Halfway through 2011 session, still work to do - Glenn Baker

Monday, Feb. 28, marked the 20th legislative day, and halfway point of the Georgia General Assembly's 2011 session. While we have already succeeded in passing legislation improving our early voting system, increasing the safety of bicyclists, and amending our Fiscal Year 2011 state budget, there is still much left to do before we reach legislative day 40, and adjournment.

That was clear this week, when the House passed legislation addressing some of the most important issues facing our state and local communities. Two bills concerned the HOPE Scholarship and illegal immigration in our state. I'd like to tell you more about these bills and some of the other work done in the state House, so you can stay informed of the critical work that is being done here at the Gold Dome.

If you are a parent, student, or someone planning to attend a college, university, or technical school in Georgia, then, you have probably been following the funding issues facing Georgia's Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally (HOPE) programs. I know that many of you are painfully aware of this, because you have asked me whether HOPE will still be available for your children. Well, the answer to that question is "YES," and this week we passed House Bill 326 to preserve and strengthen HOPE for tomorrow's students and generations to come.

As you may know, our state's HOPE Scholarship and HOPE Grant programs are funded proceeds from the Georgia Lottery. Though each of these programs has seen overwhelming success, lottery proceeds have reached a plateau, but demand for HOPE programs continues to rise. To preserve these vital programs and ensure their continued solvency, HB 326 initiates several funding adjustments that will allow the HOPE Scholarship and HOPE Grant programs to be maintained and adjusted yearly according to lottery revenues.

Under HB 326, next year, merit-based HOPE scholarship students attending public colleges and universities, as well as technical college students, will receive 90 percent of 2011 tuition amounts. HOPE scholarship students attending private colleges and universities would receive $3,600 for tuition. The HOPE Scholarship will continue to require a 3.0 GPA, but will no longer cover books, fees or remedial college classes. The bill also creates the Zell Miller Scholarship, which will offer full-tuition to Georgia's public colleges to students who graduate from high school with a minimum 3.7 GPA and 1200 on the SAT, or 26 on the ACT. To continue receiving the Zell Miller Scholarship, these students will have to maintain a 3.3 GPA while attending college.

Another critical issue facing Georgia is illegal immigration. Although many think of illegal immigration as a problem only for border states, the Pew Hispanic Center recently determined that Georgia has the fastest-growing illegal population in the nation. That same study also found that, with nearly 425,000 illegal aliens, Georgia has the seventh-highest total illegal population in the nation. The results of this dubious honor are clear: Our classrooms are more crowded, our health-care system is stretched to its limits, transportation infrastructure is overburdened and our law enforcement community is pressed beyond its means. Current economic conditions make it clear that Georgia literally cannot afford to continue this drain on our already limited resources.

As we continue to consider sensitive issues and legislation, I need to know how you and your family feel about matters concerning the future of our great state. I am always eager to hear your thoughts and concerns. Please, feel free to call me with any questions or comments that you might have regarding HOPE, illegal immigration, public safety, or an outstanding member of our local community deserving recognition. You can reach me at my capitol office at: (404) 656-0202, or glenn.baker@house.ga.gov.

Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.

Glenn Baker is the state representative for House District 78, which serves portions of Clayton and Henry counties.