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Week 2- Update!
My colleagues and I returned to the Georgia State Capitol for the highly anticipated “budget week” on Tuesday, January 17. To begin the state budget process, the Georgia General Assembly devoted the entire second week of session to holding joint House and Senate Appropriations hearings. During the first hearing of the week, Governor Brian Kemp gave opening remarks that highlighted his budget recommendations for the current and upcoming fiscal year budgets, which will become legislation that will ultimately guide our state’s spending. Throughout the week, we also heard directly from state agency leaders regarding their budgetary requests, as well as the state economist, who provided a comprehensive overview of Georgia’s economic forecast for this year. Our second week under the Gold Dome was certainly busy as we worked to strategically invest our state revenues to best serve the needs of all Georgians.
Each legislative session, as required by our state constitution, the General Assembly must pass a balanced state budget. After reviewing Gov. Kemp’s budget proposals presented this week, my colleagues and I will begin drafting two budget bills: the Amended Fiscal Year 2023 (AFY 2023) budget and the Fiscal Year 2024 (FY 2024) budget. First, the amended budget directs spending for the remainder of the current fiscal year and uses a more accurate estimate of state revenue to account for any differences between the projected estimate and actual revenue obtained. Based on updated revenue estimates, the AFY 2023 budget will include approximately $2.3 billion in additional revenue that our state can utilize over the next six months; this is great news for our state and reflects the hard work that the governor and the legislature has done in the aftermath of the global pandemic.
Next, the FY 2024 budget will determine state spending for the entire upcoming fiscal year beginning on July 1, and this full budget is set at a revenue estimate of $32.4 billion. The governor’s version of the current and upcoming fiscal year budgets includes a range of budgetary items that prioritize the education, health and safety of Georgians, as well as investments that will help keep Georgia a competitive state to live, work and raise a family.
To that end, Georgia has experienced record-breaking growth in new jobs and investment across our state, and the governor predicts that our state is ready to weather any economic storm that may come this year. However, Georgians across our state are feeling the effects of 40-year high inflation that’s plaguing the entire country, and as such, his budget recommendations pave the way for providing financial relief to Georgians amid this record high inflation. Due to the positive economic outcome from the previous fiscal year and encouraging projections for our future, the governor recommends allocating $1 billion in undesignated funds from the AFY 2023 budget to provide a one-time tax refund to every eligible taxpayer in our state; these one-time tax refunds would range from $250 for single filers to $500 for joint filers. Furthermore, Gov. Kemp also announced his plans to create the one-time Homeowner Tax Relief Grants program using $1.1 billion in the AFY 2023 budget. Every eligible homeowner would have a chance to receive a $20,000 exemption for their assessed home value on their 2023 property tax bill, and the governor estimates that this exemption would result in an average savings of $500.
Educating Georgia’s young learners continues to be a top priority for the governor heading into his second term, and investing in our future workforce is certainly reflected in his budget priorities for both budget years. The amended budget includes an additional $745 million and more than $1.1 billion is included in upcoming fiscal year budget for K-12 education. These investments would fully fund the Quality Basic Education program, increase salaries for certified personnel by $2,000 during the next school year, as well as provide $15 million in grant funding in the year’s amended budget to help paraprofessionals pursue a teaching certification. Teachers today are preparing our state’s leaders of tomorrow, and it is crucial that we invest in those who devote their careers to our students. To enhance school safety and address security needs, the governor also recommends dedicating $115 million in the amended budget to provide $50,000 school safety grants to every K-12 school across our state. Ahead of the next school year, funding for school counselors would also see a boost of $26.9 million to help address our students’ mental health and emotional well-being. His version of the amended budget also includes $25 million for learning loss grants to allow individual schools to create programming that is geared towards closing learning gaps due to the pandemic. Finally, to address the increasing costs of college tuition, the governor proposes using $61.2 million in the FY 2024 budget to fully fund the Georgia’s HOPE scholarship and grant awards at 100 percent of tuition at all Georgia public higher education institutions. Gov. Kemp estimates that full-time students would save an average of $444 annually while earning their degrees, and these saving would help ensure more students than ever can reduce the out-of-pocket costs of college and remove barriers from achieving the education necessary to equip our future workforce.
During the previous fiscal year, our state benefited from a record number of economic development projects that total more than $21.2 billion in direct investment to Georgia, including the Rivian and Hyundai electric vehicle plants that will call our state home. To develop a highly skilled workforce for these facilities and other job-creating projects, the governor’s amended budget proposal includes $130 million to develop two new QuickStart EV training facilities overseen by the state’s technical college system. Additionally, he also recommends dedicating $166.7 million in the AFY 2023 budget for the state’s Regional Economic Business Assistance program, which would assist local governments with providing incentives to businesses looking to grow their footprint. The governor also seeks to move $35.7 million in existing funds for the OneGeorgia program to establish a Rural Workforce Housing Fund; this new fund would allow local development and housing authorities prepare land for housing developments that would help make the housing market more affordable for local workforces.
Furthermore, the governor’s budgetary recommendations seek to improve health care access and affordability in Georgia through a few different measures. First, the governor’s FY 2024 proposal includes $52 million to implement the Georgia Pathways to Coverage program to expand health insurance access to uninsured residents; this program was established through the Patients First Act, legislation which was passed by the General Assembly in recent years. The governor also seeks to further support the state’s reinsurance program using $92 million in both budget proposals. The reinsurance program has reduced premiums by an average of 12.4 percent for the 2023 reinsurance plan compared to premiums without the program, allowing participants to see an average annual premium reduction of $995 or $83 per month. Starting in April 2023, the state will examine Medicaid eligibility for plan participants, which was previously delayed by the federal government due to the Public Health Emergency. To ensure every vulnerable citizen is cared for during this complicated process, the governor proposes $8.4 million in the AFY 2023 budget and $3.2 million in FY 2024 budget to pay for additional caseworkers and other associated costs needed for this redetermination process.
Keeping every Georgian safe is another top priority of Gov. Kemp this session. During the last legislative session, the governor set aside funding in his budget proposal to build a new state prison that is more secure and costs less to maintain. While the new prison is being constructed, the governor allocates funding in both budget proposals to help maintain the current correctional facilities. His amended budget includes $51 million and the upcoming fiscal year includes $26 million in bond funds to address emergency maintenance and repairs on existing facilities and prisons. An additional $25 million in is included in the FY 2024 budget proposal to prepare a new state prison that aims meet the correction system’s space needs.
The governor also recognizes the importance of appropriating state funding to retain the bright individuals who make up Georgia’s public workforce. Gov. Kemp’s FY 2024 budget would provide assistance to dedicated law enforcement agencies as they ramp up their retention and recruitment efforts. Gov. Kemp recommends investing $3.2 million in a loan repayment plan for 800 state and local law enforcement officers starting in the upcoming fiscal year; the plan would offer a loan repayment of up to $20,000 per officer in exchange for five years of service; these loan repayment programs would help local law enforcement agencies attract officers to their ranks in this competitive job market. I also want to highlight the governor’s plan to invest in our state employees, who ensure our state operations run efficiently and effectively as it serves citizens. In the governor’s FY 2024 budget plan, approximately $243 million would be used to provide state employees with a $2,000 cost-of-living increase. It’s crucial that our state government remain a competitive employer with other government entities, and these funding initiatives would help retain public workers and avoid costly recruiting and training costs.
Now that the joint budget hearings have concluded, the House Appropriations subcommittees will begin to meet separately to review specific portions of the budget and delve deeper into the state agencies’ budget needs. Since the Georgia Constitution requires the budget bills to originate in the House, each House Appropriations subcommittee will pass their respective portions of the AFY 2023 and FY 2024 state budgets, which will collectively result in two complete budget bills to be approved by the full House Appropriations Committee. Then, each budget bill will need to be scheduled for a vote on the House floor by the House Rules Committee. After the budget bills make their way through the House, these bills will be transmitted to our counterparts in the Senate, where each bill will undergo the same process. There will likely be changes to the governor’s original proposals as the House and Senate continue to work through the budget process, and I will keep you updated as these bills are finalized.
Finally, the House Committee on Assignments recently completed its work and announced committee assignments for each representative this week. I am excited to announce that I have been appointed to serve on the following House committees for the next two years: Agriculture & Consumers Affairs; Energy, Utilities & Telecommunications, Juvenile Justice, State Planning, and Ways & Means. You can learn more about these committees on our public website here: https://www.legis.ga.gov/committees/house. Additionally, I was appointed Chair of the Intergovernmental Coordination Committee by Speaker Burns. It is an honor to serve District 135 and the State of Georgia in these committees.
The House will be back in session on Monday, January 23, and we have another busy week ahead as the pace of the session continues to pick up. As we move forward, I encourage you to visit me at my capitol office, or call me if you have any questions or concerns regarding the state budget bills, the legislative process or any other measures being considered under the Gold Dome. As your state representative, I want to know what issues are most important to you, your family and our neighbors, and I welcome any opportunity to hear feedback from my constituents. My capitol office is located at 401-B at the Capitol, my office phone number is 404-656-7855, and my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Please reach out to me any time.
As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.
Week 1 beginning 1/9/2023
On Monday, January 9, 2023, the Georgia General Assembly convened for the first day of the 157th Legislative Session. I was so honored to have my husband, Mark, daughter and son-in-law, Meredith and Bryce, at the Capitol on this important day. Since Monday marked the start of the 2023-2024 legislative term, the first day of session began with members of the Georgia House of Representatives taking the oath of office, and this year, we had the honor of being sworn in by Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Boggs. Once we were sworn in, we immediately took up our first order of business, which was to elect a Speaker of the House and Speaker Pro Tempore who will guide our chamber over the next two years, and we also voted on legislation that sets our legislative calendar for this session.
After hearing the nominations, Speaker Jon Burns (R-Newington) was elected to serve as the 75th Speaker of the House of Representatives by acclamation. Speaker Burns is now the presiding officer of the House, where he will determine the leadership and membership of House committees, assign legislation to committees, call legislation for debate on the House floor and enforce the rules of the House. Additionally, Speaker Pro Tempore Jan Jones (R-Milton) was re-elected to her respective position by acclamation. Following the death of Speaker David Ralston in November 2022, Pro Tem Jones served as the 74th Speaker of the House for the remainder of the 2021-2022 legislative term, making her the first female Speaker of the House in state history.
Also on Monday, the House and Senate voted to adopt an Adjournment Resolution, Senate Resolution 6, to set our calendar for this legislative session. Each session lasts 40 non-consecutive days, and this year’s calendar sets our final day of session, or “Sine Die,” on Wednesday, March 29. We have an aggressive schedule this year and much work to accomplish before session ends this spring. You can find a copy of the full legislative calendar here.
Later in the week, the House and Senate convened for a joint legislative session for the inauguration of Governor Brian Kemp for his second term in office. Citizens from across the state gathered as Gov. Kemp took the oath of office at the Georgia State Convocation Center in Atlanta. During this joint session, Gov. Kemp also administered the oath of office to Lieutenant Governor Burt Jones and other statewide constitutional officers who were elected this past fall. In his inaugural address, the governor discussed his goals for his next term in office and reflected on the recent accomplishments of our state, which has emerged from the global pandemic stronger than ever due to the resilience of our citizens and the leadership of all of our elected officials. During his address, the governor also announced his goals to partner with the Georgia General Assembly this session to create better schools, safer streets, good paying jobs and greater economic opportunities.
Finally, on Friday, the House began the session day with a moment of silence for the thousands of Georgians who were impacted by the severe storms that swept across the state on Thursday afternoon. The governor issued a State of Emergency on Thursday evening, which authorized the state’s emergency management and public safety agencies to mobilize first responders and begin rescue and recovery efforts. Please keep the families impacted by these storms in your thoughts and prayers as the state’s recovery efforts continue.
I will be working diligently on behalf of our entire district now that the 2023 legislative session is officially underway. I hope you will take the opportunity to review updates like this throughout the session to stay informed on legislative matters that may affect you, your family and our community. The House website, www.legis.ga.gov/house, has a number of publicly available resources to help you stay up-to-date on the work we are doing at your state Capitol. You can watch a live stream of the House floor proceedings, view live and archived committee meetings and review proposed legislation that comes before the House. I also want to encourage you to follow the official House Twitter and Facebook accounts, which provide daily updates on House floor votes and other important announcements about session.
Congratulations to the University of Georgia Bulldogs on their back-to-back College Football Playoff National Championship title this week. These elite national champions represented Georgia well as they dominated the Texas Christian University Horned Frogs in Los Angeles. The first day of session coincided with game day, and the House made sure to wish the Dawgs the best of luck before kick-off. What a great birthday present this year!
After we celebrate the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, my colleagues and I will return to the Capitol on Tuesday to begin our work on one of the most important pieces of legislation of this session: the state budget. Before leaving the Capitol on Friday, my colleagues and I received the governor’s budget books, which include his budget recommendations. We will review these recommendations over the weekend, and the House and Senate Appropriations committees will hear directly from the governor to discuss his recommendations on Tuesday morning. The Appropriations committees will continue to meet throughout next week to discuss budget requests from our state agency heads, and I look forward to sharing updates with you.
As we move throughout the legislative session, I welcome you to reach out to me with your thoughts and opinions about legislation, including the state budget. Your feedback is crucial to developing good, sound policies for our state, and I look forward to discussing my legislative goals for this session with you. I can be reached at email@example.com or by phone at 404-656-0213.
Thank you for allowing me to serve as your state representative for the 2023-2024 legislative term.
Week 13- Update!
