On Monday, February 12, my House colleagues and I reconvened at the Georgia State Capitol for week six of the 2018 legislative session. The General Assembly is now officially over half-way through this year’s session, and “Cross Over Day” is just a few legislative days away. The legislative pace has quickened considerably, and this week, the House was hard at work passing meaningful legislation for the good of our state and its citizens.
To start our week, on Monday, February 12, the House overwhelmingly passed House Bill 487, which would provide more flexibility to emergency response volunteers. This bill would allow state agency employees who are certified Civil Air Patrol disaster service volunteers to be granted paid leave for no more than 15 work days per year to participate in Civil Air Patrol specialized emergency service operations. Eligible state employees would be required to get permission from their employer, and volunteers would only be allowed to use this leave at the request of the Civil Air Patrol once a county emergency management agency, the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency or a comparable federal agency has activated emergency services. This measure would give Civil Air Patrol volunteers the same leave allowances as American Red Cross volunteers for specialized emergency services, and HB 487 would ensure that those who volunteer with the Civil Air Patrol do not lose seniority, pay, vacation, compensatory time, sick time or earned accumulated overtime at work because of their assistance in emergency situations. Civil Air Patrol volunteers play a vital role in search and rescue and disaster relief efforts, and this measure would allow these hardworking volunteers to serve without facing penalties in the workplace.
In an effort to increase transparency and eradicate surprise hospital billing for scheduled procedures, the House passed House Bill 678 this week. This bill would provide several consumer protections regarding health insurance and would prevent patients from receiving “surprise” bills, which can be 10 to 12 times higher than in-network charges, when an out-of-network doctor participates in their treatment team during an elective procedure. Under HB 678, hospitals, health care providers and insurers would be required to disclose to patients which doctors in their treatment team are part of their insurance network, which health care plans they participate in and which hospitals they are affiliated with prior to providing nonemergency services. If a provider is not in the patient’s network, the provider would be required to give the patient an estimated bill upon request. This legislation would also allow patients to request and obtain information about other medical professionals and hospitals and potential care costs before care is given. Furthermore, patients who receive a surprise bill would have the right to file a dispute with an arbitrator from the insurance department. Finally, HB 678 would require insurance providers to bill patients for services within 90 days, and the patient would have 90 days once they receive the bill to secure payment, negotiate or initiate a dispute. These unexpected and astronomically expensive out-of-networks bills have forced some Georgians into bankruptcy, and two out of three Georgians will receive a surprise medical bill in the next two years. The House’s passage of this legislation is a positive step forward in eliminating this frustrating practice and increasing transparency between patients, health care providers and insurers.
On Tuesday, February 13, we overwhelmingly passed House Bill 79, a measure that would protect our information from being unnecessarily saved for an undetermined period of time. HB 79 would require law enforcement agencies that obtain license plate information through automated license plate recognition systems to destroy unused data after 30 months. Agencies, however, would be allowed to keep this data beyond 30 months if the data is part of an ongoing investigation or a toll violation. HB 79 would also permit law enforcement agencies to share license plate information with other agencies, as well as impose penalties for unlawfully sharing this information, and captured license plate data collected would be exempt from open records requests. These automated systems are high-speed cameras that use computer algorithms to convert images of license plates into computer data, and currently, there is no limit to how long law enforcement agencies can save this data. House Bill 79 would strengthen our state’s privacy laws and protect Georgians from having their license plate information stored indefinitely or subject to open records requests.
This week, we unanimously passed House Bill 749, a measure that would benefit Georgia’s retired veterans and their families by specifying that military retirement income is excluded from Georgia income tax. If a deceased veteran’s surviving family member, regardless of the family member’s age, were to receive any military retirement income, it would also be excluded from state income tax under this legislation. Our state has passed many military-friendly measures over the past several years, but Georgia is currently one of only nine states in the nation that does not address military retirement pay tax exemptions. If signed into law, this bill would bring Georgia up to speed with other states that have instituted similar pro-military policies.
My colleagues and I passed a bipartisan bill on Wednesday, February 14, that would support Georgia students and seeks to improve students’ learning environments. House Bill 740 would prohibit schools from expelling or suspending students in public preschool through third grade for five or more days per school year without first providing the student with a multi-tiered system of supports. This multi-tiered system of supports includes a team of educational professionals, such as school social workers and guidance counselors, as well as Response to Intervention (RTI), a preexisting program that identifies and addresses students’ academic and behavioral needs to help them succeed in the classroom. The RTI program brings together educational professionals to help identify students’ academic, behavioral and social-emotional learning needs, and if appropriate, the program screens students for hearing, vision and speech-language disabilities. HB 740 would not prohibit a school from suspending a student who is in possession of a weapon, drugs or any other dangerous item. There are approximately 15,000 kindergarten through third grade students in Georgia’s public schools that are suspended annually, and approximately 2,600 of those students are assigned out-of-school suspension for five or more days. Rather than continuously suspending and expelling students from the classroom and limiting students’ access to integral curriculum, HB 740 would address students’ underlying needs to help improve their educational outcomes.
On Thursday, February 15, the House passed a measure to protect our state’s elderly and disabled adult populations, groups that are particularly vulnerable to neglect and abuse. House Bill 635 would authorize district attorneys in each judicial circuit to establish an Adult Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation Multidisciplinary Team to coordinate investigations of and responses to suspected elder or disabled adult abuse, neglect or exploitation. These multiagency teams would be made up of the district attorney or his or her designee and representatives from law enforcement agencies, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Adult Protective Services and any other relevant state department, organization or entity. House Bill 635 would grant team members the legal right to share information generated in the team’s investigations, responses and activities with one another, thus allowing the people involved in such cases to work collaboratively to address these issues. The teams would also identify ways to improve local notification and response policies and procedures when an elderly person or disabled adult is abused, neglected or exploited. Elder abuse is on the rise in every county and every city in our state, and this measure would allow for seamless cooperation between those who work for the good of our state’s elderly and disabled adults.