2018 Primary Runoff Voting Dates and Locations

Primary Runoff 2018 — July 24, 2018

Polls open 7:00 am to 7:00 pm on Runoff Day

On Runoff Day, you can vote for Rep. Paulette Rakestraw at the following locations:

Shelton Elementary School
1531 Cedarcrest Rd.
Dallas, GA 30132

West Ridge Church
3522 Hiram Acworth Hwy.
Dallas, GA 30157

Paulding County High School
1297 Villa Rica Highway
Dallas, GA 30157

Hiram High School
702 Ballentine Dr.
Hiram, GA 30141

Nebo Elementary School
2843 Nebo Rd.
Dallas, GA 30157

EARLY VOTING for the Runoff
Monday, July 2 through Friday, July 6 (no voting on July 4)
Monday, July 9 through Friday, July 13
8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Monday, July 16 through Friday, July 20
8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

There is only one early voting location for the Runoff:

Paulding County Elections Office
(Paulding County Courthouse)
240 Constitution Blvd.
Dallas, Georgia 30132

No voting on Wednesday, July 4 or Monday, July 23, 2018
Link to Early and Absentee Voting Information from Paulding.gov

New SafeAmerica Collaboration Press Conference Energizes Atlanta Teen to Further Action

The recent press conference hosted by Representatives Paulette Rakestraw (R-HD 19) and Michael Smith (D-HD 41) has inspired a young Atlanta writer to provide further coverage of the event. At the press conference, Safe America Foundation and its collaborators announced a new venture to help rescue victims of human trafficking, as well as opioid addicts and veterans suffering from PTSD.

Damion Olinger, 16, attended the press conference and submitted coverage of it to VoxAtl, which bills itself as “Atlanta’s home for uncensored teen publishing and self-expression.” The article was submitted as part of the Atlanta Teen Voices initiative, supporting teens in metro Atlanta sharing their stories and ideas. You can read Damion’s coverage of the event on the VoxAtl website.

Damion Olinger currently attends Locust Grove High School and The Academy for Advanced Studies. He is a mental health advocate who has pushed for more access to information about mental health in schools.

Rep. Rakestraw, Paulding County’s first female legislator, represents the citizens of District 19 in Paulding County. She was elected to the House of Representatives in 2010 and currently serves as a member of the Appropriations, Regulated Industries, and Small Business Development Committees. She is Secretary of the Juvenile Justice and the Economic Development & Tourism Committees, and also serves as Vice Chairman of the Science & Technology and Special Rules Committees.

Rep. Rakestraw to Co-host Event for Safe America Foundation

Representatives Paulette Rakestraw (R-HD 19) and Michael Smith (D-HD 41) will host a press conference on Friday, June 8 at 10:00 a.m. at the Georgia State Capitol. At the event, the Safe America Foundation will announce a new collaborative venture with youthSpark, AMR Ambulance Company, WellStar Atlanta Medical Center, Fulton-DeKalb Hospital Authority, and Georgia Global Health Initiative to help rescue victims of human trafficking, as well as opioid addicts and PTSD-suffering veterans.

In addition to the main announcement, there will also be remarks given by executives from some of Safe America’s partner organizations:
• Kim Ryan, President of the WellStar Atlanta Medical Center
• Dr. Joshua Murfree, COO of the Fulton-DeKalb Hospital Authority
• Rick Ornelas, Director of Operations, AMR (Ambulance Co),
• Jennifer Swain, Executive Director of youthSpark
• Jeff Turner, Chairman of the Clayton County Commission.

Also, on display will be the new ambulance which has been donated to Safe America by AMR Ambulance Company to assist with the HUMANS Care program, which will aim to aid victims of human trafficking, as well as veterans with PTSD.

Safe America Foundation Press Conference — Event Details
Friday, June 8, 2018
10.00 am
Georgia State Capitol
206 Washington Street SW
Atlanta, GA 30334

The event will be held just outside the Capitol on Washington Street, in front of the Central Presbyterian Church.

Rep. Rakestraw, Paulding County’s first female legislator, represents the citizens of District 19 in Paulding County. She was elected to the House of Representatives in 2010 and currently serves as a member of the Appropriations, Regulated Industries, and Small Business Development Committees. She is Secretary of the Juvenile Justice and the Economic Development & Tourism Committees, and also serves as Vice Chairman of the Science & Technology and Special Rules Committees.