On Monday, April 4, the 2022 legislative session came to an end as the House and Senate completed the 40th and final day of session, also known as “Sine Die,” which is a Latin term meaning “without assigning a day for further meeting.” As we convened for Sine Die, we worked tirelessly past midnight to ensure that important legislation for our state had every opportunity to be considered this year. The House gave final passage to many quality pieces of legislation, including a new state budget, which will now go to Governor Brian Kemp for his final consideration. The photo this week is an old friend I haven’t seen since I was an EMT at Putnam County EMS. Kendrick Lowe worked part time at EMS and was a dispatcher at GSP back in the 90’s. Fast forward a few decades and my friend is now Major Kendrick Lowe of Georgia State Patrol! What a welcome surprise to get to visit with Major Lowe on Sine Die. My many thanks to Georgia State Patrol and Capitol Police for their service during Session and for what they do everyday. Fiscal Year 2023 Budget The House fulfilled its only constitutional obligation late in the night on Sine Die when we voted to adopt a conference committee report for House Bill 911, the Fiscal Year 2023 (FY 2023) budget. Upon the governor’s signature, the FY 2023 budget will go into effect on July 1, 2022, and is set at a revenue estimate of $30.2 billion. Due to positive economic projections, HB 911 would permanently restore nearly $669 million that was originally eliminated from the budget following the initial fallout from the pandemic in 2020. The House and Senate were able to finalize a budget that would make historic investments in our state agencies, and I want to bring your attention to just a few significant investments included in this budget. HB 911 includes $758 million for the state’s workforce to help reduce the high turnover rate of state employees, which impacts critical government services. Specifically, this budget would provide a well-earned $5,000 cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for eligible state employees, allow state employees to withdraw and be compensated for up to 40 hours of accrued leave annually, increase the employer 401(k) match up to nine percent and prefund a COLA for state retirees. These strategic compensation initiatives aim to target the state’s all-time high average turnover rate of 23 percent, which is even higher for some agencies at 40 percent. We also included $62.4 million for additional targeted salary adjustments to prevent workers from leaving for higher paying jobs in other government agencies or the private sector after they’ve been trained. Using $148.9 million in new funds, this FY 2023 budget would also bolster funding for mental health coordinated care and law enforcement systems in every region of the state. Law enforcement agencies would be able to hire additional law enforcement positions and make salary adjustments to further tackle crime and keep citizens safe in our state. Our health and judicial state agencies would also receive ample funding to support and expand services for Georgians who are facing a mental health crisis or addiction, including expanding accountability courts, suicide prevention support, crisis bed availability and a workforce to deliver those services. This funding would work in conjunction with provisions in the House’s Mental Health Parity Act (House Bill 1013), which I discuss in more detail below. Funding for K-12 education dominates nearly 40 percent of the FY 2023 budget, totaling $11.8 billion to fully fund Georgia’s public schools. The FY 2023 budget also includes $291.7 million to provide a $2,000 pay increase for certified teachers and employees, allowing us to complete our original goal to increase teacher pay by $5,000. The teacher’s retirement system would also greatly benefit from additional funding in this upcoming state budget. To promote a healthy Georgia, this budget includes $5 million in Low-Income Medicaid funds, allowing the state to submit federal waivers to provide Medicaid benefits to individuals with HIV and to remove the five-year waiting period for lawful permanent residents to qualify for benefits. We also appropriated $1.8 million for more lead inspectors and testing machines based on legislation that was recommended by the House Study Committee on Childhood Lead Exposure. The Sick Cell Foundation would also receive $538,738 for care and testing in rural areas, and $1.7 million would go towards our local health departments with infrastructure grants. HB 911 would also allow for the elimination of special institution fees at our state colleges and universities, fund workforce programs for high-demand careers, as well as implement a 10 percent provider rate increase for foster parents, relative caregivers, child caring institutions and child placing agencies. These are just some of the major funding initiatives that I am eager to share with you, and a complete list of FY 2023 budget highlights can be found here. Historic $1 Billion Tax Cut House Bill 1437, or the Georgia Tax Reduction and Reform Act of 2022, also received final passage on Sine Die through the adoption of a conference committee report. HB 1437 would provide a historic income tax cut to save Georgians an estimated $1 billion annually once the cut goes into effect in 2024. This final version of HB 1437 would eliminate personal income tax brackets and replace them with a single, flat rate of 5.49 percent, and this tax rate would gradually decrease each year until it reaches 4.99 percent under specific circumstances. HB 1437 would also eliminate the current standard deductions for taxpayers and, instead, would increase the personal exemptions to $12,000 for single and head of household taxpayers and to $18,500 for married taxpayers who file a joint return. The personal exemption for married taxpayers filing a joint return would gradually increase to $20,000 for 2024, $22,000 for 2028 and $24,000 for 2030. The bill would also increase the amount of earned income allowed to be included in the retirement income exemption to $5,000 and would create a $10,000 cap for the amount of state and local taxes allowed to be deducted. Following strong economic stewardship throughout the pandemic, I am proud that we are able to continue providing efficient, effective government services, while also working to give taxpayers back their hard-earned dollars. Implementing this tax cut would allow our state to remain a great place for families to live, work and play for many years to come, and I am hopeful that Gov. Kemp will sign this bill into law. Medicaid Coverage for New Mothers My colleagues and I also passed legislation on Sine Die to provide longer Medicaid coverage for new mothers to encourage better health outcomes for them and their babies. Senate Bill 338 would extend the period of postpartum Medicaid coverage from six months to one year after delivery to decrease and prevent maternal deaths in our state, and the FY 2023 budget includes $28.2 million in funding to implement this vital Medicaid extension. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 700 people die across the country during pregnancy or in the year after, and another 50,000 women experience severe pregnancy complications that can have a serious impact on a woman’s health each year. The CDC also estimates that Black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than white women, which is an alarming statistic that the legislature is working to address in Georgia. In 2020, the House championed House Bill 1114 to extend postpartum Medicaid coverage to six months, but it is crucial that we extend this coverage for an additional six months, giving mothers more support and access to health care services as they adjust to life with a new baby. Teaching Civil Rights Era to Students We also unanimously adopted House Resolution 881 to encourage Georgia’s public schools to teach children about the Civil Rights Era. This resolution urges schools to teach students about this historic movement and related subject matter in order to affirm our state’s commitment to reject bigotry, champion equal protection under the law and act in opposition to injustice wherever it occurs. HR 881 also encourages the inclusion of curriculum on natural law, the natural rights principles of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the tactics and strategy of nonviolent resistance. Our state is the home of many civil rights icons, and it is important for Georgia children to not only understand the impact of the Civil Rights Era at the time but also to recognize the ways this movement continues to shape our lives today. While schools are currently allowed to teach about the Civil Rights Era and Dr. King’s work, this resolution allows the House to officially and publically recognize that these teachings deepen a student’s appreciation for the civil rights leaders who fought for equality and justice here in Georgia, and teaching these subjects help ensure that their work and sacrifice has not been forgotten. Justice for Child Victims The House also unanimously gave final passage to House Bill 1188 to help keep dangerous predators behind bars, as well as keep these offenders away from Georgia children when they are released from jail. HB 1188 would clarify in Georgia law that each act of child molestation and the sexual exploitation of a child should be charged as separate crimes. The state has prosecuted these offenses separately in the past, but a Georgia Supreme Court ruling a few years ago directed these offenses to be grouped into one charge, which left victims without the justice they deserve. This legislation would address this court ruling and make it clear in the law that these offenders should be charged separately for each of their heinous crimes. HB 1188 would also make it a crime for any high-risk sex offender to access or use a commercial social networking website to communicate or gather information about a person who the offender believes is under 16 years old, and it would make it illegal for these offenders to impersonate a minor under the age of 16 years old. This crime would be considered a felony under Georgia law and would result in a prison sentence from one to 10 years and/or a fine up to $10,000. HB 1188 sends a strong message that Georgia will not be a safe haven for these predators, and anyone who seeks to harm children in this way should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Criminal Records Responsibility Act Before the night was over, the House passed Senate Bill 441, the Criminal Records Responsibility Act, to enhance how our state and local governments maintain and share criminal records, which is fundamental to keeping our communities safe. The main portion of this legislation would task the Criminal Case Data Exchange Board with acting as an advisory board for our court system. The advisory board would work to set statewide standards for the courts as they submit, maintain and preserve criminal records, as well as improve the electronic transmission of vital criminal data between state and local agencies, such as arrests and indictment information. This bill would also help courts adopt an automated system for victims to be notified about certain situations related to their case. The Criminal Records Responsibility Act also includes disposition requirements for attorneys and would require the Georgia Crime Information Center to update its policies based on the advisory board’s standards. Finally, SB 441 includes a provision that would provide original jurisdiction to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) to identify and investigate substantiated election-related claims and collect legal evidence while investigating election crimes. Overall, this legislation seeks to close certain gaps in our criminal justice system, and the bill has been sent to the governor for his consideration. 2022 Study Committees Each session, the House establishes study committees that work throughout the summer and fall to examine specific issues and/or topics that are important to Georgians. Before we ended the session, the House adopted four resolutions to launch new study committees that will surely keep my colleagues and I busy in the coming months. We adopted House Resolution 1082 to create the House Study Committee on State and Local Law Enforcement Salaries, which will examine the pay scale for these dedicated public servants to further address the shortage of officers in our state. The House also adopted House Resolution 1149 to create the House Study Committee on Regulation, Affordability and Access to Housing. This study committee will aim to address the growing need for affordable housing in our state and will be comprised of state representatives, a real estate industry professional and local government officials who will report their findings back to the House at the end of the year. Senate Resolution 477 was also adopted by the House to create the Joint Georgia Music Heritage Study Committee. This bicameral study committee will examine the economic impact of the music industry in Georgia, as well as ways to promote the state's music economy and foster integration with other creative industries that call our state home. Finally, we adopted House Resolution 798 to create the House Study Committee for Cannabis Waste Disposal and Recycling, and this study committee will learn more about the waste created from medical cannabis products and how this waste could be used to produce renewable energy. Throughout this year, each of these study committees will hold meetings with area experts and will craft extensive legislative recommendations following their hearings. At the end of the year, these study committees will dissolve after publishing their reports that will help guide some of our work during the 2023 legislative session. Mental Healthy Parity Act On Sine Die, my colleagues and I also had the honor of witnessing the historic House Bill 1013, the Mental Health Parity Act, being signed into law by Governor Kemp. Starting this year, HB 1013 will set our state on a path to improve the state’s mental health care system through meaningful, comprehensive reform. The result of a years-long study by the Georgia Behavioral Health Reform & Innovation Commission, this legislation will require parity for mental health coverage to the same degree as coverage for physical care, meaning health insurance companies will begin to provide greater coverage for treatment for issues like anxiety, depression, addiction and many other mental and behavioral health struggles that many Georgians face. This bill will also strengthen workforce development initiatives for mental health professionals, expand transparency and accountability for consumers and enhance resources and tools for frontline responders and communities. We recognize that mental health touches nearly every family in our state, and we were proud to see this bill become a new law this week knowing that it will drastically improve lives across Georgia. Honoring Georgia’s Longest Serving Legislator Finally, the House took a moment on Sine Die to recognize the longest serving state legislator in the Georgia General Assembly before he is set to retire. State Representative Calvin Smyre (D-Columbus), Dean of the Georgia House, took to the well on Sine Die to reflect on nearly 50 years of public service as a Georgia state representative. Dean Smyre was first elected in 1974 as the youngest state legislator, and he has since become a pillar of our legislative institution. Known as one of the strongest consensus builders, Rep. Smyre has a distinguished legislative record, which includes authoring the legislation making Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s birthday a state holiday and co-sponsoring legislation that created a new Georgia State Flag. He was also the co-sponsor of the historic Georgia Hate Crimes Act and helped champion legislation repealing Georgia antiquated citizen’s arrest law. The president has nominated Rep. Smyre to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic, and he will begin the confirmation process following his retirement from the House this summer. We are proud of our colleague and friend for his distinguished service, and we wish him the best as he embarks on serving our state and nation in this new capacity. Now that this year’s legislative session has come to an end, Governor Brian Kemp will review the legislation that received final passage by the House and Senate, and these measures will become state laws upon his signature. If the governor does not sign or veto a measure within 40 days of Sine Die, it automatically becomes law. To keep up with which bills the governor signs into law this spring, please click here. With this legislative session behind us, my colleagues and I will soon begin to study and examine various issues affecting Georgians that may need to be addressed in next year’s legislative session. You are always welcome to contact me with any questions or concerns about topics or issues that are important to you and your family. You can reach me at my capitol office at 404-656-0213 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, because the House has adjourned for the year, I will be spending much more daylight time in our district. Feel free to contact me locally at 770-530-6798. As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative. ~Beth
Week 12- Update!
The Georgia General Assembly returned to the State Capitol for our last full week of the 2022 legislative session on Monday, March 28, 2022. My colleagues and I spent time both in the House Chamber and in our respective committees this week, resulting in several key votes on House and Senate legislation on the House floor. With the end of session drawing near, this was undoubtedly our busiest week yet as we worked tirelessly to ensure crucial legislation that serves the citizens of Georgia crossed the finish line before Legislative Day 40. First, I am excited to announce that the House gave unanimous final passage to House Bill 1013, the Mental Health Parity Act, shortly after the bill was unanimously passed by our Senate counterparts this week. A foundational provision of this legislation would require parity for mental health coverage to the same degree as coverage for physical care to make accessing mental health care services significantly easier for Georgians. My colleagues and I unanimously passed Senate Bill 403 to encourage law enforcement partnerships with mental health professionals to improve the handling of situations in which an individual is experiencing a mental health crisis. Under SB 403, Community Service Boards, which provide services for mental health, intellectual/developmental disabilities, and addiction, would be directed to establish co-responder programs that would work with local law enforcement agencies responding to emergency calls involving people in a behavioral health crisis. Local law enforcement agencies could collaborate with co-responder programs, and Community Service Boards would provide licensed behavioral health specialists to be available in person or virtually during related emergency calls to assist officers in determining where to refer the individual for further treatment and care. This bill also outlines legal protections for the co-responder teams when they act in good faith. Additionally, the Mental Health Parity Act includes a funding mechanism to allow the General Assembly to appropriate funds to support these co-response teams. This bill not only seeks to enhance public safety in our state, but it would also ensure that individuals in crisis receive the appropriate response and treatment that they need. In addition, we passed Senate Bill 361, the Law Enforcement Strategic Support Act or LESS Crime Act, to establish a tax credit for Georgians who make contributions to 501(c)(3) law enforcement foundations that support local police agencies across the state. With these donations, law enforcement foundations could use those funds to issue bonus payments or training for law enforcement officers, pay for equipment for officers or cover costs of a co-responder program comprised of law enforcements officers and behavioral health specialists, as mentioned above. This tax credit program would have an annual statewide cap of $75 million, and each law enforcement agency would be capped at $3 million per year. Taxpayers would be allowed a 100 percent income tax credit for qualified donations to law enforcement foundations, and this bill would cap the credit at $5,000 for a single individual or head of household; a married couple, individual who is a member of a limited liability company, a shareholder of a Subchapter 'S' corporation or a partner in a partnership could receive a credit up to $10,000. This bill would also cap credits for corporations at 75 percent of the corporation's income tax liability. SB 361 would create an innovative way for citizens and businesses to come together and give back to their local law enforcement agencies as they work to keep our communities safe. The House also passed Senate Bill 87, the Senator Jack Hill Veterans' Act, to provide a simple way for Georgians to donate to college scholarships that are only for our veterans. With SB 87, taxpayers would have the opportunity to use a portion of their income tax return to make a voluntarily contribution to the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) Foundation, which would be able to expand its efforts to support veterans who are seeking technical degrees. Specifically, the funds received by the foundation would be used exclusively to award scholarships to veterans with service-connected disabilities to attend TCSG programs. Starting in January 2023, taxpayers would have the option to dedicate all or part of their refund when filling out the state’s income tax return form. This legislation would allow Georgians to support our disabled veterans who are looking to transition to sustainable, long-term careers, which would, in turn, also help bolster our state’s workforce for high-demand technical careers. This bill was aptly named in honor of our late colleague and veteran, State Senator Jack Hill, whose legacy will live on through this legislation. Additionally, my colleagues and I passed two bills this week to combat heinous human trafficking crimes in our state and protect vulnerable survivors of human trafficking. To support victims of human trafficking, we passed Senate Bill 565 to allow a victim to vacate his or her sentence through a petition that could be filed immediately or at any time following a misdemeanor or felony conviction that was committed due human trafficking. If a sentence is vacated, any court fines or fees that the victim previously paid for the sentence would be reimbursed through the Georgia Crime Victims Emergency Fund. Hopefully, this bill would allow more survivors of human trafficking to avoid long waiting periods when filing these petitions so that they can focus on healing and getting their lives back. We also passed Senate Bill 461, which would add human trafficking-related crimes to the list of crimes that are not eligible under law for an unsecured judicial release, meaning these criminals could not be released from jail without paying bond. With SB 461, human trafficking offenses would only be bailable before a superior court judge, which would make human trafficking offenses equal to other severe crimes within Georgia. These two measures build upon the comprehensive work we’re doing under the Gold Dome to address human trafficking, and Governor Brian Kemp and First Lady Marty, who work with the GRACE commission to fight human trafficking, also support these measures. Another bill that passed in the House this week would help identify causes of maternal mortality and improve maternal health outcomes across