On Monday, March 19, the Georgia General Assembly reconvened under the Gold Dome for Legislative Day 36 and the 11th week of the 2018 legislative session By the end of this week, we completed Legislative Day 38, and with the end of the 40-day legislative session in sight, my House colleagues and I continued to work diligently in our respective committees and also passed several key bills and resolutions on behalf of our constituents and all Georgians.
My House colleagues and I began this week on Monday, March 19, by unanimously adopting a resolution that would allow us to examine how to best protect our state’s schools. House Resolution 1414 would create the House Study Committee on School Security to study ways to curb incidences of violence, facilitate life-saving responses and provide safer learning environments for Georgia’s students, teachers and other school personnel. The study committee would explore the conditions, needs and issues associated with school security and would recommend any action or legislation it deems necessary based on its findings. The nine-member study committee would hold five hearings to discuss methods to decrease incidents of school violence, as well as how to best respond when such incidents occur. Any findings or suggestions for proposed legislation would be filed by Dec. 1, 2018, when the study committee would be abolished. This resolution was adopted by the House in the wake of one of the deadliest mass shootings in recent U.S. history, and it more critical than ever that we study how to best protect Georgia’s students, teachers and school staff.
On Wednesday, March 21, the House passed Senate Bill 139, another piece of legislation that is designed to benefit of our state’s students. SB 139 would allow local school systems, charter schools and college and career academies to develop and submit new pathways, or focused programs of study. Several focused programs of study currently exist, including finance, information technology, health science and manufacturing, and any new pathways would be submitted to the State Board of Education for consideration. SB 139 would also require the State Workforce Development Board, with input from the Department of Education and the Technical College System of Georgia, to develop and promote an annual list of industry credentials and state licenses, such as welding or computer certifications, that students can earn in middle or high school. This list would include credentials and licenses related to high-demand occupations with wages of at least 70 percent of Georgia’s average annual wage. Furthermore, under SB 139, each local school system would be required to submit an annual report to the Department of Education with the number of students earning an industry credential or state license from the high-demand careers list, and the Department of Education would report the number of students earning such credentials or licenses to the governor, president of the Senate and speaker of the House of Representatives, as well as post the list on their website each year. Finally, HB 759 would expand the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship Program by allowing students who previously qualified for the scholarship to be exempt from the requirement that the student attend a Georgia public school the year prior. This measure would equip our state’s middle and high school students with the resources needed to attain jobs in high-demand fields after graduation and expand educational opportunities for all of Georgia’s students.
This week, the House adopted a resolution that seeks to help our brave veterans smoothly transition from military service to civilian life. House Resolution 1137 urges the president and Congress to enact federal legislation that would provide members of the armed forces with mental and physical health assistance prior to being discharged from the armed forces. Service men and women often suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental and emotional health conditions upon completion of service, and many of these individuals are not properly prepared to return to civilian life. Providing necessary repair and support resources to our service members before they return to nonmilitary life could help them avoid some of the challenges many veterans face, such as homelessness, and this proactive assistance would allow soldiers to be restored physically and mentally before returning to society.
On Monday, March 19, the House passed Senate Bill 331 to better protect the identities of Georgia lottery winners. Under SB 331, the Georgia Lottery Corporation would be required to keep all information on lottery winners of $250,000 or more confidential upon the winner’s written request. Currently, lottery winners may request for their information to be protected, but news organizations can still obtain this information. Lottery winners are often targets of scams, and several people have tragically died after winning the lottery. Other states have enacted similar legislation to address this growing public safety issue, and SB 331 would allow these winners to remain anonymous in order to protect themselves and their loved ones.
The House also passed a measure this week that would ensure our state’s citizens with dementia-related diseases are best cared for. Senate Bill 444, or the “Senator Thorborn ‘Ross’ Tolleson, Jr., Act,” would establish the Georgia Alzheimer’s and Related Dementias State Plan Advisory Council to advise the governor, the General Assembly, the Department of Human Services and all other state agencies on the state’s Alzheimer’s and Related Dementias State Plan. The council would ensure that the state’s focus remains on implementing and amending the goals of the state plan, which was created to determine Georgia’s ability to meet the growing needs of our state’s citizens with dementia and to present a plan to meet those needs. Under SB 444, the council would recommend strategies to reach the state plan’s goals, as well as review progress made towards reaching these goals and how resources and services for individuals with dementia-related diseases have been implemented statewide. Under SB 444, the council would be made up of leaders of various health, human services and aging-related departments, divisions, associations, councils and committees. Additionally, the governor would appoint several individuals with expertise or experience in relevant fields to the council, and the council would submit a report every three years to the governor and the General Assembly on the council’s work. This advisory council would play a critical role in offering strategies on Georgia’s delivery of dementia-related services, and these services serve as vital resources to our state’s citizens with Alzheimer’s and related diseases, as well as their families.
