2018 Georgia General Assembly — Week Eleven Update

Here is your weekly legislative update about what is occurring under the Gold Dome from your State Representative Paulette Rakestraw:

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 paulette.rakestraw@house.ga.gov.

As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your State Representative.