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Drug courts are showing benefits

POSTED: February 14, 2013 7:52 p.m.

Week four of the session began with a great group of Bulloch County folks in town for a special event.  The Wild Game Supper is a premier event that showcases Georgia Southern University and Ogeechee Technical College, and is greatly anticipated by members of the General Assembly.


On Saturday there was a great turnout for Eggs and Issues in Screven County. A mix of questions from community members and Burton Kemp’s students made for an informative event; these local concerns are important at the state level.Also important statewide are topics like youth and justice reform, as well as the state budget.


As the House and Senate met for a joint session, these issues were addressed by Chief Justice Hunstein. She focused on the state’s ongoing criminal justice reforms in her statements. Last year these efforts resulted in the enactment of House Bill 1176, which diverts non-violent and low-level offenders away from costly prison beds and into more effective drug and mental health courts and treatment programs.


Expanding the number of state drug and mental health courts, as well as the number of substance abuse and mental health treatment centers, has put the state on track to save $264 million in prison expenses over the next five years.

 
The House is now considering legislation into ways to better handle youth who break the law. Nearly 2,000 children in Georgia currently live in a youth prison, youth jail, or state residential program, such as a group home. More than half of these children were sent to these state facilities for committing non-violent offenses, and 25 percent are there for misdemeanor or status offenses that would not be a crime if committed by an adult.


This problem unfortunately puts some non-violent children on a path to adult criminality. This legislation addresses the need for community based programs and I am working to include programs like those at Savannah River Challenge into the legislative plan.


The week also saw the passage of the 2013 amended fiscal year budget out of the House. Some changes in the budget relate to reduced cut-backs to key education programs that were proposed by the governor. These include agriculture and career/technical education, Governor’s Honors Program, food nutrition, along with others.


The House also added $10.4 million for eligible private hospitals to participate in federal matching programs that allow them to receive over $51 million in federal funds back to the hospitals for health care services. However, like all legislation, the AFY 2013 budget must still be considered by the state Senate. This means that it may change as we work alongside our Senate counterparts. As this process continues, I will keep you updated on the state budget and other important legislation.


In the meantime, please let me know if you have any questions or concerns regarding our state. You can reach me at my Capitol office at (404) 656-5099 or email me at jon.burns@house.ga.gov.


Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.

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