Finally, on Friday, March 23, the House passed Senate Bill 402, the “Achieving Connectivity Everywhere (ACE) Act,” which would lay the groundwork for expanding broadband services throughout the state by promoting public-private partnerships. Under the ACE Act, the Georgia Technology Authority would be authorized to create any programs or policies needed to coordinate statewide broadband implementation efforts. Additionally, the Department of Transportation would plan for, establish and implement a policy for the use of rights-of-way on interstate highways and state-owned roads to deploy broadband services. SB 402 would also permit qualifying electric membership corporations (EMCs) and telephone cooperatives to provide and operate broadband services, wireless services and other emerging communications technologies. Further, the bill would establish the “Georgia Broadband Ready Community Site Designation Program” to allow communities to apply to be designated as “broadband ready” and therefore qualify for certain grant programs and tax exemptions. The Department of Community Affairs (DCA), with assistance from the Department of Economic Development (GDEcD), would create and administer the designation program to encourage economic development and attract technology-enabled growth, and GDEcD would promote statewide broadband deployment, especially in locations designated as broadband ready communities. Furthermore, DCA would develop the “Georgia Broadband Deployment Initiative” to offer funding for qualified broadband providers to deliver broadband services in unserved areas. Finally, the bill would outline the rates and fees charged for attachments to utility poles and wireless support structures that belong to an authority, which is any local authority, local governing authority, political subdivision providing retail electric service, EMC and cooperative. SB 402 would ensure that all Georgians, and particularly our state’s rural citizens, have access to a reliable, high-speed internet connection.
Next week is the 12th and final week of the 2018 legislative session, and the Georgia General Assembly will adjourn sine die on Thursday, March 29. With only two legislative days remaining, my House colleagues and I will be working hard next week to pass meaningful, good legislation for our state and its citizens. This final legislative week will surely be the busiest week of the entire session, and I urge you to contact me or my assistant, Kayla Bancroft, if you have any questions, concerns or input on any measures being considered in either the House or the Senate. I can be reached at my Capitol office at 404-656-0178, or by email at email@example.com.
As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your State Representative.
Here is your Weekly Legislative Session 2018 update about what is occurring under the Gold Dome from your State Representative Paulette Rakestraw:
The House began week eight under the Gold Dome on Monday, Feb. 26, and this week was undoubtedly the busiest week of the 2018 legislative session so far. On Wednesday, Feb. 28, we reached legislative Day 28, better known as “Cross Over Day.” Cross Over Day is a critical deadline in the General Assembly, as it is the last day a piece of legislation can pass out of its original chamber and still remain eligible for consideration by the opposite legislative chamber. My House colleagues and I worked well past midnight on Cross Over Day and passed many significant House bills for the state of Georgia. All measures that passed the House this session are now being considered by our Senate counterparts, and conversely, the House will begin to review legislation passed by the Senate.
Georgia’s economy has tremendously grown in recent years, but not all parts of the state have experienced the same level of economic success. For that reason, the House created the House Rural Development Council last session, and this session, we have prioritized legislation based on the council’s recommendations. This week, we passed several important measures to benefit our rural communities and help rural Georgia prosper, such as House Bill 951, which passed overwhelmingly with bipartisan support. HB 951 would create the Center for Rural Prosperity and Innovation (CRPI) to serve as a central information and research hub for rural leadership training and best practices, including community planning models, industry-specific assistance and cooperative efforts with nonprofits, religious organizations and other higher education partners. The CRPI would be located within a college or institution of the University System of Georgia that awards Bachelor of Science degrees in rural community development, and the president of the college or institution would appoint a center director to be approved by a majority vote of the Georgia Rural Development Council. The 12-member Georgia Rural Development Council would offer guidance to the CRPI, as well as study the conditions, needs, issues and problems affecting rural economic development, education, unemployment and infrastructure. The center would assume the business and responsibilities of the Centers of Innovation Agribusiness administered by the Department of Economic Development, and the CRPI, the Department of Economic Development and the Department of Agriculture would collaborate as necessary to achieve the center’s mission and duties. The bill would also designate a deputy commissioner for rural Georgia under the Department of Economic Development. This center would serve as a rural think tank, and with help from the deputy commissioner for rural Georgia, the CRPI would bring valuable resources together to come up with meaningful solutions to the challenges rural Georgia faces.