our state. Senate Bill 496 would require a medical examiner's inquiry in cases where a pregnant woman dies or when a new mother dies within a year of having her baby to help determine if these deaths were postpartum-related. This requirement would be waived in cases when a woman dies as the result of a car accident or other causes that are clearly known and not linked to pregnancy. Coroners or medical examiners notified of such deaths would be required to order these inquiries through a regional perinatal center determined by the Georgia Department of Public Health. My colleagues and I have been dedicated to lowering maternal mortality rates in our state in recent years, and this legislation would help our state determine the cause of death if a mother passes away following giving birth, and consequently, help find ways to prevent similar deaths from occurring in the future. Senate Bill 610 was also passed on the House floor this week to improve how we fund programs that support Georgians who are enrolled in Medicaid, including individuals living with disabilities and those who struggle with mental health conditions. The first portion of SB 610 would require the Georgia Department of Community Health (DCH) to conduct comprehensive reviews of the Medicaid rates set for certain state programs that many Georgians with disabilities benefit from. Every four years, the DCH would study provider reimbursement rates for these home and community-based waiver services and programs, as well as propose rate models, policy changes and fiscal projections. The second part of this bill would instruct the DCH to submit a waiver request to the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services to allow private mental health institutions to qualify for Medicaid reimbursement, which would allow these Georgians to receive more affordable treatments at these facilities. SB 610 exemplifies just one more way the state legislature is working to expand access to affordable health care for these vulnerable populations. The House also gave unanimous passage to Senate Bill 562 to prohibit companies owned or operated by the governments of Russia or Belarus from working with our state government. Under this bill, any company that submits a bid or proposal for a state contract would be required to certify that it is not owned, operated, or affiliated with these governments, and a company's false certification would result in civil liability, termination of contract and ineligibility for future contracts. Our state leaders recently announced that Georgia would divest any state investments in Russia, and SB 562 would further reinforce our state’s condemnation of the Russian government as Putin continues to senselessly murder and violate the sovereign rights of the Ukrainian people, including women and children. The Georgia House of Representatives also passed the following bills and resolution during Week 11: • House Resolution 625, which would encourage the state to establish a Georgia Gullah Geechee Heritage Society, and this resolution recognizes the tradition of the Gullah Geechee culture’s history, music, dance and other art forms; • House Resolution 998, which would allow the House to officially recognize the benefits of biomarker testing in the treatment of cancer and support ways that awareness can be used to support personalized accessible patient care; • House Resolution 1025, which would allow the House to officially recognize copper as crucial to Georgia's economy and urge its inclusion on the U.S. Geological Survey's List of Critical Minerals; • Senate Bill 10, which would make it a felony offense to impersonate a court officer with a prison sentence between one to five years and/or a maximum fine of $1,000; this bill would also make it a crime to intentionally, secretly place or direct someone else to place a global positioning system (GPS) on a motor vehicle when the car owner or lessee has a protective order against the person placing the GPS; SB 10 would also provide discretion to judges if a person fails to appear for court so that the court can order that person's driver's license be reinstated without a fee in lieu of the case being fully adjudicated; the uniform traffic citation law would be amended to say that the failure to appear may result in suspension of the driver's license; • Senate Bill 96, which would allow notaries to accept a valid Veterans Health Identification Card issued by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs as confirmation of identity; • Senate Bill 116, which would allow for the registration of maternity-supportive housing residences that provide housing for pregnant and postpartum women who are at least 18 years old; these homes would provide safe housing and allow the women to remain in the homes for 18 months after the birth of their child; registrants of these homes would be required to pay a $250 registration fee to the Department of Human Services, and registration certificates would be valid for one year; the department would not have the authority to implement regulations for registration of maternity homes but could maintain submitted records; municipalities could not constrain the establishment of a maternity home to an extent beyond that of a single-family residence, and non-profits administering housing could partner with other organizations or agencies to provide wraparound services for residents; • Senate Bill 152, which would update the wording of the pledge of allegiance to the state flag by adding the word “courage” as one of the cardinal virtues included in the pledge; • Senate Bill 226, which would require local boards of education to create a complaint resolution policy for local schools by January 1, 2023, to allow parents or guardians to submit complaints to the school about inappropriate content that is harmful to minors and available to the students at the school. This bill would also require the school's principal or designee to investigate a complaint and confer with the parent/guardian in a timely manner; SB 226 also includes requirements for an appeals process, and it would make any material deemed harmful to minors available online for parents to review; this bill was originally voted on and passed on Friday, March 25, but a motion was made to reconsider the House’s passage of the bill, and it was passed again on Monday, March 28; • Senate Bill 276, the Child Victim Protection Act of 2022, which would revise sections of the code regarding actions for childhood sexual abuse, including extending civil actions for recovery of damages for this abuse committed on or after July 1, 2015, to four years, allowing adults between 23 and 38 years old to bring civil actions for childhood abuse, establishing a look-back period for one year for those who were previously barred due to a statute of limitations, among other vital updates; this bill is identical to legislation the House passed during the previous legislative session; • Senate Bill 319, which would repeal the requirement for a weapons carry license for those who are not otherwise ineligible to possess and carry a firearm; • Senate Bill 330, which would prohibit insurance companies from canceling, modifying or refusing to issue life insurance based on an individual's status as an organ donor; • Senate Bill 332, the Inform Consumers Act, which would compel online marketplaces to require any high-volume third-party seller to provide on its platform bank account information, contact information and a business tax or taxpayer identification number to the online marketplace within 10 days after qualifying as a high-volume third-party seller; this bill would require online marketplaces to collect and verify third-party seller information and includes guidelines to ensure compliance, as well as notification and disclosure requirements; • Senate Bill 333, which would expand certain legal exemptions to include nonpublic postsecondary institutions that offer education or training through employment experiences or other short courses that do not specifically grant degrees; this bill would also update permitting guidelines, bond requirements and the requirements for institutions that participate in the Tuition Guaranty Trust Fund; • Senate Bill 337, which would discontinue compensation for a public official if the official is suspended as a result of a felony indictment; • Senate Bill 343, which would specify that forfeited leave payments for retirements prior to July 1, 2022, would not have to be paid by the employer; instead, these payments would be factored into actuarial assumptions for the Employees' Retirement System of Georgia and paid as part of the annual defined employer contribution; currently, employers contribute amounts for creditable service for forfeited leave payments; the bill would also change the 401(k) match for the Georgia State Employees' Pension and Savings Plan and would require employers to contribute a maximum of five percent of the employee's salary and 0.5 percent for each year of the member's creditable service after five years for a maximum employer match of nine percent at 13 years; this bill is a non-fiscal retirement bill; • Senate Bill 345, which would prohibit state and local governments from requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination as a condition for providing services, accessing a facility, issuing licenses or permits, performing duties, and other matters; • Senate Bill 363, which would require solicitations for corporate filings or employment/labor notices that are not sent by the state to be labeled as solicitations; this bill also includes guidelines for these disclaimers and would allow legal actions/fines for violations; • Senate Bill 379, which would establish the High-demand Career Initiatives Program under the Office of Workforce Development to promote the creation and expansion of registered apprenticeship programs in the state; this program would work to incentivize apprenticeship sponsors to establish new or grow existing registered apprenticeship programs in Georgia in order to expand high-quality work-based learning experiences in high-demand fields and careers in the state; the sponsor would receive a completion reward up to $10,000 per apprentice after a successful apprenticeship that meets all requirements; • Senate Bill 382, the Georgia Dangerous Sexual Predator Prevention Act, which would update certain sections of the law regarding childhood sexual abuse, such as extending the deadline for civil actions seeking recovery for damages from two years to four years, allowing adults between 23 and 38 years old to bring civil actions against certain volunteers who were tasked with taking care of the plaintiff and establishing a look-back period for one year for those who were previously barred due to a statute of limitations, prohibiting bringing in actions against entities from before July 1, 1988, among others; • Senate Bill 397, which would update the terminology in Georgia law from "general educational development (GED) diplomas" by replacing it with "state approved high school equivalency (HSE);" current law provides for a HOPE GED voucher issued upon the receipt of a GED diploma, but SB 397 would update this to the HOPE HSE voucher and would allow those funds to go toward the cost of an approved exam instead of a reward on the back end; • Senate Bill 404, which would authorize the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to retain fingerprints obtained by the Department of Public Health’s (DPH) authorized criminal background checks if the DPH is participating in a federal program that requires fingerprinting and allows for the ongoing and continuing review of the individual's criminal history as it relates to emergency medical services personnel; and DPH would be required to notify the individual whose fingerprints are taken of the parameters of retention; • Senate Bill 438, which would alter the retainage amount for progress payments on public works construction contracts from the current formula, which is 10 percent of the value of the completed work until 50 percent of the contract is completed, to a new formula of five percent throughout the contract; • Senate Bill 445, which would amend the state civil penalties available for violations of the National Manufactured Housing Construction and Safety Standards Act of 1974 by removing the $1,000 maximum penalty and replacing it with the penalty set by a federal regulation; • Senate Bill 479, which would increase the penalty for those who are on probation as a felony first offender, on probation for a felony or have been convicted of a felony and receive, possess or transport a firearm; this bill would make it a separate violation for each firearm that is connected to the crime; • Senate Bill 486, which would allow Agricultural Commodity Commission for Propane meetings to be held in-person, remotely or a combination of both; SB 486 would require the commission to notify the public of meetings and would change the process of adopting an assessment; • Senate Bill 511, which would reduce the time the county boards of tax assessors have to respond to a taxpayer's property tax appeal from 180 days to 90 days, increase the time county boards of equalization have to set a date for a hearing from 15 days to 90 days, and this bill includes provisions about scheduling appeals hearings and providing notices for these appeals hearings; this bill also includes new language regarding the creation of county boards of equalization and a new provision for rural investments; • Senate Bill 514, the Unmask Georgia Students Act, which would prohibit local public and charter schools from making or enforcing any rules that require students to wear face masks or face coverings at school, unless the rule would allow parents to exempt their child without disclosing their reason for opting out; SB 514 would also prohibit schools from disciplining students whose parents have elected to exempt their child from the mask policy; this bill was originally voted on and passed on Friday, March 25, but a motion was made to reconsider the House’s passage of the bill, and it passed again on Monday, March 28; • Senate Bill 534, which would amend the Administrative Procedures Act to provide guidelines for amending, adopting and repealing rules that affect charitable organizations; • Senate Bill 539, which would prohibit the unknowing photography or recording of activities of patients in a county board of health facility without the consent of all patients observed; the punishment would be a felony with a prison sentence between one to five years and/or a maximum fine of $10,000; • Senate Bill 553, which would allow a person at least 15 years old to operate a Class 1, Class 2 or Class 3 vessel on state waters if the individual has proper identification or an instruction permit and is accompanied by an adult that is at least 18 years old; this bill would also require the accompanying adult to be authorized to operate the vessel and be able to take control of the vessel; • Senate Bill 558, which would allow for the call of a caucus for a Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) board election to be sent via email rather than by mail; this bill would clean up language relating to contracting for public-private partnerships and alternative contracting methods, add GDOT to the code section relating to when public disclosure is not required by a state agency and add the data of vehicle information or personally identifiable information to those records not required for disclosure; SB 558 would provide a length increase from 80 feet to 84 feet for modular unit transporters for permitted vehicles; • Senate Bill 566, which would add mental health and substance use conditions to the definition of emergency medical services in order to include the conditions in the Surprise Billing Consumer Act; this bill would clarify that an emergency department visit that leads to inpatient admission would be billed as one service; • Senate Bill 573, which would require hospitals to adopt policies to reduce exposure to surgical smoke; • Senate Bill 576, which would update Georgia’s laws for grandparent visitation rights by establishing that if one of the parents of a minor child dies, is incapacitated or is incarcerated, the court may award reasonable visitation if the court finds by clear and convincing evidence that it would be in the best interests of the child; this bill would also create a rebuttable presumption that a child denied contact with his or her grandparent or who is not provided minimal opportunity for contact may suffer emotional injury harmful to the child's health; • Senate Bill 586, which would authorize counties to use the design-build contracting method; • Senate Bill 588, which would require that all local education board meetings have a public comment period on its agenda posted prior to the meeting; a local education board would annually set their meeting dates and make this schedule available to the public online; it would also prohibit the board from removing an individual from the meeting unless under specific circumstances and would require the local board to adopt and publish rules of conduct for the public meetings; this bill would also permit visual and sound recordings at all of these public meetings; • Senate Bill 605, which would allow a nonprofit organization that previously elected to make payments in lieu of contributions for unemployment insurance between January 1, 2020, and January 1, 2022, and that owes more than $360,000 for any year to elect to make those payments over a three-year period in equal monthly installments without any penalties or interest; this option would only apply to nonprofit organizations that had unemployment insurance coverage during that year and the insurance provider denied coverage for unemployment claims arising from the public health emergency during that period; these provisions would be repealed on December 31, 2026; • Senate Resolution 463, which would create the Joint Study Committee on the Electrification of Transportation; • Senate Resolution 596, which would serve as the General Assembly’s annual road dedication resolution. To be posted soon: On Monday, April 4, we reconvened for Legislative Day 40, which will be the last day of the 2022 legislative session. Day 40, also known as “Sine Die,” was the busiest day of the entire session as we worked diligently to finalize and pass bills in the House Chamber before the clock strikes at midnight. Stay tuned for that report! I urge you to contact me if you have any questions, concerns or input on any measures that I shared with you so far this session. I can be reached at my Capitol office at 404-656-0213or by email at email@example.com As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your state representative. ~Beth
Week 11 Update!
The Georgia General Assembly resumed its legislative business on Monday, March 21- the first full day of spring! We completed Crossover Day last week, and with this legislative milestone behind us, my colleagues and I went back to work in our House committees to examine Senate bills. As a result, the House Rules Committee scheduled several Senate bills for a vote on the House floor this week. Meanwhile, our Senate counterparts gave final passage to some House bills that are now eligible to be signed into law by Governor Brian Kemp.
As many of you know, the local bills for Pike and Upson Counties were the highlight of my week! It is my honor to always fight for the citizens of Lamar, Pike & Upson Counties under the Gold Dome. It is my honor to support local elected leaders in their endeavors to make lives better. The homestead exemptions approved by Pike Board or Education and the Upson County Board of Commissioners required a 2/3 super majority vote by the House and the Senate. I am so thankful that after multiple attempts and it being sent back to committee, all the bills achieved 125 votes and passed the House! Senator Harbin and Senator Kennedy are now working for passage of all seven bills in the Senate.
My colleagues and I unanimously passed Senate Bill 358 on the House floor to encourage those who serve in the U.S. military to live and work in our state as they transition to civilian life. This legislation would allow the Georgia Public Safety Training Center to reimburse the specific training costs incurred when active duty, retired or honorably discharged members of the U.S. military participate in basic law enforcement training. This bill would not authorize reimbursements for travel, lodging or supplemental salaries and would solely supplement costs of tuition incurred for training. If implemented, this funding would be subject to appropriations by the Georgia General Assembly. By making it easier for interested veterans to participate in basic law enforcement training, we can provide a pathway to good paying jobs for these veterans and help fill vacancies within our law enforcement agencies across the state.
The House also passed Senate Bill 396 to help food banks purchase fresh, affordable produce from Georgia farmers. This bipartisan legislation would allow the Georgia Department of Agriculture to implement a program for regional food banks to purchase surplus food products from Georgia farmers. To help kick start this program, SB 396 would clarify some of our laws and set guidelines that would help food banks negotiate discounted prices with Georgia farmers. Specifically, this legislation would rename the Georgia State Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to the Georgia Grown Farm to Food Bank (F2FB) Program, and this bill would also set the price of produce purchased through the program at the farmer’s cost plus one half of the market price. Further, an annual report for F2FB would include each Georgia grown product purveyor, producer,or processor from which the program procured food. These food banks estimate that they are offered approximately 14 million pounds of food products each year, but they are forced to turn away four to five million pounds due to a lack of funding to purchase these fresh foods. Consequently, the House and Senate are working together to ensure that state funding is included in the Fiscal Year 2023 budget to match federal funds for F2FB to address unused agricultural products and fresh produce shortages in regional food banks. With SB 396 and an increase in state funding, our state could provide fresh food to those struggling with food insecurity, while also helping local farmers across the state find a new customer base for their surplus products so they don’t go to waste.
Many Georgians living with chronic illnesses, along with their doctors, typically have to jump through hoops to get certain medications covered by insurance, and this week, the House passed Senate Bill 341 to help lessen this burden for doctors and their patients and provide a better pathway for obtaining treatment. Oftentimes, patients with chronic illnesses have to submit prior authorization forms to their insurance provider every few months for medications used to treat chronic conditions, but SB 341 would allow these patients to go through a single authorization process that would last for a minimum of one year. Under SB 341, the chronic condition would have to require ongoing medication that is prescribed by a provider and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This bill would not apply to opioid analgesics, benzodiazepine or medications with a typical treatment period of less than 12 months. The prior authorization approval process can be lengthy, leaving these patients without access to their crucial medications. SB 341 would allow Georgians living with chronic illnesses to get these necessary medications with minimal disruption to their daily lives, as well as allow doctors to focus on treating patients instead of navigating government red tape.
