As a father of three, my top priority will always be public safety. That’s why — working with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Attorney General Chris Carr, and our dedicated U.S. Attorneys — we have doubled down on our efforts to stop and dismantle street gangs and drug cartels. As you know, ruthless criminals are flooding our communities with drugs, weapons, violence, and fear. Nearly every county has reported a rise in gang activity with membership levels climbing to 71,000. We are under siege with no time to waste.
Under GBI Director Vic Reynolds, the new anti-gang task force is taking the fight to these criminals and working with local law enforcement officials across our state to put them behind bars. This legislative session, I look forward to working with the General Assembly to strengthen anti-gang laws and give law enforcement greater tools to shut down illegal operations.
Another alarming public safety concern — made worse by organized crime — is human trafficking. Every day, innocent children are sold for sex in Georgia. It is a disturbing, profit-driven industry threatening families and communities in every corner of our state. Last January, my family and I attended Street Grace’s Stop Traffick event in Atlanta that illustrated the evil that we face; 72 school buses drove in rush-hour traffic to represent the 3,600 children sold into modern-day slavery in Georgia every year. This visual called my family to action. We could not remain on the sidelines of this fight.
By starting the GRACE Commission, First Lady Marty Kemp is raising awareness and coordinating efforts to end trafficking in the Peach State. Marty and the commission have brought experts from across Georgia together to craft proactive solutions. They are providing expertise and training, and they will be leading the way this legislative session to protect the vulnerable, hold bad actors accountable, and give a voice to the voiceless.
To keep our communities strong and our future bright, we have also prioritized Georgia’s public education system. Working alongside the General Assembly in 2019, teachers received the largest educator pay raise in state history. We prioritized the safety of our children, teachers, and staff with nearly $70 million in locally controlled school security grants, and we doubled funding for mental health services in our high schools.
Since the legislative session ended last spring – together with State School Superintendent Richard Woods – we have reduced high-stakes testing and begun the formal process to ultimately dismantle Common Core in our state, which time and time again has failed Georgia teachers and students.
As you know all too well, insurance premiums are too high in the Peach State, and many hardworking Georgians simply cannot access healthcare coverage for their family. During the 2019 Legislative Session, I championed – and signed into law – the Patients First Act, which empowered my administration to craft Georgia-centric healthcare reform to lower healthcare costs and insurance premiums, enhance access to top-notch doctors and facilities, and ultimately improve health outcomes for Georgia families.
Since then, we have partnered with industry experts, medical professionals, stakeholders, lawmakers, and citizen advocates to draft two unique and innovative healthcare waivers that meet the needs of hardworking Georgians, keep our budget balanced, and reflect our values and vision. These proposals, Georgia Access and Georgia Pathways, shake up the status quo and put patients – not the special interests – first.
It is a great time to be a Georgian, and I really mean that. Georgia was recently named the top state for business for an unprecedented seventh straight year. The unemployment rate – 3.3% – is the lowest in state history, and the number of jobs in our state has never been higher.
Our ports are firing on all cylinders and breaking records, while we continue to celebrate ribbon-cuttings and business expansions across our state in a variety of industry sectors. From Invesco creating 500 jobs in Atlanta, to Nivel Parts and Manufacturing announcing an expansion of 50 jobs in Cairo, Georgia is a great place to start or expand a business. Going forward, the newly created Rural Strike Team will work out of the governor’s office to identify and attract economic development projects that can positively impact entire regions of our state.
As a small business owner, I know that current success does not always lead to future prosperity. To keep state government streamlined and responsive, I directed state agencies to look for efficiencies in their budgets by leveraging technology, cutting down on travel, and eliminating redundancies and vacancies in their operations. In doing so, state government will be saving taxpayers tens of millions of dollars. I am confident we can continue to deliver critical services to the public while also budgeting conservatively and living within our means — just as millions of Georgians do every day.
While these accomplishments are significant, we cannot – and will not – take our foot off the gas. We have made history, but there is more work to be done.
During the upcoming legislative session, we will continue to value life by championing reforms to our state’s foster care and adoption laws. We will invest in education, strengthen our anti-gang and human trafficking laws, and spur economic growth by eliminating red tape for job creators. We will continue to budget conservatively, save for a rainy day, and be good stewards of taxpayer funds.
Above all, we will continue to put hardworking Georgians first in 2020. We will stand with our farmers, support our veterans, defend our conservative values, and always protect the most vulnerable among us.
I am honored to serve as your Governor and look forward to working together in the New Year to build a safer, stronger Georgia!
Brian P. Kemp is Georgia’s governor.
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