On Wednesday, Feb. 28, the House passed another bipartisan, rural-friendly bill that implements several recommendations from the House Rural Development Council. House Bill 887 seeks to expand broadband and other communications services throughout the state by establishing the Georgia Communications Services Tax Act. HB 887 would allow municipal corporations and electrical membership corporations (EMCs) to provide broadband service in unserved areas within its corporate limits. The bill would also establish the Local Government Communication Services Fair Competition Act of 2018 to encompass all communication services, not just cable service. This act would require franchising authorities to meet several requirements prior to allowing public providers to deliver communications services, thus ensuring fairness, transparency and accountability amongst communications services providers. Additionally, HB 887 would allow communities to apply to be certified as broadband ready through the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency (GEMA). In an effort to provide broadband infrastructure expenditure assistance that enables coverage throughout the entire state, HB 887 would also require GEMA’s director to develop a grant program that would award projects to qualified broadband providers who request the least amount of money to expand in unserved areas. Furthermore, this measure would authorize GEMA to create a broadband availability map of the state showing unserved areas and publish the map on GEMA’s website. Finally, HB 887 would regulate an authority’s pole attachment rate. Rural Georgia depends on broadband access to thrive, and this measure aims to increase access to this critical utility to all corners of the state.
This week, my House colleagues and I passed legislation to expand Georgia’s medical cannabis oil program to help more suffering Georgians. House Bill 764 received overwhelming bipartisan support and would add two additional illnesses, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and intractable pain, to the current list of qualifying medical conditions to allow those patients to be treated with low THC oil. Eligible individuals could apply for Georgia’s Low THC Oil Registry under the Georgia Department of Public Health at the recommendation of their physicians, and once approved, such individuals would receive an identification card exempting them from prosecution in Georgia for possessing medical cannabis oil that meets our state’s requirements. These individuals could legally possess a maximum of 20 fluid ounces of cannabis oil with a maximum of 5 percent THC in Georgia. This critical measure would build upon Georgia’s current medical cannabis oil law to allow even more of our state’s hurting citizens, and especially Georgia’s veterans suffering from PTSD, to reap the benefits of Georgia’s popular and successful existing medical cannabis oil program.
We also unanimously passed a bipartisan measure this week that would update Georgia’s Hidden Predator Act. House Bill 605 would hold negligent individuals or entities who conceal child abuse accountable for these actions. Firstly, HB 605 would extend the statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse cases from age 23 to age 38. Also, HB 605 would lengthen the discovery time period from two years to four years for a victim who experiences psychological or emotional problems as a result of child sexual abuse to report such abuse. Finally, this measure would establish a one-year period for a childhood sexual abuse victim to file civil actions against an entity if the entity: was responsible for the victim’s care; knew or should have known of the conduct that brought about the civil action; or intentionally or consciously concealed evidence of sexual abuse. These changes seek to acknowledge that the effects of childhood sexual abuse can be latent, and the updated Hidden Predator Act would align Georgia’s laws with what scientific research and real world experience have taught us about sexual abuse cases.
Our state has seen an alarming rise in automobile accidents and fatalities in recent years, and it is highly likely that increased cell phone usage has amplified this problem. To address this public safety issue, my colleagues and I passed House Bill 673 this week, which would establish a hands-free driving law in Georgia. HB 673 would prohibit drivers from holding, supporting or reaching for a wireless telecommunication device or a stand-alone electronic device while operating a vehicle. This measure would also ban drivers from texting, browsing the internet or watching or recording videos; however, drivers would be permitted to use GPS navigation and voice-to-text features on their devices. Anyone convicted of violating this proposed law would be fined and charged with a misdemeanor. Moreover, first-time offenders would receive a 2-point deduction on their driver’s license, and the bill would establish a staggered point deduction system for repeat offenders. This hands-free law would not apply while a vehicle is lawfully parked, while reporting an emergency or a hazardous road condition or to utility service providers, law enforcement officers or first responders operating within the scope of their employment. This measure intends to decrease automobile accidents, injuries and fatalities and would make our roadways safer for all Georgia commuters.