The Georgia House also passed the following Senate bills this week:
· Senate Bill 211, which would provide that future elections for the Crisp County probate court judge shall be non-partisan;
· Senate Bill 226, which would require local boards of education to create a complaint resolution policy for local schools by January 1, 2023, to allow parents or guardians to submit complaints to the school about inappropriate content that is harmful to minors and available to the students at the school. This bill would also require the school's principal or designee to investigate a complaint and confer with the parent/guardian in a timely manner; SB 226 also includes requirements for an appeals process, and it would make any material deemed harmful to minors available online for parents to review; following the bill’s passage, a motion was filed to reconsider this action, and the House will vote on SB 226 again on the next legislative day;
· Senate Bill 331, the Protecting Georgia Businesses and Workers Act, which would prohibit local jurisdictions from enforcing any rule or ordinance that regulates the hours or scheduling that a private employer is required to provide to employees or that regulates employee output during work hours;
· Senate Bill 340, which would update provisions related to medical education accreditation by replacing the "American Medical Association" with "Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education" as the accrediting body and remove the 50-resident program requirement;
· Senate Bill 346, which would require a company that submits a bid or a contract proposal with the state to certify that the company is not owned, operated or affiliated with the Chinese government; a company's false certification would result in civil liability, termination of contract and ineligibility for future state contracts; this prohibition would not affect state contracts with Taiwan;
· Senate Bill 395, which would increase the number of superior court judges in the Mountain Judicial Circuit from two to three; the third judge would be appointed for a term beginning January 1, 2023, through December 31, 2024, and his or her successor would be elected at the non-partisan judicial election in 2024;
· Senate Bill 469, which would align Georgia’s laws with federal laws regarding requirements for visual distress signals and floatation devices on watercrafts;
· Senate Bill 470, which would replace the term "agent" with the term "covered employee" in the list of individuals the Department of Banking and Finance shall revoke mortgage licenses to because of a felony conviction; a “covered employee" would be defined as a mortgage lender or broker employee involved in residential mortgage loan-related activities for Georgia properties who has access to loan origination, processing or underwriting information;
· Senate Bill 493, which would authorize non-judicial foreclosures of time-share estates by an owners' association, and this bill outlines requirements for these foreclosures;
· Senate Bill 500, which would help ensure that the state receives the full settlement amount in statewide opioid settlements and would bar other litigation claims by a state entity or local government once the state enters into the opioid settlements; this bar would not apply to bellwether claims regarding the National Prescription Opiate Litigation, Case No.: MDL 2804;
· Senate Bill 514, the Unmask Georgia Students Act, which would prohibit local public and charter schools from making or enforcing any rules that require students to wear face masks or face coverings at school, unless the rule would allow parents to exempt their child without disclosing their reason for opting out; SB 514 would also prohibit schools from disciplining students whose parents have elected to exempt their child from the mask policy; following the bill’s passage, a motion was filed to reconsider this action, and the House will vote on SB 514 again on the next legislative day;
· Senate Bill 543, which would clarify Georgia's slayer statute by prohibiting an individual who kills, conspires to kill or procures the killing of an individual from subsequently claiming a right to recover from the decedent’s estate;
· Senate Bill 581, which would designate the Georgia State Plane Coordinate System as the system for defining and stating geographic positions for property surveying within the state, and continued use of the old system’s legal descriptions would remain valid in the new system designation.
Several House bills also moved along in the Senate this week. The Senate passed an updated version of House Bill 911, or the Fiscal Year 2023 budget, and the House and Senate will continue to work towards a final version of FY 2023 budget before it receives final passage. The Senate gave final passage to House Bill 385, which would allow retired educators to return to teaching in the classroom while still receiving their state retirement benefits; this teacher workforce initiative will head to the governor’s desk for his consideration. House Bill 1064 also received final passage and will create tax exemptions for military retirement income for both working and fully retired service members once it is signed into law.
In other news, the governor signed House Bill 304 at the end of last week to immediately suspend the state’s motor fuel excise tax through the end of May 2022. Gas prices have continued to increase as a result of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, but this measure seeks to offer some financial relief and save Georgians a few more dollars when they visit the pump. The governor also signed House Bill 1302 into law this week to create a one-time tax credit for Georgians using $1.6 billion in undesignated surplus funds from the Amended Fiscal Year 2022 budget. Eligible Georgia taxpayers can expect to receive a tax credit based on their 2020 tax filer status. Single tax filers will receive a $250 refund, head-of-household filers will receive $375, and those who file jointly will receive a $500 refund. The two measures reflect the House’s goal to keep Georgia an affordable place to call home.
There are only five legislative days left in the 2022 legislative session, and the House will be busier than ever during these final days to ensure that we pass sound policies for Georgia and all of its residents. As we continue to work with the Senate to secure the final passage of legislation this year, please do not hesitate to contact me with any thoughts you may have about bills being considered at your State Capitol during these last five days of the session. Your input will help guide my decisions during this crucial time, and I always appreciate your feedback. My Capitol office phone number is (404) 656-0213 and my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.
Week 10! The Georgia House of Representatives reconvened on Tuesday, March 15, 2022 for Legislative Day 28, otherwise known as Crossover Day which is always one of the longest days of the entire session as it is the last day for legislation to pass out of its chamber of origin and still be eligible to become law this year. In preparation, the day before was dedicated as a committee work day to ensure that legislation had ample opportunity to be considered ahead of this deadline. During Crossover Day, we spent the day in the House Chamber debating and voting on legislation, and we passed almost 60 bills and resolutions by the time we adjourned around 11 p.m. My colleagues and I passed House Bill 1354, the Wrongful Conviction Compensation Act, this week to help streamline and standardize the compensation process for wrongful convictions in our state. This bipartisan legislation would create the Wrongful Conviction Compensation Review Panel under the authority of the state’s Claims Advisory Board, and this panel would review claims and provide recommendations to the Claims Advisory Board for those who have been wrongfully convicted. This panel would include five experts and professionals who specialize in felony criminal matters and wrongful convictions, including a state court judge appointed by Georgia Supreme Court chief justice, a prosecutor and criminal defense attorney appointed by the governor, and the speaker of the House and the president of the State Senate would each appoint an attorney, forensic science expert or law professor. This legislation would establish specific eligibility requirements for compensation, such as proof of the claimant’s innocence, being exonerated or pardoned based on innocence for the crime. HB 1354 would establish similar requirements for individuals to receive their compensation, and it would require these claims to be filed within three years of the claimant becoming eligible. Once a claimant is granted a hearing, the panel could recommend between $50,000 to $100,000 for each year of wrongful conviction and payment to cover attorneys’ fees. The panel’s recommendations would be sent to the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia within seven days, and any adopted compensation recommendations would be reviewed by the Georgia General Assembly to incorporate into the state budgeting process, allowing the legislature to maintain oversight of these funds. While we can’t give people back the time that they served for their wrongful conviction, however, this measure would provide a pathway for a standardized process and reparations for these individuals, which is long overdue in our state. The House passed legislation on Crossover Day to help low-income Georgia students access financial aid to complete their undergraduate degrees. House Bill 1435 would allow part-time and full-time college students to apply for a needs-based financial aid program to fill an outstanding financial aid gap, which is the amount of money remaining after qualified institutions account for the cost of attendance and other funds. After their other funding has been applied to their schooling, these students could apply for up to $2,500 in grant funding to cover this gap. Eligible undergraduate students would be required to complete their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), complete 80 percent of credit requirements towards a specific degree and meet other standard state scholarship and grant requirements. This grant program would be offered for students at all University System of Georgia and Technical College System of Georgia schools, as well as non-proprietary institutions that are eligible for Tuition Equalization Grants. The Georgia Student Finance Commission would oversee these grants and monitor student enrollment and data for the needs-based financial aid program, and the commission would annually measure and evaluate the program with data provided by the Office of Planning and Budget, the Department of Education and our college systems. Students who are close to earning their college degrees should not miss out on this opportunity to cross the finish line due to a lack of financial assistance, and I believe that this legislation could help thousands of Georgia college students reach their graduation day. Late in the evening on Crossover Day, we also passed legislation to expand grant funding opportunities to low-wealth K-12 school systems that need help building and maintaining their schools. House Bill 1482 would revise the eligibility criteria for project-specific capital outlay grants for low-wealth school systems, which is a grant program that allows K-12 school systems access to funding for school construction. To apply for these grants, the local school system would have to be currently or recently have been ranked in the bottom 25 percent in sales tax revenue per full-time equivalent (FTE) student count and value of property per FTE student count; this FTE data is collected for our state’s Quality Basic Education funding and is based on student enrollment and the education services provided by local school systems to students. For local school systems in which the amount of special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST) revenues is ranked in the bottom 25 percent of eligible local school systems receiving such sales tax revenues, that system could submit a request to the Department of Education for consideration, and the system would also have to commit five years of their SPLOST revenues towards the applicable project. If the schools system seeks to consolidate educational facilities, the system must be more than 35 years old, and these schools systems could only receive one of these capital outlay grants every 10 years after their need has been met. This bill would also direct the State Board of Education to establish rules and regulations to implement this updated grant program. Currently, 44 school systems, mostly in rural areas with low populations, desperately need access to this funding. With low SPLOST revenues, these schools cannot afford to build new facilities in today’s expensive construction market, but these grants would help these systems replace their aging buildings to offer better learning environments for our students. We passed two more bills that would support students as they make their way through their K-12 education. For high school students, House Bill 1184 would allow local school systems, charter schools, special chartered schools and the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice to administer nationally recognized college entrance exams, to 11th grade students who choose to participate. Schools could administer these exams, such as the ACT or SAT, up to three times each year during normal school hours. For some Georgia high schoolers, finding a way to take college entrance exams can be difficult and costly, but this legislation would provide them with a more convenient and cost-effective opportunity to do so while they’re already at school. Additionally, the House passed House Bill 1283 to ensure that our elementary schools students have a chance to enjoy recess every day, which we believe is a crucial part of a child’s learning experience. Starting in the fall, HB 1283 would require schools to offer recess to students in Kindergarten through fifth grade, and schools would not be able to withhold recess from students for disciplinary or academic reasons. My colleagues and I recognize that an excellent education is well-rounded, and these bills would ensure their success in the classroom, as well as assist them as they prepare for college. As many of us know, the state has experienced challenges in hiring and retaining workers, especially nurses and doctors, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only exasperated this issue. Therefore, we passed two bills on Crossover Day to support health care systems and workers alike. House Bill 1520 would create the Georgia Council on Addressing Health Care Workforce Challenges, and this council would actively meet until July 2025 to provide strategic thought, leadership and recommendations on the future of the healthcare workforce in Georgia. This 27-member council would examine education programs, funding sources, loan forgiveness programs, technology investments, workforce readiness and state regulations. This council could also create subcommittees to work simultaneously to study specific issues, such as advancements in rural health care. We also passed House Bill 1533 to provide protections for health care professionals who seek to address their career fatigue and wellness confidentially through a professional mental health program. HB 1533 would provide that no person or entity would be required to report information to a licensing board regarding a health care professional who participates in these professional programs, unless there is a reason to believe this professional could be a danger to themselves or others. The bill would also provide immunity from civil liability to entities that review, evaluate or make recommendations on these professional programs. These two bills aim to address two serious challenges that our health care system is facing these day by providing direct support to both the health care entities and their workers. In 2019, the Georgia House passed legislation to allow limited in-state licensing, production and distribution of low-THC oil for Georgians suffering from certain chronic or terminal illnesses. This program has launched (but, production has not started) and thousands of eligible Georgians have been left without access to this alternative medicine. As such, we passed legislation this week to ensure that we get this medicine into the hands of those who desperately need it. House Bill 1425 would cancel the original 2020 competitive application request for medical cannabis licensing proposals and would direct the Medical Cannabis Commission to take all necessary steps to purchase or obtain necessary quantities of low-THC oil or other similar products from an available legal source. The commission would also take all necessary steps to provide for low-THC oil dispensation, including the development and issuance of dispensing licenses for independent pharmacies and designated universities. The commission would be required to issue a new competitive application request by the end of this year to award two initial Class 1 medical cannabis production licenses and four initial Class 2 production licenses, and any applicants who submitted prior licensing applications would be allowed to submit a proposal without paying an additional application fee. This bill would also add reporting requirements to the Medical Cannabis Commission Oversight Committee and would add ulcerative colitis to the list of eligible conditions for the Georgia Low-THC Oil Registry. The new application requests would be managed by the Georgia Department of Administrative Services, evaluated by an independent third party and subject to state purchasing and open records laws. As the number of Georgians registered for low-THC oil grows, this bill would also allow the state to increase the number of licenses to produce this product in the future. We have previously experienced production delays, but this measure would jump-start low-THC licensing and production to finally provide treatment and relief for suffering Georgians. Additionally, we passed House Bill 918, which would create the Georgia Rare Disease Advisory Council within the Department of Public Health to advise the General Assembly and state agencies on the needs of those with rare diseases in Georgia. This council would meet at least every quarter, offer opportunities for public comment and convene public hearings. The council would also consult with experts, evaluate recommendations, publish resources and identify best practices. Appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the House, council members would include academic researchers, public and community health experts, a geneticist, medical professionals who specialize in rare diseases in adults and children, patients with a rare disease and other individuals and organizations who work with these patients. Starting in June 2023, the council would publish an annual report about its work and its recommendations, which would be provided to the governor and General Assembly and be made available for public comment. Approximately one in 10 Georgians currently live with a rare disease, and this legislation would provide hope and greater resources for those Georgians. House Bill 1484 was also passed on the House floor, and this bill would create a pilot program to help diagnose, treat and expand coverage for pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders associated with streptococcal infection (PANDAS) and pediatric acute onset neuropsychiatric syndrome (PANS). Advocates estimate that approximately 13,000 Georgia children are suffering from these illnesses that cause a sudden onset of a variety of neuropsychiatric symptoms, such as tics and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Administered by the State Health Benefit Plan, this three-year pilot program would begin in 2024 and help treat up to 100 individuals annually using intravenous immune globulin therapy and other treatment methods. The Georgia Department of Community Health would work with a patient advocacy organization to create outreach and educational resources for the eligible population and pediatric providers. At the end of the program’s first year, the department would submit an annual report to the House and Senate Health and Human Services committees with extensive details to include covered treatments, cost, as well as the total number of participants, providers and claims. In 2019, the Georgia House established a study committee to delve into PANS and PANDAS, and this study committee found that patients and families face barriers for treatment due to medical providers being unfamiliar with these diseases and unreliable medical coverage by insurers. This new program would help spread awareness and educate the medical community and insurance providers about the evidence-based legitimacy of these diagnoses, and in turn, help more families access treatment for these debilitating diseases. House Bill 202, which would increase the additional penalty under Joshua’s Law from 1.5 percent to three percent of the original fine; the bill would remove the sunset provision and expand eligibility for specified driver education for those who are 21 years old or younger, as well as establish the Driver’s Education Trust Fund; House Resolution 203, which would create a specialty license plate supporting the Tybee Island Historical Society; House Bill 424, which would establish a tax credit for contributions to approved foster care support organizations that assist children aging out of foster care; this tax credit would have an annual aggregate cap of $20 million, and the different tax credit amounts are outlined for different types of tax filers; House Bill 733, which would allow guaranteed asset protection waivers to provide a benefit that waives an amount or provides a borrower with a credit towards the purchase of a replacement vehicle with or without a separate charge; House Bill 824, which would increase the legislator contribution rate for the Legislative Retirement System from 8.5 percent of the member’s monthly salary to $165 each month, and the presiding member of the House would contribute $660 each month; it would also change the monthly benefit to $50 for each year of creditable service starting in 2022 and add $200 for each year of a member’s presiding creditable service; an actuarial investigation determined there would be no cost to enact this legislation; House Bill 830, which would allow a sheriff to be compensated by a supplement for official services by up to two courts; House Bill 923, which would set a specified limit on the per diem allowance paid to development authority directors and authorize, in addition to the governor, the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission and local ethics boards or offices to have concurrent jurisdiction over ethics violations of development authority members, as well as establish and clarify