Rep. Rakestraw Endorsed by NRA

Rep. Paulette Rakestraw (R-HD19) has once again earned an “A” rating and endorsement from the National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund (NRA-PVF). Art Thomm, State Director, NRA-ILA State and Local Affairs, awarded the endorsement in a letter dated April 26, 2018.

Thomm wrote, “On behalf of NRA members in Georgia House District 19, I am pleased to announce your NRA-PVF “A” rating and endorsement for the 2018 Georgia Primary Election. This endorsement is a reflection of your support on Second Amendment issues…Our members will interpret your “A” rating and endorsement as being a solid pro-gun/pro-hunting candidate who is an advocate for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms.”

Rep. Rakestraw, Paulding County’s first female legislator, represents the citizens of District 19 in Paulding County. She was elected to the House of Representatives in 2010 and currently serves as a member of the Appropriations, Regulated Industries, and Small Business Development Committees. She is Secretary of the Juvenile Justice and the Economic Development & Tourism Committees, and also serves as Vice Chairman of the Science & Technology and Special Rules Committees.

Paulette Rakestraw (R-HD19) Certified by Georgia Life Alliance

The Georgia Life Alliance (GLA) has recognized Representative Paulette Rakestraw (R-HD19) as a GLA Certified Pro-Life Candidate. GLA has deemed that Rep. Rakestraw’s platform and positions are aligned with the mission and position of the organization.

The Georgia Life Alliance advocates for the vulnerable, the abandoned, and the defenseless: the baby still in her mother’s womb, the orphaned child desperate for a safe and loving home, and the woman who finds herself in a desperate situation.

Rep. Rakestraw, Paulding County’s first female legislator, represents the citizens of District 19 in Paulding County. She was elected to the House of Representatives in 2010 and currently serves as a member of the Appropriations, Regulated Industries, and Small Business Development Committees. She is Secretary of the Juvenile Justice and the Economic Development & Tourism Committees, and also serves as Vice Chairman of the Science & Technology and Special Rules Committees.

2018 Georgia General Assembly — Week Twelve Update

On Tuesday, March 27, we reconvened at the Capitol for the 12th and final week of the 2018 legislative session, and on Thursday, March 29, the House and Senate completed Legislative Day 40 and adjourned Sine Die. Legislative Day 40 is commonly referred to under the Gold Dome as “Sine Die,” a Latin term meaning “without assigning a day for further meeting.” During this busy week, my colleagues and I worked late into the night to ensure that quality legislation was passed this session to benefit our state and its citizens.

The House kicked off our last week of session by unanimously passing two adjoining bipartisan measures, Senate Bill 127 and Senate Resolution 146, legislation that would acknowledge and protect several specific victims’ rights. SB 127 would provide a process for victims to be heard by the court when the victim’s constitutional rights to participation and information have been denied. Under SB 127, if the victim of a crime makes a written request to the prosecuting attorney to be notified of all proceedings, has provided appropriate contact information and asserts that no notification has been provided, the victim can file a motion to the court to be heard on the matter within 20 days after the claimed violation. Further, SR 146, also known as Marsy’s Law, is the companion legislation to SB 127 and would place a constitutional amendment on the November ballot to provide victims explicit rights in Georgia’s Constitution. If the amendment is approved by Georgia voters, our state’s Constitution would grant victims several rights, including: reasonable, accurate and timely notice of any court proceedings or schedule changes involving the alleged crime; reasonable and timely notice of the arrest, release or escape of the accused; inclusion in any court proceedings; the opportunity to be heard in any proceedings involving the release, plea or sentencing of the accused; and to be informed of his or her rights. Most states have already adopted similar constitutional amendments, and if SR 146 is approved by voters, Georgia’s Constitution would be amended to include specific language to protect the rights of crime victims.