Identity theft and credit fraud cases are also increasing annually, and in light of this growing problem, the House overwhelmingly passed House Bill 866 on Monday, Feb. 26. This legislation would prohibit credit reporting agencies from charging a fee for freezing or unfreezing a consumer account. Currently, consumer credit reporting agencies may charge consumers a fee up to $3 for each security freeze placement, any permanent security freeze removal or any temporary security freeze lifting for a period of time. Additionally, under current law, consumer credit reporting agencies may charge protected consumers up to $10 for each placement or removal of a security freeze. HB 866 would remove all of these fees. This bill was introduced in the wake of a security breach that put the private information of 145 million Americans at risk, and other states have passed similar measures to decrease the likelihood of identity theft. HB 866 would empower Georgians to protect their identity and credit accounts without being financially burdened with fees.
My House colleagues and I unanimously passed a measure this week that would benefit our state’s military families, House Bill 718. Under HB 718, schools could grant students up to five excused absences to attend military affairs sponsored events if a student’s parent or guardian currently serves or previously served in the armed forces, Reserves or National Guard. HB 718 would require students to present proper documentation prior to the absence, and absences may not exceed five days per school year for a maximum of two years. This bill would not require all school systems to adopt this excused absence policy. Georgia has a large military population and is home to several military installations statewide, and this measure is one of many military-friendly pieces of legislation the House has passed in recent years to improve quality-of-life for our state’s military members and their families.
Finally, I would like to update you on the status of House Bill 930, legislation that would create a new regional governance and funding structure for transit in the 13-county metropolitan Atlanta region. As I mentioned in a previous column, State Representative Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville) introduced HB 930 a few weeks ago, and on Wednesday, Feb. 28, the House overwhelmingly passed this vitally importation transportation measure by a vote of 162-13. House Bill 930 seeks to improve transit in the metropolitan Atlanta region by facilitating transit coordination, integration and efficiency and promoting a seamless and high-quality transportation system for the area. The bill would create the Atlanta-region Transit Link (ATL) Authority to coordinate transit planning, funding and operations within 13-county metro Atlanta region and would establish state and local funding sources to improve transit access. This comprehensive transportation measure is a product of the House Commission on Transit Governance and Funding and would have a lasting and positive impact on the metro Atlanta region for generations to come.
The House got back to work at the Georgia State Capitol on Tuesday, Feb. 20, and we had a very busy seventh week of the 2018 legislative session. As we get closer and closer to “Cross Over Day,” our agendas continue to get fuller and our days get longer. This week, the House voted on several bills in the House Chamber, and committees worked diligently to hear important legislation before next week’s Cross Over Day deadline. Also, on Thursday, Feb. 22, we convened for a joint session with our Senate counterparts to hear the Supreme Court of Georgia’s Chief Justice P. Harris Hines deliver the annual State of the Judiciary address.
On Tuesday, Feb. 20, Governor Nathan Deal, along with several House and Senate members, held a press conference to introduce House Bill 918, legislation that would update Georgia’s tax code. After being vetted in committee, HB 918 made its way to the House floor on Thursday, Feb. 22, where it passed overwhelmingly. This legislation would make necessary changes to our state’s outdated tax code, which has not been updated in decades, and seeks to decrease the tax burden on our citizens by cutting individual and corporate state income taxes. HB 918 would double the state standard deduction for Georgia taxpayers for all filing statuses, effective Jan. 1, 2018, and would reduce the income tax rate for individuals and businesses from 6 percent to 5.75 percent beginning on Jan. 1, 2019. The legislation would further reduce the tax rate to 5.5 percent on Jan. 1, 2020, but would require approval of the General Assembly and signature of the governor in order to take effect. Furthermore, the bill would eliminate the sales tax on jet fuel to help our state be more competitive and to encourage airlines to fly additional direct flights from Georgia to global destinations. Finally, this revenue neutral tax proposal would also address the state revenue projections resulting from the recent Federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. This historic tax update would benefit all of Georgia’s citizens by allowing them to keep more of their hard-earned money in their pockets, and I am proud of the General Assembly’s work on this important measure.