the procedures for ethics violation hearings of development authority members; House Bill 931, which would exclude upgrades or enhancements meant to enable or accommodate individuals who use wheelchairs from the fair market value of the vehicle; House Bill 937, which would require the Georgia Department of Community Health to provide Medicaid coverage for mammograms at no cost to the patient as long as the screening is recommended based on the patient’s health status; House Bill 972, which would update the Professional Counselors, Social Workers, and Marriage and Family Therapists Licensing Law in several ways by allowing for people participating in an internship, under the direction of a certified rehabilitation counselor, to be exempt from certain licensure requirements; this bill would also update requirements and minimum standards for associate professional counselor license candidates and penalties for those who violate these laws; House Bill 997, which would exempt timber equipment from ad valorem taxation, including all equipment owned or held under a lease-purchase agreement by a timber producer and is directly used in the production or harvest of timber products, excluding motor vehicles; the bill also provides language for a referendum to be included on the November 2022 ballot; House Bill 1034, which would expand the sales tax exemption for ticket sales to non-recurring major sporting events to include any match of a FIFA World Cup and by extending the sunset date to December 31, 2031; House Bill 1041, which would update our laws related to tax credits for contributions to rural hospital organizations by increasing the annual aggregate cap from $60 million to $75 million; House Bill 1053, which would amend the Georgia Entertainment Industry Postproduction Investment Act by extending the tax credit through December 31, 2027, and reducing the carry forward time of the tax credits earned to three years; each company that claims the post-production tax credit or film tax credit would be required to be subject to Georgia income tax for royalties with respect to a state-certified production; House Bill 1068, which would require a chief executive officer of a state government entity to provide a designee for service of process for civil actions brought against the state; House Bill 1180, which would change the membership requirements of regional commissions, as well as provide requirements for the establishment of regional commission executive committees; House Bill 1187, which would extend the sunset date for the sales tax exemption for high-technology data center equipment to December 31, 2033; this bill would also revise new job creation and expenditure requirements depending on county population sizes; House Bill 1291, which would extend the sunset on the exemption for sales or leases of computer equipment to high-technology companies from June 30, 2023, to December 31, 2033, and modify the exemption process; House Bill 1297, which would provide an insurance premium discount or reduction for a home or commercial property that is built to fortified standards to better resist catastrophic wind events; House Bill 1330, which would amend tax credits for musical or theatrical performances by revising the eligibility requirements and lowering the spending thresholds for the credits, and the bill would increase the tax credit from 15 to 30 percent of the qualified production expenditures and establish an annual aggregate cap on the tax credit of $5 million for 2023, $10 million for 2024 and 2025 and $15 million for 2026 and 2027; House Bill 1331, which would revise references to make the governor & governor’s designee the administrator of the State Employment Service program, the person responsible for fulfilling state duties under the federal Wagner-Peyser Act and the designee to the U.S. Department of Labor for purposes of the federal Wagner-Peyser Act; money in the Employment Security Administration Fund would be available to the governor & the governor’s designee, and any transfer from the fund by the commissioner of Labor would be made at the discretion of the governor & governor’s designee; this bill originally passed the House on March 11 but received final passage on March 15 after a motion to reconsider was made; House Bill 1335, which would align Georgia Code with the federal holiday list to provide 13 state holidays and designate Public Safety Week in September each year; House Bill 1350, which would require an estate representative to send notice to all beneficiaries within 30 days of issuance of letters and would require filing of notices with the probate court within 60 days of issuance of letters; this bill would also ensure compliance and amend the Uniform Transfer on Death Security Registration laws; House Bill 1358, which would repeal the requirement for a weapons carry license for those who are not otherwise ineligible to possess and carry a firearm; this bill originally passed the House on March 11 but received final passage on March 15 after a motion to reconsider was made; House Bill 1382, which would require development authority members to complete continuing training on development and redevelopment programs annually as a prerequisite for the authority to receive specified funding; House Bill 1387, which would suspend a driver’s motor vehicle registration if penalties from overtaking a school bus or speeding in a school zone are not paid; House Bill 1390, which would provide a cause of action for local government workers if that local government retaliates against an individual who has opposed sexual harassment, filed a complaint related to sexual harassment or participated or planned to participate in an action or proceeding related to sexual harassment; House Bill 1404, which would instruct the Georgia Department of Community Health to submit a waiver request to the federal Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services to allow private mental health institutions to qualify for Medicaid reimbursement; House Bill 1405, which would revise the Zoning Procedures Law to establish procedures and notice requirements for specified zoning hearings before quasi- judicial entities, and this bill would require local governments to provide hearings when a zoning decision is granted or denied; House Bill 1421, which would require that fees collected for the disposal of solid wastes and hazardous wastes be annually appropriated to the Hazardous Waste Trust Fund; House Bill 1424, which would update Georgia law regarding coin operate amusement machines (COAM), and COAM regulation would be under the jurisdiction of the Administrative Procedures Act; the per-play prize limit would increase and operators/owners would be allowed to issue gift cards for non-cash redemption for COAMs; House Bill 1443, which would allow for a mobile food establishment, such as a food truck, that is permitted in one county to operate in other counties in the state and would specify provisions for permitting and inspections of these food truck operations; House Bill 1461, which would require a municipal corporation to provide notice of a petition of annexation to any impacted school system, and this bill would provide proposed annexation objection and arbitration guidelines and procedures for impacted school systems and county governing authorities; House Bill 1464, which would update Georgia’s laws regarding the investigation of election fraud and election crimes; House Bill 1478, which would allow for the option to submit certificate of title applications electronically; House Bill 1479, which would remove the State Board of Registration for Foresters from within the Secretary of State and establish the board as a separate entity attached to the State Forestry Commission; board members nominated by the governor would be confirmed by the Senate, and the board could issue cease and desist orders and impose a fine up to $500 for violations; House Bill 1481, which would provide guidelines for allocating specified plates to motor vehicle dealers; House Bill 1483, which would reduce the number of required supervised hours for social work practice from three years (3,000 hours) to 2,000 hours; the bill would allow licensed clinical social work applicants enrolled in a master & PhDs degree accredited social work program to take their licensing examination in their final semester; HB 1483 would also authorize social work licensing by endorsement from other jurisdictions or states with equivalent license requirements; the Georgia Composite Board of Professional Counselors, Social Workers, and Marriage and Family Therapists would be required to review and revise its regulations for licensed clinical and masters social workers; House Bill 1496, which would allow sheriffs in possession of impounded and unclaimed livestock to donate an animal to a rescue organization or private individual in addition to being able to auction or euthanize the animal; House Bill 1515, which would revise the approved schools for tuition equalization grants at private colleges and universities to include schools that were previously accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and are now accredited by the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools if they meet all other requirements to be considered an approved school; House Bill 1516, which would revise provisions for joint operations between the Georgia Music Hall of Fame and the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame and instead allow for joint operations between the Georgia Music Hall of Fame Authority and the Classic Center Authority; this bill would also update the composition of these two authorities; House Bill 1522, which would require additional informational items to be provided to entrants of a beauty pageant; House Bill 1528, which would prohibit the possession, transport or sale of used, detached catalytic converters by unauthorized individuals; unauthorized individuals in possession of these catalytic converters would be subject to item forfeiture, and each unlawfully possessed item would be considered a separate offense; House Bill 1553, or Bishop’s Law, which would require offenders convicted of murdering a peace officer in the line of duty to be housed in a high-security prison; the Georgia Department of Corrections (DOC) would be required to provide written justification and notice to the victim’s family if it seeks to transfer one of these inmates; the DOC would prepare an annual report regarding information of how these inmates are treated for the governor, lieutenant governor, the speaker of the House and the chairs of the House and Senate Judiciary committees; House Resolution 467, which would urge the Georgia Department of Transportation to study the potential costs and benefits of extending Interstate 185 along U.S. 27 until it meets the Florida state line; this resolution would also urge the study of extending Georgia 300 through Albany and expanding the route into four or more lanes in accordance with interstate standards; House Resolution 593, which would authorize the Department of Administrative Services to pay $1,230,000 to Dennis Arnold Perry as compensation for his wrongful conviction; House Resolution 626, which would authorize the Department of Administrative Services to pay $480,000 to Kerry Robinson as compensation for his wrongful conviction; House Resolution 650, which would create the House Study Committee on Literacy Instruction comprised of five state representatives and nine area experts; this study committee would work to examine evidence-based instruction, the impact of low literacy on Georgia's economic and workforce competitiveness and the extent of different programs in Georgia provide literacy instruction for all ages; House Resolution 686, which would amend the Georgia State Constitution related to ad valorem taxation of timber by reducing the taxation rate from 2.5 times the rate of other real property to the same rate as other real property; this resolution would also require the General Assembly to annually appropriate funds to each county, municipality or school district that experiences a revenue reduction from the revised tax rate on timber; this bill would also provide for a ballot referendum for approval; House Resolution 732, which would propose an amendment to the Georgia Constitution to change the payable date of temporary loans for counties and municipalities from December 31 of each year to within 12 months of the initial funding; House Resolution 820, which would serve as the General Assembly’s annual road dedication bill; House Resolution 822, which would state the Georgia House’s opposition to the practice of shark finning and its support for requiring standards for importers of shark fins that are equal to or stricter than those imposed by the federal government; House Resolution 842, which would amend the Georgia Constitution relating to salaries of General Assembly members pending the approval of a ballot referendum; if approved, starting July 1, 2023, each sitting senator and representative would receive an annual salary equal to 60 percent of the median household income in Georgia. After Crossover Day, the House convened for three more legislative days this week, and our committees began considering legislation that passed in the State Senate before the Crossover deadline, and the Senate began reviewing House bills before the week ended. We will spend the remainder of the session meeting in our respective committees and on the House floor to consider these Senate bills, as well as give final approval to House legislation that could undergo changes by the Senate. I encourage you to contact me regarding bills that may be up for consideration during these final weeks of the session. You can reach me at my Capitol office at 404-656-0213, or via email at email@example.com As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative. ~Beth
Week 9! 3/7/2022 On Tuesday, March 8, my colleagues and I returned to the Georgia State Capitol for another eventful week of the 2022 legislative session. The Crossover Day deadline is approaching in a matter of days, and as such, this week was one of our busiest and most crucial times of the session thus far. We took advantage of an entire committee work day and spent three long days in the House Chamber to vote on a multitude of bills, including the Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 budget, mental health care reform legislation and several other measures that will impact Georgians. Fiscal Year 2023 Budget Before the week was over, the House came one step closer to fulfilling our only constitutional obligation by passing House Bill 911, the FY 2023 budget. This budget dedicates all of our state funds for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, 2022, and ends the following year on June 30, 2023. The FY 2023 budget is set at a revenue estimate of $30.2 billion, which is a $2.9 billion or 10.8 percent increase over the FY 2022 original budget, and this budget permanently restores nearly $640 million eliminated from the budget in FY 2021 during the economic uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the last nine months, the House Appropriations Committee worked strategically to identify how to provide more funding to our public safety and mental health services, and this budget includes more than $65 million to assist these vital agencies. As for our public safety agencies, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) is allocated an additional $18 million, which would enable GBI to hire 67 additional staff and retain current staff in critical areas including forensic labs and the medical examiner’s office to speed evidence processing and investigations. The Georgia Department of Public Safety receives an additional $4.9 million in this budget bill to hire additional state troopers and expand crisis intervention training opportunities for law enforcement officers statewide. An additional $5.5 million is included for the state’s accountability court system to create five new mental health accountability courts, provide raises for accountability court employees and provide additional specialized staff support. An additional $16 million is allocated for additional staff positions and salary increases for the state’s prosecutors and public defenders to assist with recruitment and retention. The Georgia Department of Law also receives an additional $2 million in HB 911 to hire additional staff to focus on prosecuting human traffickers and gang members. The Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD) has an additional $9.7 allocated to fund a new 16-bed and 50 temporary observation chair behavioral health crisis center, as well as $3.8 million to retrofit another facility in Augusta to add eight beds and 16 observation chairs. An additional $6.3 million is budgeted for opening additional bed space at the 18-bed adult medical psychiatric unit at Grady Memorial Hospital. The Georgia Crisis and Access Line is earmarked $2.1 million to prepare for the launch of the national 988 hotline. The budget also includes $6.6 million to fund 325 additional slots for the New Options Waiver (NOW) and Comprehensive Supports Waiver Program (COMP) for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. As always, educating Georgia’s children remains a key priority reflected in the FY 23 state budget, and this budget includes more funding for K-12 education than ever before. The Quality Basic Education (QBE) funding formula for public schools is fully funded at more than $11.8 billion, and we made sure to include an additional $3 million to maintain our charter school facilities. Finally, the Georgia Student Finance Commission received additional funding for service cancellable loans to boost recruitment and retention among key state employees including state medical examiners, National Guard members, law enforcement officers and mental health practitioners. These are just some of the highlights that I am most excited to bring your attention to today. A comprehensive list of FY 2023 highlights from the House Budget and Research Office can be found here. Amended Fiscal Year 2022 Final Passage In addition, the Georgia General Assembly gave final passage to House Bill 910, or the Amended Fiscal Year 2022 budget this week, sending it to Governor Kemp to be signed into law. The AFY 2022 budget is set at a revenue estimate of $30.3 billion, which is an increase of $3.08 billion or 1.3 percent over the current budget. This increase will allow our state to provide additional funding during the current fiscal year for many of our priorities, including more than $900 million in one-time expenses for our state’s infrastructure and $950 million to provide salary increases for state employees and teachers. Improving Private Adult Residential Mental Health Programs The House passed another crucial bill to establish the regulation and licensing of mental health treatment and recovery programs in our state. House Bill 1069 would prohibit private adult residential mental health programs from operating in our state without a valid or provisional license, and this legislation would implement substantial penalties if these unlicensed facilities continue to operate. Further, the DCH would conduct regular on-site inspections of licensed adult mental health programs and create minimum quality standards for these private programs, such as admission criteria, patient confidentiality, training standards, the dispensing of prescribed medications and more. By establishing a pathway to licensing and overseeing these facilities through HB 1069, our state could better protect families who have entrusted these centers with the care of their vulnerable loved ones. Georgia Tax Reduction and Reform Act The House also passed House Bill 1437, or the Georgia Tax Reduction and Reform Act of 2022, to cut income taxes for Georgians starting in 2024. HB 1437 would eliminate personal income tax brackets and replace them with a single, flat rate of 5.25 percent. This legislation would also create a standard exemption of $12,000 for single or head-of-household filers and a $24,000 exemption for married couples who file jointly. HB 1437 would also allow taxpayers to elect to apply the sum of the taxpayer's charitable donations used in computing the taxpayer's federal taxable income in lieu of the personal exemption. Proponents of this bill estimate that Georgians would save an estimated $1 billion per year when the cut goes into effect. Rural Health Care Workforce Shortages We also passed two important bills this week to attract more health care providers to rural communities. First, my colleagues and I passed House Bill 1042 to create a new grant program under the OneGeorgia Authority, which issues grants and loans for economic development initiatives in rural Georgia. This program would provide up to $200,000 in grant funding to eligible development authorities seeking to establish primary care, dental or mental health care medical facilities in health professional shortage areas. Once the OneGeorgia Authority selects its grant recipients, the pending grant awards would be approved by the governor and the DCH’s board, and the authority would consider extensive requirements when making its determinations. Additionally, we passed House Bill 1371 to create the Rural Health Advancement Commission, which would collaborate with educational institutions and health care facilities to address long and short-term workforce shortages in rural Georgia. Chaired by the dean of a Georgia medical college, this 13-member commission would be required to meet at least every two months to develop private-sector solutions to these shortages, and the commission would report its findings to the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the House. These two bills would support our efforts to address this dire shortage by exploring new workforce development solutions and incentivizing health care providers to invest in our rural communities. Recruiting and Retaining Educators The House passed several measures this week to bolster teacher recruitment in both our primary and secondary education systems. House Bill 1043 would create the Georgia Endowment for Teaching Professionals to usher in public-private partnerships that support postsecondary teaching professionals in high-demand studies within the Technical College System of Georgia. The objective of this endowment is to support the Georgia Department of Economic Development’s education efforts and improve public postsecondary education in Georgia. Under this bill, funds from the endowment could not be used until contributions from private donors total $50,000 and funding and grants from public sources total $50,000. If this minimum is not met by December 31, 2024, the endowment would be discontinued on July 1, 2025. Finally, this bill outlines how this endowment would be managed and operated. Next, we passed House Bill 1295 to remove the “needs development” rating as a punitive measure from the state’s teacher performance evaluation ratings. Schools