In addition to approving Marsy’s Law on Tuesday, the House also passed Senate Bill 154 to hold those in positions of authority accountable for sexual assault by defining sexual assault in the first and second degree. Under SB 154, anyone who engages in sexual contact with a victim under their care or supervision would be guilty of sexual assault in the second degree and would be required to serve a prison sentence of one to five years and fined a maximum of $25,000; however, they would not be required to register as a sex offender unless they are convicted of a second or subsequent offense. Anyone who engages in sexually explicit conduct with a victim under their care or supervision would be guilty of sexual assault in the first degree and would be required to serve a prison sentence of one to 25 years, fined a maximum of $100,000 and must register as a sex offender. Furthermore, SB 154 provides exceptions to these sentencing requirements for offenders who commit sexual assault in either degree if the offender did not have supervisory or disciplinary authority over the victim at the time of the offense or if the victim is younger than 16-years-old; if the victim is between 14 and 16-years-old and the offender is 18-years-old or younger; and if the victim is at least 16-years-old and the offender is younger than 21-years-old. This measure would apply to employees and agents of any school, community supervision office, probation office, law enforcement agency, hospital, correctional facility, juvenile detention facility, disability services facility or child welfare and youth services facility, as well as to psychotherapy counselors and practitioners and employees, agents and volunteers of licensed facilities that provide drug and alcohol treatment, senior living care or hospice services. SB 154 would broaden Georgia law to hold those in positions of trust and authority criminally responsible for taking advantage of and violating Georgia’s most vulnerable citizens.

Over the past several years, the Georgia General Assembly, under the leadership of Governor Nathan Deal, has passed significant criminal justice reform measures that have truly changed lives, and this week, the House unanimously passed the last criminal justice bill under Gov. Deal’s administration. Senate Bill 407 consists of several recommendations from the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, and this comprehensive measure notably includes updates to Georgia’s bail system, such as authorizing courts of inquiry to set bail for city ordinance violations; prohibiting courts from imposing excessive bail; requiring courts to only impose conditions reasonably necessary to ensure court attendance and protect public safety; and requiring courts to consider the accused’s financial resources, earnings and other economic factors when determining bail. In cases involving local ordinance violations, the court would be authorized to allow the defendant to satisfy any fines or fees through community service, and courts could waive, modify or convert fines and fees if the court finds that the defendant has a significant financial hardship. Additionally, under SB 407, the Judicial Council of Georgia would develop a uniform misdemeanor citation and complaint form for use by law enforcement officials, and the bill would allow misdemeanors to be prosecuted by accusation, citation or citation and arrest. SB 407 would also expand the list of misdemeanor crimes an officer can arrest by citation, and prior to the offender’s release, the officer would be required to review the accused’s criminal record and ensure the accused’s fingerprints are obtained. Moreover, SB 407 would authorize accountability court judges to order the Department of Driver Services to reinstate or revoke driver’s licenses or limited permits as a reward or sanction for actions in the accountability court, and the court would be permitted to grant petitions for early termination of probation that the state does not oppose within 90 days of receiving the petition. Also, the bill would cap supervision fees collected on pay-only probation at the rate in the private probation company’s contract, and the court would provide probationers who fail to report a 10-day grace period from the time the officer mails a letter to the probationer, as long as the probationer reports. Further, SB 407 includes several provisions regarding firearm theft and those prohibited from possessing a firearm, and the bill would authorize the Department of Community Health to share information on the prescription drug monitoring program database with federal agents and would allow for disclosure to out-of-state prescription drug monitoring programs operated by governmental entities. Finally, SB 407 would allow Technical College System police officers to arrest for offenses committed on or within 500 feet of a Technical College System property. The bill includes several other criminal justice reforms, such as provisions for courts to implement electronic filing and payment systems and protections for first offenders’ records. Gov. Deal’s highly successful criminal justice reforms serve as a model that other states have emulated, and SB 407 is yet another effort to refine and improve Georgia’s criminal justice system for the good of our state’s citizens.

My House colleagues and I also passed a bill this week that would update Georgia’s child support laws to mirror federal regulatory changes that went into effect on Jan. 20, 2017. Under Senate Bill 427, courts would be required to consider an obligor’s, or an individual that owes child support, earnings, income, ability to pay child support and the basic needs of the recipients of such support when making a final determination of child support. Additionally, if a parent fails to produce reliable evidence of their earnings, their income for the current year may be assigned by the court based off the parent’s ability to earn and other economic factors. Furthermore, if the parent is incarcerated, their income may be assigned based off their actual income and assets available, not off their pre-incarceration wages. SB 427 would also prohibit a court from treating incarceration as willful or voluntary unemployment or underemployed when setting a child support amount. Further, SB 427 provides that a child’s enrollment in a public health care program, such as Medicaid or PeachCare for Kids, may satisfy the health care requirement for providing for the child’s health care needs in a child support order; however, such enrollment would not prevent a court from ordering parents to insure their child. This measure would bring Georgia into compliance with new federal child support regulations for the good of our state’s children, as well as their parents.

