurries, which resulted in all Georgia Legislative activities being canceled for the day.

With the assurance of safe travels, legislation resumed as scheduled on Tuesday, with the passing of Senate BIll 18. SB 18 allows the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) to accept prior work experience and skills learned through the Military for academic credit. SB 18 passed by a vote of 53-0. SB 18 also ensures that members of Georgia’s military have the opportunity to apply the knowledge gained through their service to their academic careers. Our military men and women have made vast sacrifices for our country, and deserve to be credited for the skills and knowledge they have gained through their service.

SB 62 also passed the Senate on Tuesday. Under current law, probate courts have jurisdiction over Game and Fish Code misdemeanor violations. SB 62 would remove certain limitations granting probate court full jurisdiction over all game and fish violations.

SB 58 passed with unanimous support on Wednesday, and would allow each member of the State Senate, along with the Governor and Lieutenant Governor, to recommend one high school student every year for an ROTC program in Georgia’s university system. SB 58 would encourage qualified Georgians be selected for the leadership education and military service training courses. This is a wonderful opportunity for Georgia’s young people to become involved in Georgia’s ROTC programs.

This week, I was proud to welcome several guests from District 50. I sponsored Senate Resolution 151 on Tuesday, congratulating Habersham County on their many accomplishments and declaring Wednesday, February 18, 2015 as Habersham County Day at the Capitol. It was a pleasure to be joined by my friends from the beautiful Habersham County, and they are always welcome at the Capitol.

Wednesday was another exciting day, as I was honored with the appearance of one of my childhood heros in the Senate Chamber. It was a joy to sponsor SR 91, honoring Clarence Landers “C.L.” Pritchett, who is a respected and talented race car driver and entrepreneur who was a star on the racetracks of the Southeast and in his tire business in North Georgia. C.L. Pritchett has always been a wonderful friend and hero of mine, and I am very thankful to have C.L. and his family visit the Capitol on Wednesday.

Looking back, the Senate passed SB 53 on Monday of last week. SB 53 extends the sunset provision on a bill passed last year that allows licensed professional counselors to perform certain emergency examinations of individuals who are mentally ill, or alcohol or drug dependent. The sunset date would be extended from March 15, 2015 to June 30, 2018. I see this bill as an opportunity to diagnose and aid these patients as early as possible to prevent further complications for Georgia citizens down the road.

SB 3, the Supporting and Strengthening Families Act, was also passed by the Senate last week, and states that parents may delegate power of attorney and authority regarding the care and custody of a minor child to another adult for up to one year.

The passing of SB 8, or Safe Harbor/Rachel’s Law last Thursday, was a huge step toward ending child sex trafficking in Georgia. SB 8 establishes the Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Fund and Commission, which will offer medical treatment, counseling and other assistance programs to victims of child sex trafficking. This legislation will extend the statute of limitations for actions relating to childhood sexual abuse, provide state regulation of certain adult entertainment businesses and will require anyone found guilty of sexually exploiting a child to be registered in the State Sexual Offender Registry.

Senate Resolution 7 was also approved by the Senate last Thursday, and works alongside SB 8. It would permit the General Assembly to provide penalties or fees when a person is found guilty of keeping a place of prostitution, pimping and other types of sexual exploitation of children. Being a father and grandfather, I am pleased to see that the General Assembly is making strides to protect the precious lives of Georgia’s children by passing legislation like SB 8 and SR 7.

With this cold weather lingering over Georgia, I hope everyone stays safe and warm. Remember to bundle up when you go outside! I don’t know about you, but I am looking forward to a warm spring soon.

I am humbled you have placed your faith in me to represent District 50’s interests at the Georgia State Capitol. Please feel free to contact my office at any time to talk about pending legislation or address other concerns in our district – my door and phone lines are always open.  I encourage groups who are interested in visiting the Capitol to call my office at 404.463.5257 to set up a date and time. I look forward to personally welcoming you to the Capitol!