This week, the House passed several bills that came from the House Rural Development Council’s (RDC) legislative recommendations. On Wednesday, Feb. 21, the House overwhelmingly passed House Bill 769 in an effort to improve access to quality health care in the rural parts of our state. This bill includes several health care provisions, such as allowing for remote pharmacy orders, updating credentialing and billing practices, establishing the Rural Center for Health Care Innovation and Sustainability, establishing micro-hospitals and creating a grant program for physicians practicing in medically underserved rural areas of the state.
Under HB 769, a Georgia licensed pharmacist located within the United States could remotely place pharmacy drug orders for hospital patients, provided that the orders are reviewed by a pharmacist who is physically in the hospital within 24 hours or by the next business day. The bill would also direct the Department of Community Health to study various ways to streamline and expedite the credentialing and billing process for state medical plans. Additionally, HB 769 would establish a Rural Center for Health Care Innovation and Sustainability through the existing Office of Rural Health. This center would provide leadership training and health data analysis for rural hospitals and would be located at a Georgia postsecondary institution with a health program or college that focuses on rural and underserved areas of the state. The center would educate and train rural hospital leaders on best practices and hospital operating standards. Furthermore, the legislation would allow for the creation of micro-hospitals, a hospital in a rural county that has two to seven inpatient beds and provides 24/7 emergency services, without requiring a new certificate of need when a hospital is closing or has recently closed and is purchased by a hospital in a neighboring county. Finally, the bill would create a grant program within the Georgia Board of Physician Workforce to provide financial assistance for some rural physicians who establish or operate a practice in an underserved area of the state. This measure was the first RDC-related bill to pass the House this session, and the bill’s wide-ranging health care provisions would allow this critical sector to thrive in rural Georgia.
This week, the House overwhelmingly passed two other bills that would also greatly benefit our rural communities, House Bills 735 and 876. HB 735 would create an income tax credit for track maintenance expenditures on owned or leased short line railroads. This legislation mirrors the Federal Railroad Track Maintenance Credit, and the tax credit would be 50 percent of the maintenance expenditures during the taxable year and would be capped at $3,500 per mile of railroad track. Short line rails serve as a virtual lifeline to our rural communities, and this measure would incentivize investment in rail infrastructure, boost reinvestment, create jobs and keep rural Georgia connected to the rest of the state. Further, HB 876 would prohibit counties and municipalities from banning the use of wood products as a construction material, as long as the products meet the state minimum standard codes and the Georgia State Fire Code. Several cities across the Metro Atlanta area have banned wood products from being used in construction in buildings over three stories high, but the Atlanta region is a crucial lumber market for Georgia tree farmers. This measure would level the playing field for our state’s tree farmers, as well as boost business for Georgia’s 97 sawmills, most of which are located in rural parts of the state. HBs 735 and 876 are also results of the RDC’s rigorous and determined efforts to help further economic growth and prosperity for rural Georgians and businesses.
In addition to passing rural development-related bills this week, the House unanimously passed legislation that would benefit Georgia’s students. Under House Bill 853, public school students who are admitted under a physician’s order into a licensed psychiatric residential treatment center would be exempt from paying tuition or fees to a local school system. Under current law, public school students receiving treatment in medical hospitals are exempt from tuition and fees, but students who are referred to psychiatric residential treatment facilities are not exempt from such fees. There are six psychiatric residential treatment facility hospitals across our state, and approximately 300 to 500 students are treated at these centers annually. This legislation would allow these students to continue their education and stay on track academically while receiving long-term medical and psychological treatment.
This week, the House unanimously passed a measure to help fight the horrific practice of sex trafficking within our state. House Bill 732 would expand the definition of sex trafficking to include anyone who patronizes sexually explicit conduct from a sex trafficking victim. With this clarification to state law, anyone who commits this offense would be charged with a felony and would be required to serve a prison sentence of five to 20 years. HB 732 would ensure that individuals who knowingly engage in sex trafficking acts with victims of sex trafficking are prosecuted accordingly, and this bill is a significant step to address this serious issue in our state.