This week, the House approved of a measure that would help equip Georgia’s students for their professional careers. Senate Bill 401 would require postsecondary institutions that provide dual credit courses to provide enrollment and student record data to the Office of Student Achievement and to the statewide longitudinal data system. In addition, under SB 401, the Office of Student Achievement would collect and monitor enrollment and student record data for dual credit courses and would annually measure and evaluate the dual enrollment program. The bill would also require middle school students to be provided with counseling and information to assist them in evaluating their career orientated aptitudes, and all students would develop a graduation plan with their parents or guardians based on their academic skills, career orientated aptitudes and career interests before the end of eighth grade. Further, beginning with the 2018-2019 school year, guidance, advisement and counseling for high school students would include career oriented aptitude and career interest guidance. SB 401 would also require the Department of Education to review each school counselor’s role, workload and program service delivery in grades six through 12, and the department would report its findings to the State Board of Education and the Georgia General Assembly, including recommendations for counselor improvements to ensure student success in academic skills, career orientated aptitudes and career interests. Lastly, SB 401 includes provisions that would help prepare students in kindergarten through ninth grade to address sexual abuse and assault, as well as allow funding for students taking dual credit courses at eligible postsecondary institutions that utilize nonstandard term systems, such as Georgia Military College. The provisions in this bill would tremendously help our students to explore their strengths, skills and career aptitudes as they move through middle and high school and beyond.

In an effort to expedite statewide deployment of broadband services and other emerging communications technologies, the House passed House Resolution 1698 and Senate Bill 426 this week. HR 1698 urges the House Rural Development Council (RDC), which was established during the 2017 legislative session to examine how to best spur economic growth throughout rural Georgia, to explore ways to streamline and make equitable the use of public rights-of-way while preserving local control of and fair compensation for such rights-of-way. Further, the resolution urges the RDC to examine new pole rates, rentals and pole ownership to level the playing field among current and future communications services providers. In their study of how to best manage public rights-of-way, the resolution encourages the RDC to solicit input from the Georgia Department of Transportation, local governments, communications services providers and other relevant parties. Additionally, SB 426 would authorize electric membership corporations (EMC) to supply and operate broadband services in rural counties with a population of 50,000 or less if the EMC secures a certificate of authority from the Public Service Commission. Access to broadband services and other emerging communications technologies is essential for communities to grow and thrive, and these measures aim to expand to such critical services to every corner of our state, and especially rural Georgia.

Over the past several weeks, I have updated you on the status of various bills as they have moved through the legislative process, and I am proud to announce that on Thursday, March 29, my House colleagues and I gave final passage to two very important bills with significant statewide implications. Senate Bill 402 contains numerous technical changes to facilitate broadband expansion in rural areas. These technical changes include facilitating grant programs for rural broadband and creating a certification process for cities and counties to be designated “Broadband-Ready Communities.” House Bill 930 would create a new regional governance and funding structure for transit in the metropolitan Atlanta region. HB 930 intends to improve the coordination, integration and efficiency of transit in the metropolitan Atlanta region and promote a seamless and high-quality transit system for the 13-county metropolitan Atlanta region. These bills were both major House priorities this session, and I hope that Gov. Deal will favorably consider these bills that will greatly impact the state as a whole for the better

Finally, before we adjourned sine die for the year, the House fulfilled our only legislative responsibility as outlined in Georgia’s Constitution. On Thursday, March 29, we gave final passage to the Fiscal Year 2019 (FY 2019) budget, House Bill 684, by adopting a conference committee report. Amongst many, many important budgetary appropriations, the final FY 2019 budget includes an additional $166.7 million for local school systems, $16 million for school security and $100 million in bonds for transit. These additional education dollars would fully fund Georgia’s Quality Basic Education formula, which provides k-12 school funding, after over a decade of austerity cuts. This final, comprehensive budget would provide for the wide-ranging needs of our state’s and its citizens, and I am proud that the Georgia General Assembly fulfilled its constitutional responsibility by giving final passage to the FY 2019 budget.