2015 Session Update; Weeks 3&4

Last week, senators and representatives took a break from the legislative session to work with agencies from across the state to determine allocation of funds for the rest of Fiscal Year 2015 and prepare for Fiscal Year 2016. This week we have reconvened and are moving quickly through our legislative agenda.

We spent Monday through Thursday in the Senate Chamber doing the work of the people, and on Thursday, the Senate passed the first bill of the session.  With the passage of Senate Bill 1, insurers will be required to cover children six or younger who are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).  Currently, one in 64 children are diagnosed somewhere on the Autism scale; a condition that left untreated can cost an additional $3.2 million over the course of a lifetime.  It is simply unacceptable that some of these children are not covered due to a medically proven ailment, and on Thursday, the Senate body changed this.  In a sign of unity, the Senate passed SB 1 unanimously, 54-1.  I will second what Lt. Governor Cagle said, “I am proud of this body.”

As reported two weeks ago, we are at a critical junction in our transportation infrastructure funding.  This week, the House of Representatives announced their proposal for state funding $1 billion to maintain our vast transportation infrastructure. Their plan would convert Georgia’s combination of sales and excise taxes on fuel to a 29.2 cent-per-gallon excise tax. When implemented, the package would create a new $200 annual fee for alternative fuel vehicles, with the exception of hybrids. Mass transit systems in Georgia would have access to a combined $100 million in bonds next year.

Transportation is a vital part of making Georgia appeal to businesses looking to locate or relocate.  We are at a point where we must continue funding for the safety of our citizens.  Without the funds, roads, bridges, and overpasses will become outdated and unsafe for Georgians to drive.  Once again, this is a sensitive and critical topic that will continue to be a priority for legislators as we move through the session.

Last week, Governor Nathan Deal unveiled his FY ‘16 recommendations.  These recommendations will provide a blueprint for the House of Representatives and Senate for how and where to allocate funds.  It is a great source of pride that our state balances our budget, this means, we don’t spend money we don’t have.  Therefore, the Governor must estimate revenues for the future year in order to determine how much money we have to allocate.  Therefore, this year the Governor set the proposed budget at $21.7 billion in FY ‘16, which is an increase from $20.8 billion in FY ‘15 — this is proof that Georgia is continuing to grow and invest in the future of our state.

As Governor Deal explained in his State of the State address, education is a top priority.  Therefore, the Governor will begin by recommending $10.9 billion be allocated to Georgia K-12 schools, universities, and colleges.  This is nearly half the budget!  In addition for the second year straight, a 3 percent increase in the award amount for HOPE scholarships and grants will be allocated. This will be funded through $16.7 million in additional lottery funds. Nearly $19.7 million in bonds has been recommended for new capital projects, as well as renovations and new equipment, throughout the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG).

Senators and Representatives will continue working together over the next few weeks to ensure all state operations are properly funded without overspending.  In addition to setting the framework for the FY ‘16 budget, the FY ‘15 budget must be revised to account for unexpected expenses and growth.  The Governor has recommended that the Amended FY ‘15 Budget include an additional $134 million to cover school enrollment growth, $4.8 million for Georgia Regents University to conduct clinical trials for the use of cannabidiol oil to treat children with severe seizure disorders, and $15.4 million for the improvement and expansion of child welfare services. An additional $20 million is slated for strategic economic development project grants and loans for local communities.

We will be back in session Monday, February 2 for Day 9 of the Legislative Session.  We will also hold the first Senate Agriculture Committee meeting on Monday to meet with the fellow members and adopt the rules as we gear up for the committee process.  As we continue to move forward, I will continue working on your behalf.  If I can be of any assistance, I encourage you to reach out to my office at 404.463.5257 or by email at john.wilkinson@senate.ga.gov.