On Thursday, Feb. 22, the House unanimously passed a bill that would have a great impact on Georgia’s active-duty military members. House Bill 840 would exempt active-duty military members serving in a combat zone from penalty fees associated with unintentionally unpaid special, occupational or sales taxes and license, regulatory or administrative fees incurred while they are in a combat zone. HB 840 does not exempt active-duty military members from paying these taxes, but it does give them 60 days from the time they return from their military service to make full payment of the taxes due without penalties if they present proof of their presence in a combat zone. Oftentimes, active-duty military members are unable to renew licenses, like small businesses licenses, that expire while they are stationed in a combat zone, and this bill would prevent our service members from being penalized with late fees while they are deployed.
Finally, on Thursday, Feb. 22, Chief Justice Hines delivered the annual State of the Judiciary address. Each year, the Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court addresses the General Assembly to report on the judicial branch’s accomplishments and future objectives. During his remarks, Chief Justice Hines, who serves as the head of the judiciary, pointed out that 2018 will bring about great change to the judicial branch, as several new judges will be elected, Georgians will elect a new state Supreme Court justice and Gov. Deal will make his fifth appointment to Georgia’s highest court. Chief Justice Hines also highlighted several accomplishments of Georgia’s criminal justice reform, which is one of Gov. Deal’s greatest legacies during his time in office. Furthermore, Chief Justice Hines announced that the Court Reform Council recommended the creation of a statewide business court to handle complex financial cases. This court would have jurisdiction similar to our federal courts and would operate similarly to the specialized business courts that now operate in Fulton and Gwinnett counties. Legislation relating to these courts will likely come before the General Assembly in the future.
Next Wednesday, Feb. 28, marks legislative Day 28, otherwise known as Cross Over Day. This is the last day a bill may pass out of its original legislative chamber and remain eligible for consideration this legislative session. With this deadline in mind, my colleagues and I will be working even longer hours next week to ensure that quality and meaningful legislation passes the House this session. If you have any questions or concerns regarding any legislation up for consideration in the House, or any input on how I may better serve our community, please do not hesitate to contact me or my assistant. Kayla Bancroft. I can be reached at my Capitol office at 404-656-0178, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
On February 1, 2018, six Paulding County 4-H’ers joined over four-hundred 4-H youth and leaders for 4-H Day at the Capitol. While in Atlanta, they met with their state Senators and Representatives and saw the House of Representatives during that day’s session. The eventful day included visits with Representative Howard Maxwell (Dist. 17), Senator Bill Heath (Dist. 31), Representative Paulette Rakestraw (Dist. 19), Representative Micah Gravely (Dist. 67), followed by Senator Mike Dugan (Dist. 30).
The State 4-H President, Mason McClintock (Bacon County 4-H’er), addressed both houses of the Georgia General Assembly where he along with other 4-H leadership thanked them for their support of 4-H in Georgia. He also pledged Georgia 4-H’s commitment on working to improve our communities. Between visits, the 4-H’ers enjoyed a luncheon provided by the Georgia 4-H Foundation Board of Trustees. During lunch, Governor Nathan Deal and First Lady Sandra Deal reflected on their own involvement and activities in 4-H through the years.
The day concluded with a picture of the state-wide 4-H delegation. Georgia 4-H thanks our state leaders for their warm welcome, coordination of this annual event, and continued support of the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Cooperative Extension, and Georgia 4-H.
The Senior 4-H’ers participating included Hannah Bower, Madison Clemente, Colleen Gilroy, Erin Gilroy, Juliette McKinley, Nicholas McKinley, with Patty McIver: 4-H agent, and Juwan Severson, AmeriCorps VISTA member.
We returned to the Gold Dome on Monday, January 29 for the fourth week of the 2018 legislative session. This week, House committees continued to hold hearings to review and discuss bill proposals, and the House convened Monday through Thursday to take up important issues and pass meaningful legislation for the good of every Georgian.
Arguably the biggest news of the week was the House’s unanimous passage of House Bill 159, legislation that would completely overhaul Georgia’s current adoption laws. This bill, which also passed the House unanimously during the 2017 legislative session, has since been a top priority to me and my House colleagues. In a previous update, I wrote to tell you that the Senate passed their version of the adoption bill and made several changes to the original House version of the legislation. This week, the House collaborated with the Senate and the governor’s office to reach a compromise on HB 159, and after much deliberation, the House approved several of the Senate’s amendments and made a few additional changes to the legislation.