Although the Georgia General Assembly has adjourned sine die and the 2018 legislative session has officially come to an end, I hope that you will continue to contact me if you have any questions regarding your state government, potential new state laws or if you have any suggestions for future legislation. Over the next 40 days, Gov. Deal will review and sign or veto measures that received final House and Senate passage this session. Any bill the governor signs will become law, and any legislation not signed or vetoed within this 40-day period will automatically become law as well. My House colleagues and I have worked diligently this session on behalf of our constituents, and we are proud of the legislation we have crafted and passed for the good of our state. While the session is over, I will continue to serve you and your family as our district’s state representative. Please feel free to reach out to me or my assistant, Kayla Bancroft, anytime at 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 representative.

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.

2018 Georgia General Assembly — Week Ten Update

On Thursday, March 15, my House colleagues and I completed Legislative Day 35 and our tenth week of the 2018 legislative session, and we now only have five working days remaining until Legislative Day 40, or sine die. Legislative Day 40 is the last day the House will take up business for the year, and since we only have a few days left to wrap up our legislative work, this week was extremely busy in committees, and our agendas were very full as we reviewed and passed Senate measures in the House Chamber.

This week, the House passed a critical measure that seeks to better coordinate state health care policies in an effort to address the unique health challenges facing our state. Senate Bill 357, also known as “The Health Act,” would establish the Health Coordination and Innovation Council of the State of Georgia under the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget to streamline and coordinate all components of our state’s health care system. The council would bring together academic, industry and government experts and leaders to share information, coordinate the major functions of Georgia’s health care system and develop innovative approaches to stabilize costs and improve access to quality health care. The council would serve as a research forum to identify our state’s greatest health issues and promote cooperation between private and public agencies to test new ideas. The council’s responsibilities would include evaluating the effectiveness of previously enacted and ongoing health programs; determining how to best develop new approaches and promote innovation to improve Georgia’s health care system; and maximizing the effectiveness of existing resources, expertise and improvement opportunities. The 18-member council would consist of commissioners and directors from health and human services-related departments and divisions, including a new position for a director of health care policy and strategic planning, and health care professionals appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor and the speaker of the House of Representatives. The bill would also establish an advisory board that would provide guidance to the council. The council and advisory board would help lead the way to a higher quality and more effective health care system in Georgia and improve health care access and outcomes for all Georgians, and this bill is a major step forward in addressing the health care-related challenges our state faces.

My House colleagues and I unanimously passed a measure this week that would ensure children with autism in Georgia have access to vital treatments and therapies needed to lead full and healthy lives. Senate Bill 118 would increase the age of coverage for autism spectrum disorder treatments from six-years-old to 20-years-old and would increase the coverage limit from $30,000 to $35,000 per year. Additionally, SB 118 would require insurers to provide coverage for applied behavior analysis, which is recognized as a necessary medical treatment for autism. If signed into law, SB 118 would take effect on Jan. 1, 2019. SB 118 would greatly benefit our state’s autistic youth and their families, as the measure would guarantee that more of Georgia’s children who are on the autism spectrum receive the therapies, treatments and care they need to thrive.

Elder abuse cases have risen significantly across the state in recent years, and on Thursday, March 15, the House passed a measure to address this alarming trend. Senate Bill 406 would create the Georgia Long-term Care Background Check Program, which would require elder care providers in personal care homes or other assisted living facilities to undergo comprehensive, fingerprint-based criminal background checks. This provision would apply to owners, applicants for employment and employees of personal care homes, assisted living communities, private home care providers, home health agencies, hospice care, nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities or adult day cares. If SB 406 is signed into law, the background check requirement would take effect on Oct. 1, 2019, for new applicants and on Jan. 1, 2021, for existing employees and owners. In addition, under SB 406, the Department of Community Health would establish and maintain a central caregiver registry so that a family member or guardian looking to hire a personal caregiver for an elderly person could access information on eligible and ineligible applicants and employers. SB 406 is based on the Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform’s recommendations, and this significant measure seeks protect our state’s senior citizens and decrease cases of elder abuse.