are often hesitant to use these ratings during evaluations because teachers can lose their certifications if they receive two “needs development” ratings within five years. Therefore, this bill would allow schools to issue such ratings without risking a teacher’s certification, as well as ensure a teacher’s ability to obtain creditable service hours needed for the state’s minimum salary schedules. Additionally, HB 1295 would allow the Department of Education to create a new assessment pilot program for teachers. The House also passed House Bill 1357 this week to help certify more teachers and address turnover rates, especially in our rural schools and in STEM subject areas. To expand our certification programming, HB 1357 would require that the Professional Standards Commission remain neutral when considering alternative routes to professional teacher certification that are provided by for-profit or not-for-profit entities. The commission would also consider certification teacher programs outside of the state that meet accreditation and certification requirements. Our schools across the state have suffered a shortage of educators throughout the pandemic, and these three measures would help to retain and develop qualified teachers in our state. Georgia Stands with the Nation of Ukraine Since the Russian invasion began, our state government immediately took steps to express its desire to end these hostilities, including divesting all state investments in Russian-associated equities and other assets. This week, my colleagues and I unanimously adopted House Resolution 920 to formally show our solidarity with Ukrainians, as well as strongly condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine and call on Vladimir Putin to end this unprovoked aggression. This resolution commends Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the people of Ukraine who have courageously sought to defend their nation. In this resolution, the Georgia House of Representatives also calls on both President Biden and the U.S. Congress to continue to take prudent actions to bring about a peaceful and timely end to this conflict. I proudly voted “yes” on this measure that puts the Georgia House on record that we are against Putin and his government’s horrific acts against the sovereign nation of Ukraine and its people. Gas Tax Suspension On Friday evening, we passed critical legislation to provide relief to Georgians at the gas pump. The price of gas has skyrocketed since the Russian invasion into Ukraine, and we expect gas prices to continue to rise, especially since President Biden halted the import of Russian oil into our country. We appreciate the president for taking a stand and putting this economic pressure on Putin. However, Georgians are experiencing the fallout of this critical ban on Russian oil. As such, we passed House Bill 304 to allow the governor to suspend the state motor fuel excise tax through the end of May 2022. We will continue to closely monitor how the Russian invasion will continue to impact us here at home, and we anticipate that our colleagues in the Senate will also pass this legislation so our governor can sign it into law as quickly as possible. The Georgia House of Representatives also passed the followings bills and one resolution this week: House Bill 274, which would require that each juvenile court judge is paid by the Council of Juvenile Court Judges with a total supplement of $6,000 in equal quarterly installments of state funds as long as the circuit has implemented a drug court division, mental health court division, family treatment court, veterans court or other alternative accountability court division; House Bill 689, which would allow a person who committed a crime as a result of being trafficked to petition the court to seal the records of those offenses, as well as allow law enforcement agencies to review sealed records for law enforcement or criminal investigative purposes; House Bill 725, which would revise the membership of the Council on American Indian Concerns to have at least one member representing each of the American Indian tribes identified in Georgia; House Bill 839, which would authorize a local referendum for the creation of the city of Mableton, and this referendum would be voted on during a local special election no later than November 2022; House Bill 849, which would add human resources personnel to the list of individuals who are required to report child abuse, and this requirement would only apply to businesses with at least five employees and that employ minors; House Bill 884, which would require the state’s professional licensing boards to provide expedited licenses within 30 days of receiving an application and all required materials to spouses of military service members in Georgia if the spouse has an equivalent license in another state; House Bill 895, which would restrict the disclosure of the home address, date of birth and home telephone number of a non-sworn employee of a law enforcement agency in criminal cases when the prosecuting attorney is required to disclose the witnesses who will testify at trial, and instead, the prosecution would disclose the current work location and work phone number of both the non-sworn employees and any law enforcement officers who are witnesses; House Bill 934, which would amend Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (TSPLOST) laws by allowing, in intergovernmental agreements, the tax to continue until the approved timeframe has expired even if the amount of tax collected has surpassed the originally estimated amount; House Bill 1004, which would provide for the establishment of unified campus police forces through agreements entered into by colleges and universities; House Bill 1039, which would extend the sunset dates for earning, transferring and reporting for Class III shortline railroad tax credits; House Bill 1040, which would require certain renewed contracts between the Georgia Department of Human Services (DHS) and community action agencies (CAA) to be executed by the CAA’s board of directors, and these contracts would only be offered by DHS if a CAA has submitted a current IRS Form 990 and audit reports to the state; House Bill 1103, which would provide the definition of a "heavy-duty equipment motor vehicle" for fees in a motor vehicle rental agreement between a motor vehicle rental company and a rental customer; House Bill 1193, which would require the Georgia Board of Funeral Service to allow licensees that had their license lapse for less than 10 years to be reinstated after paying the required renewal fees for the lapsed time and a reinstatement fee, and these licensees would be required to complete continuing education hours; House Bill 1194, which would provide the annual update to the Uniform Carriers Act and update the effective date from January 1, 2021, to January 1, 2022, to comply with federal law; House Bill 1224, which would update laws relating to the creation of county boards of equalization, duties, review of assessments and appeals by allowing a taxpayer with tangible personal property having a fair market value greater than $200,000 to appeal directly to a hearing officer; House Bill 1232, which would allow temporary operating permits in lieu of temporary license plates in specified instances; House Bill 1234, which would require the court to appoint an attorney for any child receiving extended care youth services from the Division of Family and Children Services; House Bill 1279, which would allow people with a chronic disease or over the age of 65 to carry one or more prescribed medications in a certain compartmentalized container other than the original container that the medication came in, and these individuals would be required to provide the names of medication to law enforcement if requested; House Bill 1280, which would allow Georgia’s municipalities to contract a county and its county tax commissioner to prepare the tax digest for the municipality, assess and collect municipal taxes, fees or special assessments in the same manner as county taxes, as well as invoke any remedy permitted for the collection of municipal taxes or fees; contracts would specify exact services to be provided as well as the total amount to be paid for services, among other requirements; House Bill 1304, or the Georgia Caregivers Act, which would allow inpatients to designate caregivers to be actively involved in the patient's discharge planning process, and the hospital would notify the caregiver of the patient's discharge, but failure to make contact would not interfere with appropriate medical care or discharge; House Bill 1319, which would create the Georgia Law Enforcement Officer (LEO) Service Cancelable Loan for eligible Georgia peace officers to pursue an associate or bachelor's degree in criminal justice or related social science field, as well as create a loan forgiveness program for Georgia Bureau of Investigation medical examiners; House Bill 1343, which would remove the requirement to include a roster of all commissioned officers in the governor's annual report; House Bill 1344, which would update language in Georgia’s laws related to employment discrimination of military spouses by replacing “wife” with “spouse;” House Bill 1351, which would require the Georgia Department of Community Health to provide the pharmacy benefits for Medicaid members enrolled in a care management organization (CMO) starting July 1, 2024, and this department would be required to reduce a CMO's contract term payment by 7.5 percent of the CMO's net underwriting gain for the 2022-2023 contract year in order to offset costs incurred in program implementation; House Bill 1372, which would revise the Georgia Utility Facility Protection Act to enhance the process for locate requests of underground utility facilities or infrastructure and would require 9-1-1 to be contacted if an excavator damages a gas or hazardous liquid pipeline; owners and operators of underground facilities would be required to participate in the Utilities Protection Center and all underground facilities, excluding sewer cleanouts and water meter boxes, would be required to be located within the public right-of-way and would prohibit anyone from blasting or excavating until a locate request for underground facilities has been submitted; the Department of Transportation (DOT) would be required to participate in the Utilities Protection Center to receive locate requests in DOT’s right-of-way; House Bill 1381, which would require members of local water or sewer authorities to complete training courses on water, sewer or environmental quality programs as a prerequisite for the authority to receive specified funding; House Bill 1383, which would provide a framework for administrative hearings of the Commission on Equal Opportunity; House Bill 1384, which would require the Georgia Department of Community Affairs to amend state minimum standard codes to allow for the use of ungraded lumber for uninhabited structures on property zoned for either residential or agricultural use; House Bill 1385, which would require municipalities to notify the Georgia General Assembly’s Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Office when annexing property, enlarging municipal corporation limits and annexing unincorporated islands; House Bill 1388, which would amend Georgia’s laws concerning official legal organs, which are publications containing official legal notices; House Bill 1391, which would set the salary of the circuit public defenders to the same salary as district attorneys, and the maximum salary for assistant public defender IVs would be raised to 95 percent of the circuit public defender salary; House Bill 1396, which would create the Georgia Municipal Court Clerks' Council as an state agency designed to improve municipal courts, assist municipal court staff and assist in training municipal court staff; House Bill 1406, which would provide guidelines and requirements for local zoning decision hearings that focus on revising zoning classifications from single-family residential uses to multifamily residential uses; House Bill 1409, which would increase the maximum amount of benefits that an employee can receive under workers' compensation for temporary total disability to $725 per week, the maximum amount of benefits for temporary partial disability would be $483 per week, and the maximum for the surviving spouse of an employee who died from injury would increase to $290,000; House Bill 1428, which would act as the annual clean-up bill to revise, modernize and correct errors or omissions to the Official Code of Georgia Annotated; House Bill 1433, which would change the composition of the advisory board to the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council to include the following: representatives of programs that advocate alternatives to incarceration, licensed or certified professionals who work to address mental health and substance abuse issues in delinquent and at-risk youth and representatives of victim or witness advocacy groups with expertise in addressing sexual abuse, exploitation and trauma; House Bill 1438, which would allow for the call of a caucus for a Georgia DOT board election to be sent via email rather than by mail, clarify language relating to contracting for public-private partnerships and alternative contracting methods, exempt the DOT from certain public disclosure requirements; House Bill 1441, which would revise Georgia’s laws regarding private detective and security businesses by removing the requirement that licensees certified by the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council must also obtain a license to serve as a guard, watchman or patrolman; House Bill 1452, which would change dating relationship protective orders so that the definition of "dating violence" includes those who were in a relationship within the last 12 months rather than the current six-month timeframe; House Bill 1455, which would expand the arrest authority for Georgia Ports Authority officers in certain circumstances by giving ports officers the ability to investigate motor vehicle accidents that occur on any property under jurisdiction of the authority and on public or private property within one mile; House Resolution 594, which would authorize the governing authority of each county, municipality, consolidated government and the board of education of each independent and county school system in Georgia to grant temporary tax relief to properties that are severely damaged or destroyed as a result of a natural disaster and that are located within a nationally declared disaster area; this resolution also includes the required ballot language to ratify this amendment. The House will return next week to reconvene for Crossover Day. Known for being one of the longest days of the session, Crossover Day is the last day that a bill can pass out of its chamber of origin. Please continue to reach out to me with any questions or concerns you have about legislation, policies or issues that impact our community. My Capitol office number is 404-656-0213, and my email is firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your state representative. ~Beth
Week 8 Legislative Update The Georgia House of Representatives reconvened on Monday, February 28. The House had a full schedule all week and we are counting down the days until Crossover Day, which is the last legislative day that a bill can pass out of one chamber and still be eligible for consideration this year. We worked diligently to pass dozens of bills on the House floor in preparation for this critical deadline. On Legislative Day 22, my colleagues and I passed historic tax relief legislation that would help millions of hardworking Georgians in our state. Our state’s economy has bounced backed exponentially over the last year, resulting in an unprecedented budget surplus of $1.6 billion in undesignated funds. To that end, House Bill 1302 would fulfil the governor’s plan to give these funds back to Georgia taxpayers. This legislation would provide a one-time tax credit for eligible Georgia taxpayers who filed income tax returns in both 2020 and 2021. Based on their 2020 tax filer status, single tax filers would receive a $250 refund, head-of-household filers would receive $375, and those who file jointly would receive a $500 refund. These refunds would not be available for non-residents, individuals who were claimed as a dependent for the 2020 or 2021 tax years, estates nor trusts. If HB 1302 is signed into law, the refund would be automatically credited once a taxpayer files an income tax return for 2021, but these refunds would first be credited against a filer’s outstanding income tax liability prior to being issued to the taxpayer. Furthermore, this tax refund would not be taxable under Georgia law, and taxpayers would not accrue interest on the rebate. Throughout the pandemic, our state has strived to keep businesses open, and our economy certainly stands stronger and more stable as a result. Now, with this legislation, Georgians could reap the benefits of the state’s economic stewardship. The House unanimously passed another bill to keep more hard earned dollars in the pockets of Georgians and reinforce our standing as a military-friendly state. House Bill 1064 would exempt up to $17,500 in military retirement income from state income taxes for retired service members under 62 years old. If a military retiree continues to work and earns at least $17,500, the retiree would be eligible for an additional exemption up to $17,500 in state income taxes for a total exemption of $35,000. If HB 1064 is passed and signed into law, it would become effective on July 1, 2022, and subsequently applicable to all taxable years starting January 1, 2022. Currently, Georgia’s neighboring states have incentives in place to entice military retirees, and through this legislation, we hope to attract more military retirees to Georgia to put their skills to work in our state. We are honored that so many U.S. military retirees have already chosen to call Georgia home, and this legislation would greatly benefit these individuals, especially as the cost of living and inflation has increased recently. Additionally, my colleagues and I passed two bills this week that would encourage hands-on agricultural experiences for Georgia students. First, House Bill 1303 would authorize the Georgia Department of Education (GaDOE) to implement agricultural education programs in all public elementary schools. This bill would also require schools to hire an agricultural education teacher for these programs, and the GaDOE would evaluate the success of the program at the end of this year. A few years ago, the Georgia General Assembly passed legislation that created a pilot program for agricultural education, and HB 1303 would make this pilot program permanent and allow all of our public schools to take part in this program. We also passed House Bill 1292 to ensure that students would not be counted as absent from school when they participate in our state’s invaluable 4-H activities and programs. Under HB 1292, a school could request documentation from a 4-H representative if a student was absent due to involvement in 4-H. Both of these bills seek to educate and expose more Georgia students to our state’s agriculture industry and hopefully, encourage more students to explore one of the many careers in agriculture someday. I was honored to bring House Bill 1324, which would require insurers to provide coverage for emergency physical or mental health care regardless of the final diagnosis given. If an average person believed they were having a medical emergency, but the diagnosis was gallstones, the insurance company would be required to pay as the patient did not have the equipment or expertise to know the difference, so the diagnosis does not factor into the insurance company covering the charges. This measure passed unanimously. Additionally, the House pass these bills: • House Bill 1, or the Forming Open and Robust University Minds Act, which would establish that unrestricted outdoor areas of University System of Georgia and the Technical College System of Georgia campuses are public forums for their campus communities, and this bill would prohibit these institutions from restricting expressive activities in those areas or designating any campus areas as a “free speech zone;” • House Bill 389, which would codify existing case law to determine whether work classifies a person as an employee or an independent contractor, and this bill would create an enforcement mechanism by adding a civil penalty paid to the Georgia Department of Labor if an employer misclassifies its employees; • House Bill 508, which would make it unlawful for a person to advertise or conduct a performance or production in Georgia by using any false, deceptive or misleading affiliation, connection or association without authorization; this bill would also create the Georgia True Origin of Digital Goods Act to require websites that distribute commercial recordings or audiovisuals to consumers to clearly disclose its physical address, telephone number and email address on such website or online service; • House Bill 916, or the Superior and State Court Appellate Practice Act, which would modernize and simplify the manner of appealing from lower courts to state courts to ensure that appeal decisions are based on merits and not dismissed on complex procedural grounds; • House Bill 960, which would establish the Office of the Inspector General to investigate the management and operation of state agencies, including complaints alleging fraud, waste or corruption committed against or within an agency; • House Bill 961, which would authorize the apportionment of damages based on who was at fault in single-defendant lawsuits rather than solely in multi-defendant lawsuits; • House Bill 974, which would require recorded instruments, such as deeds, mortgages, liens, maps/plats and state tax executions, to be filed electronically or delivered in person to superior court clerks, and this bill includes certain instructions for these filings; • House Bill 1009, which would provide definitions and operation guidelines for personal delivery devices, such as driverless vehicles, and would prohibit local authorities from enacting ordinances regarding personal delivery devices under specific conditions; • House Bill 1056, which would allow the Georgia Firefighters' Pension Fund to invest up to 15 percent of the fund's total assets in alternative investments; • House Bill 1058, which would eliminate the requirement that affiliated corporations have prior approval from or have been requested to file a consolidated income tax return by the Georgia Department of Revenue, and instead, allow affiliated corporations to file these returns without the request or approval of the department; • House Bill 1084, or the Protect Students First Act, which would prevent the use of and reliance on curricula or training programs in state public schools that espouse "divisive concepts" that are specifically