Among the major changes, the newest version of the adoption bill would update Georgia’s revocation period from a 10 days to four days. In Georgia, birth mothers currently have 10 days to revoke the surrender of their child. This 10-day revocation period is one of most rigorous revocation policies in the nation, and the new version of HB 159 seeks to strike the right balance between the rights of birth mother and the adoptive parents by shortening this revocation period. Additionally, the House version of the adoption bill would allow birth mothers to receive reasonable living expenses in both private and agency adoptions. Under current law, only birth mothers in agency adoptions are allowed reasonable living expenses, but this change would create a level playing field and give all birth mothers equal access to reasonable living expenses, regardless of which type of adoption they go through. This is the law in most states in the country. Lastly, the bill includes several safeguards on temporary powers of attorney. The updated adoption bill is now back in the Senate, and I look forward to the Senate’s swift action in passing the adoption bill and sending this crucial measure to Governor Nathan Deal’s desk for final approval.
The House also took up several other pieces of important legislation this week. One such measure was House Bill 661, which passed unanimously in our chamber and would change the process for filing and removing tax liens against real estate. HB 661 would update legislation that Gov. Deal signed into Georgia law last year, which created a more efficient and transparent method for filing tax liens with the Department of Revenue. HB 661 would keep the efficiencies of the original legislation, but would simply remove the current provision regarding statewide liens and revert back to county specific liens. This bill would also require every tax lien against realty to be filed with the superior court clerk in the county where the real estate is located. HB 661 would not only simplify the process for filing and removing tax liens, but it would also increase transparency for taxpayers by moving the Department of Revenue’s process to electronic-based transactions and away from paper-based transactions.
The House passed another measure this week aimed at modifying portions of Georgia’s tax laws. House Bill 694 passed unanimously and would update the way motor fuel distributors and wholesalers submit their monthly motor fuel tax reports to the Department of Revenue. Current law requires motor fuel distributers to file these reports electronically if they owe the department $500 or more, but the new measure would require all monthly reports to be submitted electronically, regardless of the distributor’s tax liability. This measure would modernize and streamline the filing process for our state’s oil distributors.
Also this week, the House passed a measure to provide more law enforcement officers with important state retirement benefits. House Bill 135 would expand the term “law enforcement officer” to include Department of Driver Services (DDS) investigators. Under HB 135, these investigators would qualify to receive up to an additional five years of creditable service in the state’s Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) for prior law enforcement service. DDS investigators would only be eligible for this benefit if they are not receiving retirement benefits from a local government for that same service and if they have been a member of the retirement system for at least ten years. The governor signed a measure into law in 2016 that allowed all other law enforcement officers to obtain creditable service through the ERS, but the measure inadvertently omitted 16 investigators employed by DDS. HB 135 would correct this oversight by ensuring that those officers who are investigating fraudulent licenses are eligible to receive creditable retirement benefits.
Lastly, my House colleagues and I passed a measure this week in support of Georgia’s official state insect, the honey bee. House Bill 671, which passed unanimously, would create a specialty license plate to promote the conservation and protection of the honey bee, and the license plate would display an image of a honey bee and include the phrase “Save the Honey Bee.” These license plates would be available for purchase, and all proceeds collected from the license plate sales would be distributed to the Georgia Beekeepers Association. These funds would be used to raise awareness about honey bee conservation and would fund and support several associated programs, including beekeeper education and training, prison beekeeping, grants to beekeeping nonprofit organizations and beekeeping research facilities in our state. Georgia is the third largest producer of bees and the tenth largest producer of honey in the nation. The honey bee is absolutely essential in sustaining our state’s ecosystems, and this measure would help to ensure that our state insect and the beekeeping industry are preserved for future Georgians.
We are well into the 2018 session, and on Monday, February 5, the General Assembly will reconvene for legislative Day 15 and legislative week five. My colleagues and I will be busier day by day as we get closer to legislative Day 28, or “Cross Over Day,” so we will be hard at work next week reviewing bill proposals in our respective committees and taking up legislation in the House chamber. As we continue to progress through the session, I encourage you to contact me to discuss your thoughts and opinions. I greatly value any feedback I receive from my constituents, and your input truly helps guide the decisions I make under the Gold Dome. My Capitol office number is 404-656-0178, and my email address is email@example.com. Please contact me or my assistant, Kayla Bancroft, anytime.