As I have discussed in previous columns, the House has greatly prioritized legislation to boost economic development in Georgia’s rural communities throughout this legislative session, and this week, the House continued its commitment to rural Georgia by adopting House Resolution 1376. HR 1376 urges the House Rural Development Council (RDC) to solicit input from Georgia’s hospitals on their financial conditions, including profitability, community benefit, cash revenue and viability projections for hospitals in financial crisis. The resolution also suggests that the RDC receive recommendations from the hospital industry on any legislative or regulatory changes that could help sustain our state’s health care industry. Georgia’s hospitals are extremely important to the areas they serve, as they play a key role in a community’s economic development and provide indigent care to those in need. However, in Georgia, there is a wide discrepancy among hospitals in regards to how much indigent and charity care they provide. Some of Georgia’s hospitals are very profitable, while others, especially in rural Georgia, are at risk of closing, and the recommended provisions in this measure would provide the RDC with valuable information needed to help our state’s rural hospitals flourish.

Additionally, on Thursday, March 15, the House passed Senate Bill 330, the Georgia Agricultural Education Act. Under this bill, Georgia’s agricultural education programs for students in grades six through 12 would be required to be based on the nationally recognized three-component model of school-based agricultural education. The three-component model would consist of daily classroom and lab instruction; hands-on, experimental learning through a supervised agricultural experience program; and leadership and learning opportunities through participation in agricultural education programs, such the Georgia Future Farmers of America (FFA) Association. The Department of Education would develop curriculum and standards for the program with input from agricultural education teachers. Further, this legislation would authorize the Department of Education to establish an elementary agricultural education pilot program to determine whether such a program would be appropriate for statewide implementation. Georgia’s agriculture education programs provide our students with valuable and unique learning opportunities outside of the traditional classroom setting, and it is essential that we preserve and expand these programs so that more of our state’s students can learn about agriculture and the agriculture industry, which is the biggest industry in Georgia.

Last legislative session, the House championed 12 military-friendly bills and six resolutions in honor of Georgia’s military, and this session, we have passed almost a dozen additional bills to benefit our state’s military, including Senate Bill 395, which passed the House unanimously this week. This bipartisan bill would establish the 18-member Georgia Joint Defense Commission, which would be responsible for advising the governor and the Georgia General Assembly on state and national-level defense and military issues; recommending policies and plans to support the long-term sustainability and development of Georgia’s active and civilian military; developing programs to enhance communities’ relationships with military installations; and serving as a task force to prepare for potential base realignment or military installation closures in the state. The council would submit an annual report to the governor and the Georgia General Assembly on the state of Georgia’s military installations, as well as a tactical plan for navigating a possible base realignment or military installation closure. Finally, this bill would establish the Defense Community Economic Development Grant Program to assist military communities with projects, events and activities that promote military installations. The Joint Defense Commission and the Defense Community Economic Development Grant Program would help to further strengthen Georgia’s military-friendly reputation, bolster our state’s military installations and ultimately enhance the quality of life for Georgia’s active-duty military members and veterans.

In addition to SB 395, the House passed another bill to assist our service men and women on Thursday, March 15. Senate Bill 82 would allow members of the Georgia National Guard or a reserve component of the United States Armed Forces located in Georgia to be classified as a legal residents under eligibility requirements for HOPE scholarships and grants. This expansion would only apply to Georgia National Guard or reserve members who are stationed in Georgia or who list Georgia as his or her home of record. Currently, only active-duty military service members, their spouses and their dependent children are eligible to receive Georgia’s HOPE scholarships and grants, and SB 82 would allow the brave men and women who serve in the Georgia National Guard and the reserves to reap the same educational benefits as their active-duty military counterparts.

Finally, the House passed Senate Bill 17, also known as the “Brunch Bill,” on Monday, March 12. This legislation would allow local governing authorities to authorize alcoholic beverage sales beginning at 11 a.m. on Sundays, subject to the passage of a local referendum. SB 17 would only apply to licensed establishments that derive at least 50 percent of their total annual gross sales from food sales or from room rentals for overnight lodging. If SB 17 becomes law, it is expected to increase sales by $100 million and generate approximately $11 million in additional state and local tax revenue. This measure would not change existing local alcohol sales laws, but it would allow voters to decide whether or not to approve of early Sunday sales within their communities.

With five legislative days remaining until we adjourn sine die for the 2018 legislative session, it is more important than ever that you reach out to me to express any concerns or share any input you have regarding pending legislation. I highly value your thoughts and opinions, and I want to know what you, your family and our neighbors think about legislative matters that impact our community and our state. My Assistant or I can be reached by phone 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.