Yesterday, I picked up my copy of Governor Kemp’s proposed budget. Over the next few days, I’ll study it in more detail. And next week I’ll attend budget hearings to hear State Department Heads testify on behalf of their budget priorities.

My initial reaction is mixed. Thursday, in a joint session of the House & Senate, the Governor gave his “State of the State” speech. He proposed a $3,000 pay increase for teachers and a 2% raise for state employees — which is great, but I didn’t hear anything about updating our 30-year-old funding formula for public schools. Additionally, the Governor proposed $150 million for new voting machines, which would allow Georgia to purchase the most expensive, state-of-the-art voting machines. But it seems our leadership favors a barcode receipt that can’t be read by voters. Hand marked ballots read by scanners can be procured for only $30 million, providing an audit trail for a “real” recount. I support a system that gives voters full confidence. We owe that to Georgia voters, especially after this last election.

I’m also relieved to see $8.4 million proposed for mental health services for our high schools, but we must do more for healthcare overall. Medicaid expansion would provide healthcare to 500,000 more Georgians, primarily funded with Federal dollars that Georgia taxpayers have already sent to Washington.

Finally, school safety is a major concern for everyone. The Governor recognizes this and proposed $30,000 in grant money for each Georgia school to use for school security updates. But our kids and their teachers won’t truly be safe until we address gun reform wholistically, which so many of you told me is a top priority. My Democratic colleagues and I plan to introduce legislation for gun reform, voter rights and Medicaid expansion this session, as well as many other bills aimed at improving the lives of Georgians.