included in this bill, and the bill would require each local board of education to adopt a complaint resolution policy to address complaints or violations of this new policy, as well as establish an appeal process for violations through the State Board of Education; • House Bill 1150, or the Freedom to Farm Act, which would update Georgia laws in order to prevent a nuisance lawsuit from being brought against a farming operation that has been active for more than one year, address concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) requirements and clarify that the provisions of the proposed law do not apply if a nuisance is caused by negligence or illegal operations. It is an honor to be a co-signer on this bill; • House Bill 1175, which would authorize and establish regulations and standards regarding the safety, transportation and sale of raw milk in Georgia and would give the Department of Agriculture permitting and enforcement authority. It is an honor to be a co-signer on this bill; • House Bill 1178, or the Parents’ Bill of Rights, which would codify a parent’s fundamental right to direct the upbringing and education of their minor children, create certain standards to prevent schools from infringing upon these fundamental rights, as well as require the school board or its governing body to consult with parents, teachers and administrators to develop and adopt policies that promote parental involvement in public schools; • House Bill 1182, which would provide that specified provisions in Georgia law do not apply to the county sale of property that contains any portion of a manmade lake; • House Bill 1183, which would clean up existing Georgia law and revise the timeline for bond remissions in criminal cases by providing more time for the court to bring in defendants; • House Bill 1188, which would revise the crimes of "child molestation" and "sexual exploitation of children" to specify that each individual violation of the crimes can be charged as its own count; • House Bill 1216, which would enhance the penalties for fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer; • House Bill 1219, which would increase the number of members on the Georgia Board of Dentistry to include more dentists, dental hygienists, as well as a dental education expert; • House Bill 1271, which would prohibit a property owner’s association from enacting covenants after July 1, 2022, that forbid a lot owner from displaying an official U.S. flag in certain ways; • House Bill 1274, which would define "antisemitism" in Georgia’s laws as the harassment of a person of actual or perceived Jewish origin, ancestry, ethnicity or faith; • House Bill 1288, which would provide for the assignment of certain group-term life insurance benefits to pay for funeral services of a deceased individual who was a member of the Employees' Retirement System of Georgia, the Georgia Legislative Retirement System or the Georgia Judicial Retirement System; • House Bill 1294, which would require landowners to send notice within three days to all responsible parties if a local government agent determines that an abandoned mobile home is derelict; • House Bill 1308, which would allow for a sponsor of a health benefit plan to consent on behalf of an enrollee to the electronic delivery of all communications and identification cards for the plan, and enrollees would be able to opt out of electronic communications; • House Bill 1346, which would allow a clerk of superior courts, who would otherwise be prohibited from practicing law in his/her name, to serve as a judge advocate or any other role in an active duty or reserve component of the armed forces; • House Bill 1349, which would change the qualifying date from July 1, 2005, to July 1, 2022, for land the Georgia Department of Natural Resources withholds from actions that result in the loss of state-owned acreage available for hunting; • House Bill 1352, which would provide certain protocols for the Georgia Department of Revenue when it handles unclaimed property, including processing unclaimed property claims and retaining wills or trusts; • House Bill 1377, which would authorize a civil cause of action for injunctive relief without having to show special or irreparable damage in the event that a non-government employer fails to properly deduct and withhold from wages as required by Georgia income tax law, and this bill clarifies that the court would award costs and expenses, including attorneys’ fees, to the prevailing party; • Senate Bill 472, which would updated the election districts for members of the Georgia Public Service Commission. In other news, we were joined by Kirby Smart, head football coach for the University of Georgia Bulldogs, in the House Chamber on Tuesday. It was an exciting moment as Coach Smart was the first special guest invited to join us on the House floor since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020. The House was proud to recognize Coach Smart for leading the Dawgs to their 2021 College Football Playoff National Championship victory, and we wish his team the best of luck as they defend their national championship title next season. It is hard to believe that we are now in the final month of the 2022 legislative session. While I am legislating on behalf of our community over this next month, I hope you reach out to me with any questions or concerns you have about the legislative process or bills that may be pending. My Capitol office number is 404-656-0213, and my email is email@example.com As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your state representative. ~ Beth
On Tuesday, February 22, the Georgia House of Representatives reconvened for a seventh week of the 2022 legislative session. We made the most of two session days and one full committee work day. As usual, we debated and voted on a variety of legislation in the House Chamber. My colleagues and I reached Legislative Day 20 which means we are at the halfway point of the session. House Bill 1092, or the Georgia Women's Child Care Alternatives, Resources, and Education Act, would allow eligible pregnant women who are sentenced to a period of confinement in a penal institution to have their sentences deferred for the duration of their pregnancies until six weeks postpartum. This bill passed unanimously. If signed into law, it also takes the financial burden of delivery off the GA Department of Corrections and back on the woman if deferment is granted. This bill would give judges the discretion to deny deferment if the pregnant woman is a safety risk and this deferment would NOT count as “time served” for the offender. The pregnant woman would also have the ability to decline the deferment. During the deferred time, the offender would be required to maintain perinatal health care, treatment and assessments, as well as participate in education and resource programs. If the offender does not comply with these perinatal health care requirements, the court could rescind the deferred sentence and order immediate confinement. Starting in 2023, this legislation would require Georgia’s penal institutions to annually report to the Georgia Department of Public Health the total number of female offenders who are pregnant, incarcerated, declined pregnancy testing and/or declined deferred sentencing. By offering more perinatal care and resources to these pregnant women through this legislation, we can ensure better health outcomes for both the unborn child and the mother. The House passed another measure this week that would serve some of the most vulnerable Georgians, specifically extremely low-income, uninsured individuals living with HIV. House Bill 1192 would allow the Georgia Department of Community Health to submit a waiver request to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services of the U.S. Health Department of Health and Human Services to provide Medicaid coverage for HIV treatment services. If this waiver request is approved by the federal government, the state would be able to conduct a statewide demonstration project to provide HIV treatment through the state’s Medicaid program. This demonstration project would be designed to provide more effective, early treatment of HIV to Georgians by making a package of services available, including antiretroviral therapy. In order to be eligible, uninsured individuals with an HIV diagnosis would need to have an income of less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level. This legislation is supported by many of Georgia’s health care systems, including Grady Hospital and its infectious disease treatment clinic, which currently serves 6,200 Georgians living with HIV. HB 1192 would allow the state to expand access to lifesaving HIV detection and treatment options, as well as explore a more sustainable funding source to help end the HIV epidemic in our state. Many schools systems utilize virtual learning opportunities, and the number of students with school-issued laptops or tablet devices has dramatically increased so children can learn from home. To keep up with this evolving learning environment, the House passed House Bill 1217, or the Student Technology Protection Act, to promote the safe and appropriate use of school-issued technology, whether students are using these devices in the classroom or while learning from home. The Student Technology Protection Act would require each local board of education and charter school governing body to adopt an acceptable-use policy this year that could better prevent and prohibit any school computer or network from accessing obscene materials, child pornography or material that is deemed harmful to minors. Each school system would also take necessary steps to implement and enforce its new acceptable-use policy, as well as update school technology to better block or filter access to these explicit materials online. The Georgia Department of Education would provide local school systems with information about contracted providers of technology protection measures, provide guidance and technical assistance to schools and develop guidelines for training school personnel. Finally, if the State Board of Education finds that a school has not followed its acceptable-use policy, the board could withhold a portion of state funding allotted for that school. This legislation would work in accordance with the federal Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA). However, CIPA has not been updated since 2011 and HB 1217 would allow our state to update Georgia’s laws to address the use of more modern technology in schools. As technology continues to evolve quickly, this bill would ensure that Georgia’s public schools have these policies in place and are equipped with the resources they need to protect children from harmful online content. The House also passed the following bills on the House floor this week: House Bill 500, which would allow a second round of funding of $100 million to the Georgia Agribusiness and Rural Jobs Act program for capital investments, increase the program’s application fee from $5,000 to $25,000, establish an annual maintenance fee of $7,500 for all rural funds and update the program’s reporting requirements; � House Bill 896, which would update a homestead exemption for counties that had populations between 23,500 and 23,675 on the 2010 U.S. Census with counties that had populations between 25,400 and 25,500 on the 2020 U.S. Census; House Bill 1008, which would amend the operations and composition of the Georgia Higher Education Savings Plan (GHSP) board of directors, dissolve the Georgia Achieving a Better Life Experience program and transfer this program’s authority and trust to the GHSP, as well as remove the board of directors' authority to require and collect fees to cover administrative costs and impose withdrawal penalties;� House Bill 1059, which would provide exclusions to unfair trade practices and unlawful inducements by allowing insurance companies to provide loss-mitigation safety products to consumers;� House Bill 1086, which would lower the age at which hospitals would be required to offer an inpatient the influenza vaccine prior to discharge from 65 to 50 years of age;� House Bill 1088, which would authorize non-judicial foreclosures of time-share estates by an owners' association and would update notice of sale requirements for these foreclosures; � House Bill 1146, which would require that vehicles driven by officers enforcing traffic laws be equipped with flashing blue lights and would allow the Georgia State Patrol to have vehicles without such exterior-mounted roof lights;� House Bill 1148, which would prohibit individuals from bringing a cervid carcass, such as a deer carcass, from outside Georgia into the state if any part of the carcass contains a portion of the nervous system, and this bill would provide exceptions for antlers, skulls, skull plates, teeth or jawbones that have soft tissue attached;� House Bill 1186, which would expand the eligibility for individuals who can have a non-diagnostic electro-physiologic screening done by a non-licensed audiologist from ages three and under to birth through 22 years of age; House Bill 1195, which would update the reporting options for interlocal risk management agencies within local governments to include statutory accounting principles; House Bill 1215, which would allow students to withdraw from their local school and enroll in a charter school with available classroom space without penalty and would require local education boards to adopt a universal, streamlined transfer process, as well as clarify how local revenue allocations would be collected and calculated for charter schools;� House Bill 1233, which would revise the effective date of rules and regulations promulgated by the Georgia Board of Natural Resources to January 1, 2022, consolidate various species of black bass, update requirements for shotguns used for hunting migratory game birds and create the umbrella term “migratory game birds;”� House Bill 1276, which would require the Georgia Department of Community Health to post detailed statistical reports with data for administered state health plans on its website biannually;� House Bill 1307, which would require excavators to make an emergency 911 call to alert emergency services if they strike or damage a utility facility that carries gas or a hazardous liquid;� House Bill 1320, which would update the state’s definition of "Internal Revenue Code" to include the provisions of the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, such as changing which bonds qualify as tax-exempt bond financing, extending interest-rate smoothing for defined benefit plans and expanding certain non-taxable contributions for government water or sewage disposal services; House Bill 1361, which would require that if a General Assembly act is alleged to be unconstitutional or invalid in an action, the attorney general would be served with a notice and would be entitled to be heard in defense of the act.� The next couple of weeks will certainly be some of our most demanding as we prepare for the Crossover Day deadline, which is the last day a bill can pass out of one chamber and still be eligible to be signed into law this year. There are still many more important bills that will be taken up before Crossover Day, including the Fiscal Year 2023 budget. I hope to hear from you soon about legislation that is still up for consideration this session. You can reach my Capitol office at 404-656-0213, or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your state representative. -Beth
The House of Representatives returned for the sixth week of the 2022 legislative session on Monday, February 14, 2022.
Early in the week, the House unanimously passed legislation to encourage and incentivize regional cooperation between Georgia counties as well as provide a specific framework for regional development authorities. House Bill 1044 would allow three to five adjoining counties to create a regional development authority that would work to stimulate economic development and job growth within those counties. This bill would incentivize this regional cooperation structure by providing a tax credit for each new quality job for eligible investment properties; this tax credit would be offered to the county determined by the state to have the lowest economic performance within the regional development authority. To ensure that these authorities are equipped with even greater knowledge and expertise, the bill would require that at least half of the authority members from each participating county complete an economic development training course certified by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs. These regional development authorities would be comprised of a board of directors that would meet quarterly, develop an operational business plan, own property within one or more of the participating counties, as well as maintain an active agreement for sharing expenses and proceeds. Under this legislation, a county could only belong to one regional development authority. While counties may currently establish a development authority with a neighboring county for various purposes, this issue became a priority for the House Rural Development Council after learning about several rural Georgia counties that teamed up to help spur economic development. With this legislation, we hope to replicate and strengthen this model in other parts of our state, especially in rural areas. HB 1044 also aims to provide counties with an even greater incentive to take advantage of this regional approach to economic development and implement standardized continuing education to ensure high levels of service across Georgia.
The House also passed House Bill 1134, legislation which would allow the state’s attorney general to collaborate with local district attorneys to prosecute certain gang-related crimes across the state. Additionally, HB 1134 would allow the attorney general to employ peace officers for investigative purposes. This bill would also work in tandem with the governor’s plan to create the Gang Prosecution Unit in the attorney general’s office. HB 1134 has now been sent to the Senate for consideration.
We also passed bipartisan legislation, House Bill 893, to extend the collection of hazardous waste fees, which are crucial to supporting the Hazardous Waste Trust Fund and its work to restore Georgia’s environment. The legislature originally established this fund to collect fees from hazardous waste generators, solid waste tipping fees and violation fines to help fund the cleanup of hazardous waste sites. Without this fund, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division might not be able to implement programs to remediate contaminated sites, and our local governments would be left to fund the cleanup of leaking landfills, abandoned and contaminated properties. Originally set to expire this summer, HB 893 would extend the sunset date of the Hazardous Waste Trust Fund to July 1, 2027, allowing the state to fund this important work for another five years. HB 893 was sent over to our counterparts in the Senate, and I hope that this bill receives overwhelming support as it did in the House.
The Georgia House also voted to advance legislation to modify certain hunting and wildlife protection laws this week. Our state laws already provide extensive protections to Georgia’s wildlife, including turkeys and other ground nesting birds, as well as year-round protections for endangered loggerhead sea turtles that call Georgia’s coastline their home during their nesting season. This week, we passed House Bill 1147 to help protect these animals that have low population numbers from nest-raiding predators, such as raccoons and opossums, which have had a population boom in recent years and threaten certain wildlife populations. HB 1147 would allow property owners to hunt and trap raccoons and opossums year round and remove bag limits for these animals. Several other states have also adopted similar policies when it comes to hunting these animals, and this bill would help the state better protect special nesting animals that are native to our state.
On Wednesday, my colleagues and I dedicated a whole day to meeting with our House committees and subcommittees to consider bills as they move through the legislative process. By the end of the day, nearly 20 House meetings were held to discuss countless bills that cover a range of policies. House Bill 1013, the Mental Health Parity Act, received its first committee hearing, several education bills were debated in committees and subcommittees, and Appropriations subcommittees met to discuss portions of the state’s Fiscal Year 2023 budget. Finally, the House Rules Committee met and set a calendar full of local redistricting bills for our last legislative day of this week, as well as an extensive calendar for when we reconvene on the House floor next week. The House also passed the following bills and resolutions during Legislative Week 6: House Bill 963, which would provide the annual update of provisions of the Controlled Substance Act for Schedule I and Schedule IV controlled substances; House Bill 969, which would update reporting requirements for insurance holding companies to include information on their financial profile and group capital calculation; House Bill 1021, which would decrease the minimum non-forfeiture interest rate for individual deferred annuities from one percent to 0.15 percent; House Bill 1028, which would update the district map for the Cobb County Board of Education; House Bill 1089, which would increase the penalty fee for each violation of specified motor vehicle registration requirements from $25 to $145; House Bill 1154, which would update the district map for the Cobb County Board of Commissioners; House Bill 1223, which would extend the sunset date on the sales and use tax exemption for computer equipment sold to high-technology companies from June 30, 2023, to December 31, 2023; House Bill 1275, which would revise provisions of Georgia’s code concerning the appointment and removal of municipal court judges; House Resolution 664, which would act as the annual conveyance resolution for state properties located in Chatham, DeKalb, Fulton, Glynn, Hall and Sumter counties; House Resolution 683, which would act as the annual easement resolution for state construction, operation and maintenance projects in Bartow, Douglas, Fulton, Gilmer, Gwinnett, Haralson, Paulding, Sumter and Thomas counties; Senate Bill 369, which would provide that future elections of the Gwinnett County Board of Education be non-partisan; Senate Bill 386, which would update the district map for the Meriwether County Board of Commissioners; Senate Bill 387, which would update the district map for the Meriwether County Board of Education; Senate Bill 437, which would update the district map for the Fulton County Board of Commissioners; Senate Bill 457, which would update the district map for the Augusta-Richmond County Commission; Senate Bill 458, which would update the district map for the Richmond County School District.
