Senate passes bill boosting technical college grants

[private]The Senate voted unanimously Thursday to pass HB 697, a bill that would increase the HOPE grant award for technical college students so that it pays their full tuition.

It was one of the few times this session where all 56 senators voted for a measure. The House later agreed to Senate changes in HB 697, sending it to Gov. Nathan Deal for his signature.

HB 697, sponsored by Rep. Stacey Evans (D-Smyrna), provides more tuition assistance through HOPE grants for technical college students who maintain at least a 3.5 grade point average.

The bill is intended to boost enrollment in the technical colleges, which dropped by about 45,000 students after reductions were made to the HOPE scholarship program in 2011. The state budget for fiscal year 2015 includes an additional $7.2 million to pay for the tuition enhancement.

Sen. Jason Carter (D-Decatur), who’s running for governor this year, used the debate on the bill as a venue for a brief campaign speech.

“What we are doing today will help, but we need to do more,” Carter said. “Right now, we’re not doing it. We need new leadership to put the emphasis on technical college education that it needs and deserves. We have to commit to investing in our people in ways that make sense.”

“The administration of this state reached out across the partisan divide to bring a bill before the General Assembly to help Georgians now rather than quarrel over who gets credit,” said Sen. Charlie Bethel (R-Dalton), Gov. Nathan Deal’s Senate floor leader. “That’s what 697 is and I ask you to vote for it.”

The Senate vote was one of many that it and the House of Representatives will be making on the last day of the 2014 legislative session.

The Senate voted to pass two bills that affect the MARTA transit system.

HB 264 will suspend for five years the requirement that MARTA spend at least 50 percent of its sales tax revenues on capital outlays. The transit system can spend more than 50 percent of the money on operational expenses.

“I think we’re all very pleased with the job being done by (general manager) Keith Parker,” said Sen. Fran Millar (R-Dunwoody). “Last year was the first time in years MARTA actually turned a profit.”

HB 265 will stagger the terms of MARTA board members and allow the board chairman, currently Robert Ashe, to designate another board member to act on their behalf to conduct official business for the authority.

The House voted 156-12 to agree with Senate version of HB 933, which makes permanent a sales tax break for Gulfstream Aerospace. That represented final passage of the bill.

House members also voted 105-62 to agree with the Senate version of HB 837, which revises the law governing private probation companies.

© 2014 by The Georgia Report

[/private]

Tags: Charlie Bethel , Gulfstream tax break , HOPE Grants , Jason Carter , MARTA , private probation firms , Stacey Evans , Technical colleges