 The 2015 Session Begins

On Monday legislators from across the state filled the Senate and House Chambers excited to begin the first term of 153rd Georgia legislative session.  As the session begins, I look forward to once again working with colleagues and newly elected members.  Each term brings new challenges and we must strive to continue to take the necessary steps toward a great state of Georgia.

The week initiated on Monday with Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle’s ceremonial call to order, the Pledge of Allegiance and the traditional devotion given by the Chaplain of the Day. Following the devotion was the swearing in of all 56 senators by State Supreme Court Justice Hugh Thompson.  Justice Thompson provided a reminder that we are not only servants for our government, but for the citizens of Georgia.  While Lt. Governor Cagle asked us to remember – and to respect – the history of the people’s building under this shining gold dome.

Committee assignments were also handed out this week. I am privileged to announce that I have been appointed by my colleagues to serve as the Majority Caucus Secretary.  This is a great honor and I look forward to continuing to stand for small government, a balanced budget and strong business initiatives.  I will also once again serve as the Chairman of the Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee and Vice Chairman of the Education and Youth Committee. I look forward to working with my colleagues to maintain Georgia’s ranking as the number one agriculture producer in the country.

As many of you know, agriculture is a topic that is near and dear to my heart, so I was honored to commend members of the Georgia Future Farmers of America Association on Wednesday.  Georgia’s FFA recently had great success at the 87th National FFA Convention in Louisville, Kentucky where 80 Georgia FFA members received the American FFA Degree.  I will continue to be active with FFA to encourage youth to pursue a future in agriculture.

Later that day, Governor Nathan Deal delivered his annual “State of the State” address, outlining Georgia’s achievements and goals for the future.  This year, the Governor focused on a number of topics, but primarily honed in on our increasing economic developments, outdated education practices, and transportation funding.  Gov. Deal began his address with “in short, I’m here to report to you today that the state of our state is strong….and getting stronger every day”.  For Georgians, this is true.  Gov. Deal reported that Mercedes-Benz USA is moving its North American headquarters to Georgia, our revenue is up 4.8%, and our unemployment rate is falling back in line.

While our economy continues to thrive, our education system has seen over 19,000 students drop out of grades nine and twelve over the past year.  The Governor will focus on making K-12 education more accessible and more effective through the creation of an Education Reform Commission, modernization of the outdated Quality Based Education funding mechanism and establishment of an Opportunity School District.  As legislators, we have an obligation to provide our children with schools that prepare them for the workforce and for life.  Education will not be the only topic of interest this session; our transportation system will also receive attention as we are in need of some $1.5 billion in funding to maintain our infrastructure.

Our state is now the eighth most populous state, home to the tenth most mainline highway lanes in the nation, and more than 14,000 bridges, but we are heavily dependent on federal highway funds (68 percent of our total funding is federal dollars).  We are currently at a crossroads, with transportation funding; we must do something to ensure future generations of Georgians are provided with the same, if not better infrastructure conditions.  Gov. Deal told the legislature that we must find a new strategy for transportation investment, without one, our roads will no longer be repaired, safety will be jeopardized and economic development will stall due to increased road congestion.  As you can tell, this is a very important priority that I will continue to monitor to ensure citizen’s voices are represented throughout this process.

On Thursday we celebrated Sportsmen’s and Coastal Day at the Capitol in celebration of our state’s booming hunting and fishing industries and diverse wildlife. Legislators and other Capitol employees and guests enjoyed a coastal themed meal and displays of live animals native to coastal Georgia.

Next week, legislators will be in budget hearings.  These hearings take place at the Capitol and provide a time for state agencies to propose their budgets for the upcoming fiscal year.  We will listen to countless testimonies from agency leaders in order to allocate the necessary funds in the FY ’16 budget.   Due to budget hearings, we will be back in the Senate Chamber and ready to begin debating legislation on Monday, January 26.

As the legislative session continues, I look forward to working on your behalf.  If I can be of any assistance, please feel free to reach out to my office at 404.463.5257 or by email at john.wilkinson@senate.ga.gov.