This busy week of legislating on behalf of House District 131 has come to a close, but I am already gearing up for another meaningful and productive week in Atlanta when we resume our work on Tuesday, Feb. 22. I hope that you continue to reach out with any questions or thoughts you have on legislation that is up for consideration this year. You can reach my Capitol office at 404-656-0213 or email@example.com.
Thank you for allowing me to serve as YOUR state representative under the Gold Dome. ~Beth
Monday, February 7, 2022, began the fifth week of the 2022 legislative session. Each day grew increasingly longer as more legislation made its way to the House floor including the bill for the Amended Fiscal Year (AFY) 2022 budget. Chief Justice David Nahmias of the Supreme Court of Georgia also delivered the annual State of the Judiciary address in the House Chamber. Outside the Chamber, committee meetings hearing bills filled time before and after Sessions. This week, we passed one of the most important bills of the legislative session, House Bill 910, to amend the state budget for the current fiscal year ending June 30, 2022. Last year, the original Fiscal Year 2022 budget was set at a revenue estimate of $27.2 billion, but I am pleased to report that Georgia’s economy has since made an outstanding recovery, and the state anticipates robust collections for the rest of this fiscal year. The AFY 2022 budget is set at $29.8 billion, and this amended budget will allow the state to utilize about $2.6 billion in new funds before the current fiscal year ends in July. With these projections in mind, I’d like to bring your attention to the areas of the House’s version of the amended budget that focus on education, health, public safety, as well as the state’s workforce and infrastructure. This new funding in the amended budget presents a much needed opportunity to allocate funding towards our state’s aging infrastructure and vital workforce needs. Our budget dedicates more than $900 million to the state’s infrastructure needs, such as replacing agency vehicles and school buses, upgrading state technology and maintenance, repairs, infrastructure and design for state facilities. This AFY 2022 budget also makes a sizeable investment into retaining and recruiting state workers, including an allocation of more than $900 million for salary increases for state employees, educators and other school employees. Before July 1, full-time, benefit-eligible state employees would receive a $5,000 salary adjustment, our teachers would receive a $2,000 supplement, and many other school employees would receive a $1,000 supplement. Georgia’s K-12 education system is the largest budget expenditure and totals $11.16 billion, or 43.3 percent of the general funds in the state budget. Due to the rebound in state revenues this last year, this amended budget restores $383 million that is needed to fully fund our K-12 education system using the Quality Basic Education (QBE) formula. The House’s version of the AFY 2022 budget also includes $93 million in additional QBE funding for enrollment growth of 11,926 new public school students, $188 million to purchase 1,747 public school buses and $5 million to help schools purchase alternative-fuel vehicles. My colleagues and I were also able to allocate the necessary funds to help promote better health for Georgians, both physically and mentally. HB 910 includes $263 million to meet the projected need from increased enrollment in the state’s Medicaid program. This budget also includes an additional $1.7 million for the Georgia Board of Health Care Workforce to fully fund residents in graduate medical education programs. $500,000 is designated to the Morehouse School of Medicine’s new nursing program. Under the budget area for the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, HB 910 provides $416,875 for Georgia Options and the Matthew Reardon Center for Autism; these programs have been great partners to the state and provide incredible support services to children and adults with developmental disabilities. This budget also appropriates $10 million to fund service cancelable loans for mental health practitioners to expand the workforce to meet increasing demands for services. HB 910 also includes $310,000 for the Georgia Crisis and Access Line to implement the National Suicide Lifeline in our state. This budget also prioritizes keeping Georgians safe and supporting our law enforcement agencies and corrections system. This version of the AFY 2022 budget allocates $1.3 million to support our judicial system’s critical operations. HB 910 also includes $23.6 million to replace almost 600 vehicles for the Georgia Department of Corrections, Department of Community Supervision, Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) and Department of Public Safety. For the health, safety and security of offenders in our correctional system, this budget designates $432 million to the Georgia Building Authority for a state prison facility transformation and various technology projects. HB 910 also mirrors the governor’s recommendation to provide $4.6 million in new funds to the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council for the Georgia Crime Victims Emergency Fund to help offset lower than normal probation fee collections, as well as $1.8 million in unallocated training funds, totaling $6.5 million in increased funding for this important initiative. HB 910 includes funding for a number of other House priorities over the next several months. The governor recently announced that the electric vehicle company Rivian will bring nearly 7,500 new jobs to Georgia, and to support this initiative, this budget includes $112 million in the Georgia Department of Community Affairs to support the local development authorities around the company’s new site. This version of the budget also includes funding for improvements to several state facilities, including the Georgia World Congress Center, the Georgia National Fairgrounds and Jekyll Island State Park. Finally, HB 910 designates approximately $483,000 to allow the GBI to hire four election complaint investigators. During a joint session on Tuesday, Chief Justice Nahmias provided a comprehensive update on how the judicial system has adapted to the pandemic, as well as the challenges the courts still face. The chief justice highlighted that one of its most helpful responses to the pandemic has been leveraging technology and offering virtual court proceedings to keep cases moving along in almost all of our courts. Our courts are still working diligently to address the backlog of cases that have resulted from the pandemic, particularly among serious criminal cases that continuing to strain the system. To that end, the chief justice touted the state’s substantial federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) grant funding that was recently allocated to the judicial system to address case backlogs, with priority being given to backlogs of serious violent felony cases, such as murder, armed robbery and aggravated sex crimes. The chief justice also informed us that the judicial system’s main priority going forward will be resolving this backlog and handling the influx of new criminal cases due to higher crime rates than before the pandemic began. Additionally, the chief justice commended the General Assembly for its legislative efforts that have helped the judicial system try to restore and expand its civil and criminal case capacity. Last session, the General Assembly passed legislation to provide the courts with some much-needed statutory tools, including legislation that authorizes judges to extend statutory speedy trial deadlines at the local level to prevent potentially dangerous offenders from being released without a trial. Our legislative efforts have also allowed more criminal cases to move forward sooner and allowed more cases to be tried by judges rather than juries if the defendant consents. The chief justice shared a common legislative goal of improving the state’s mental health system due to the fact that those with mental illnesses are more likely to be incarcerated than hospitalized. He shared with us that the state’s accountability courts have been tremendously successful in dealing with offenders with mental and behavioral health issues, reducing recidivism rates and helping offenders re-enter society. However, Chief Justice Nahmias also stated that communities across the state still need additional resources to better serve Georgians with mental health needs. I am proud to be part of the Mental Health Caucus in the House that is seeking to bring needed changes to the mental health system in Georgia. We also passed the following bills on the House floor this week: • House Bill 56, which would provide an additional superior court judge in the Blue Ridge Judicial Circuit; • House Bill 263, which would allow for an updated mortality table to be used when determining the amount of retirement benefits of survivors of deceased probate judges; • House Bill 412, which would create the Georgia Behavior Analyst Licensing Board, set the operating standards for the board and include licensing requirements for applicants for a behavior analyst license; • House Bill 430, which would revise the definition of "advanced nursing practice" to include clinical nurse specialists and contains the educational or certification requirements, amend the definition of "advanced practice registered nurse" (APRN) to include several nursing specialties, provide eligibility requirements for licensing of APRNs and renewal requirements for licenses; • House Bill 780, which would transfer all full-time state-wide business court judges from the Judicial Retirement System to the Employees' Retirement System starting July 1, 2022; • House Bill 826, which would create a ballot referendum for area residents to consider the creation of the City of Lost Mountain; • House Bill 840, which would create a ballot referendum for area residents to consider the creation of the City of Vinings; • House Bill 891, which would act as the annual housekeeping bill for sections of Georgia’s code that relate to banking and finance; • House Bill 899, which would help phase out the use of the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) formula as the predominant interest-rate average and, instead, would allow a recommended benchmark formula replacement for any contract, security or instrument that uses LIBOR; • House Bill 1011, which would remove the permit requirement for low-speed vehicles to use an amber strobe light and clarify that permits for emergency vehicles to operate flashing or revolving emergency lights would be valid for five years from the date of issuance; • House Bill 1045, which would revise the year from 2022 to 2026 at which the required contribution rate for new or newly covered employers to make into unemployment insurance increases from 2.64 percent of wages to 2.7 percent of wages, as well as change the dissolution date of the Subsequent Injury Trust Fund; • House Bill 1049, which would add two members to the State Board of Long-Term Care Facility Administrators and increase the number of board members who are nursing home, personal care home or assisted living community administrators, bringing the total number of board members to 11 after June 30, 2022; • House Bill 1055, which would increase the defined weight limit for an “all-terrain vehicle” from 2,500 pounds to 3,500 pounds. I was excited to spend time with two fantastic groups this week: Pike County Farm Bureau on Tuesday and Upson 4-H Extension on Wednesday. It is always a treat to see people from home at the Capitol! If you or your group is planning to come to the Capitol, please reach out to me so I can meet with you during your visit. When we return to the State Capitol on Monday, February 14, we will have another packed week under the Gold Dome. While this session is getting busier by the day, one of my top priorities will remain connecting with my constituents to hear your feedback about the work we are doing in Atlanta. I may be at the Capitol during the day, but I come home every night to my home in this District. I encourage you to reach out if you have any questions or concerns regarding legislation that has been discussed or passed so far. You can reach my Capitol office at 404-656-0213, or you can email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your state representative and legislative voice here at the Capitol. ~Beth
The Georgia General Assembly is well into the 2022 legislative session, and we resumed our work at the State Capitol on Tuesday, February 1, 2022. This was our fourth week of session, putting us at more than a quarter of the way through the legislative session. While the House convened Tuesday through Thursday to cast our votes on legislation each day, I want to bring your attention to certain bills, including education and health care legislation that may impact our communities and citizens in House District 131.
To start the week, my colleagues and I took up House Bill 385 to help address the recent teacher shortage in Georgia. This legislation would allow retired certified pre-K and K-12 teachers who have obtained 30 years of creditable service to return to the classroom full-time while receiving their full retirement benefits. After one-year of retirement, eligible members of the Teachers Retirement System of Georgia would be able to return to work in an “area of highest need.” These subject areas would be designated by the Georgia Department of Education in tandem with the Georgia Professional Standards Commission and would vary based on determinations from each school system’s Regional Education Service Agency. Under this bill, the state would conduct a performance audit on the value, necessity and impact of retired teachers returning to our classrooms full-time to measure the effectiveness of the legislation. If this bill is signed into law, HB 385 would go into effect ahead of the next school year and would sunset after a few of school years. Not only would this legislation offer an immediate solution to the state’s overall growing need for teachers, but it would also ensure that our students are able to continue to receive quality classroom instruction from experienced educators.
We also unanimously passed legislation to help ensure that Georgians have the power over decisions regarding their mental health care in a way that best suits their needs and desires. House Bill 752, or the Psychiatric Advance Directive Act, would allow competent adults to legally establish their expectations and preferences for future mental health treatment and medication. These individuals would also have the ability to appoint someone as a “mental health care agent” to act on their behalf if they are incapable of making mental health decisions. Under this bill, Georgians would be able to fill out a psychiatric advance directive that documents emergency contact information, situations that have been known to trigger a mental health crisis, information about the individual that may help de-escalate a crisis, information to assist care providers if the individual enters a treatment facility, past and current medications, treatment expectations and if they have a designated a mental health care agent, among other useful information. Providers and treatment facilities would be required to comply with the directive to the fullest extent possible. Through HB 752, our state laws would help bring greater parity to mental health so that individuals who struggle with mental illness will be treated as equally as someone with a physical illness. This legislation is the result of over a decade’s worth of work, and I am proud of the bipartisan efforts that led to the passage of the Psychiatric Advance Directive Act in the House Chamber this week.
In an effort to lower prescription drug prices for Georgians, we passed House Bill 867, or the Truth in Prescription Pricing for Patients Act. This bill would specifically address how pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), which are third-party administrators of prescription drug programs for health insurance plans, calculate the price for prescriptions that individuals and their health coverage plans pay in a way that is more transparent to consumers. Under HB 867, PBMs would be required to calculate a prescription’s “true cost” based on what the drug cost to purchase at a pharmacy, minus any eligible rebates. HB 867 would also require PBMs to communicate their calculations to consumers, as well as reimburse any excess amounts to individuals if their final calculation would save the individual money. However, if the PBM calculates a higher final cost than what an individual must pay, the PBM or health plan client cannot hold the individual or pharmacy responsible for the underpaid amount. This bill would not apply to state administered health plans, including the State Health Benefit Plan, Medicaid and PeachCare for Kids. House Bill 867 would ensure that PBMs conduct their business fairly and transparently in our state, and ultimately, lower the out-of-pocket costs Georgians pay for prescription drugs.
My colleagues and I passed bipartisan legislation this week to help prevent wrongful convictions in criminal trials. House Bill 478 would change the standard for admissible court evidence and testimony in criminal cases to match the standard used in civil cases. Since the early 1990s, Georgia’s federal court system has used this same standard for expert testimony, but our state’s criminal courts have not. This new standard would provide a list of factors that a judge may consider to help determine the admissibility of scientific evidence or witness testimony. Without this standard, wrongful convictions have occurred in criminal cases due to unreliable scientific evidence. In the last 30 years, faulty scientific evidence admitted under the current standard has contributed to at least 25 out of nearly 40 documented wrongful convictions in Georgia. Fortunately, HB 478 would raise this standard and act as a gatekeeper to protect the integrity of the scientific evidence and expert witness testimony allowed in our criminal courts.
The House also passed a number of other bills throughout this week. On Tuesday, we passed House Bill 624 to provide an additional superior court judge to the South Georgia Judicial Circuit. House Bill 907 was also passed this week, and this bill would specify the date for a special election to present a question to voters on sales and use taxes, under certain circumstances. We also voted on several local bills each day, which you can learn more about here.
Members of the House Rural Development Council provided an update about their work while we were in the House Chamber this week. More than five years ago, an initiative was launched that specifically focused on the needs of our rural communities, and since then, this council has consistently produced effective, sound policies that have already benefited our rural regions. Last December, the council released its legislative recommendations for the 2022 legislative session, which include supporting agriculture, economic development, education, health care and mental health needs across rural Georgia. This week, the council announced that 11 House bills that are based on its recommendations have been introduced and assigned to seven different House committees. The council members also mentioned that eight other House bills are in the pipeline and will be introduced later this session. I look forward to providing further updates about these rural development initiatives as they make their way through the legislative process. You can learn more about the House Rural Development Council and its 2022 legislative recommendations here.
In other news, the governor announced this week that the state will provide approximately $408 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funding to help provide faster and more reliable internet to homes and businesses in rural Georgia. Upson County Commissioners was awarded $4.4, and Southern Rivers Energy was awarded $15.6m. These funds will augment public and private investments in rural broadband to impact those without high-speed access. These preliminary awards will support 49 broadband infrastructure projects that will impact 70 Georgia counties. These projects and their funding represent an investment of more than $738 million in Georgia when matching funds are contributed. According to data from the Georgia Broadband Availability Map, 482,374 specific locations in Georgia are currently unserved. However, these projects could expand broadband services for 183,615 homes and businesses, including 132,050 locations that do not have broadband at all. I am working to get the remaining 1500 homes access by pushing for Pike County Commissioners grant to be awarded in the round anticipated for this fall. Georgia has been a major leader in broadband development for several years, and these funds go hand-in-hand with our efforts to provide a major boost to rural communities that are without adequate, high-speed internet. You can learn more about the governor’s announcement here.
I was honored to have Pastor Marc Pritchett of NorthRidge Church & R.U.S.H. Ministries of Meansville be selected as Chaplain of the Day for the Georgia House of Representatives. It was such a treat and a blessing to have Marc share the spiritual message and pray with the Chamber.
The bills that were passed in the House this week have all been sent to our counterparts in the State Senate for consideration, and my colleagues and I will vote on more legislation when we resume our business on Monday, Feb. 7. As we continue to make our way through the legislative session, I encourage you to contact me with your questions about the bills that have passed so far or any other policies that interest you. To discuss your thoughts, you can reach my Capitol office at 404-656-0213, or email me directly at email@example.com.
As always, thank you for allowing me the opportunity to serve as your state representative.