3/27/2017 - Monday, March 20th marked legislative day 36 of 40 of the 2017 legislative session. Sine Die, the last day of the session is this Thursday! As our deadline quickly approaches, we had another hectic week of legislation review, votes, and resolutions that are now under consideration by Governor Deal. Long days and late nights await as we work to perfect legislation before the clock strikes midnight on March 30th. I planted tomato seeds a few weeks ago and they are coming on strong. It will be planting time soon.
Last week we passed measures dealing with healthcare, our military community, and criminal justice reform.
Senate Bill 206 would require health insurance plans in Georgia to cover the cost of hearing aids for children 18 years old and younger. Under this bill, hearing aid coverage would be limited to $3,000 per hearing aid. SB 206 also requires that insurers cover medically necessary services and supplies related to the diagnosis. Hearing loss is one of the most common maladies affecting children from birth to age three, resulting in a larger number of students who struggle with speech and literacy. We are hopeful this bill will offset state costs relating to special education for hearing-impaired students.
Senate Bill 108 would create and maintain a women veteran’s office within the Department of Veterans Services. This office would provide our female veterans with programs designed specifically for the women’s aid and support.
Senate Bill 219 would modify Georgia’s motor vehicle laws by allowing “self-driving cars” to operate on Georgia’s roadways (I’m not kidding). This forward-looking legislation would exempt operators from the need to possess a Georgia driver’s license, but would require many safety measures in the regulation of the vehicle itself, meaning these vehicles would each have to be equipped with the following:
• An engaged automated driving system that would obey all traffic laws
• A certification from manufacturer stating that the vehicle complies with federal motor vehicle safety standards
• Coverage by motor vehicle liability registering the vehicle as fully autonomous
• The ability to achieve a low-risk operating mode in the event of vehicle failure to bring the vehicle to a safe state or complete stop.
Operators and passengers would still be required to observe Georgia’s seat belt and child restraint laws, and accidents involving a fully autonomous vehicle would require the vehicle to remain stopped and on scene as the event is reported and responded to by local law enforcement.
In recent years, Criminal Justice reform has been a top priority. Our criminal justice reform efforts have been nationally recognized, and three measures we passed last week continue our work in promoting rehabilitation for offenders.
SB 174 would allow the Council of Accountability Court Judges to establish a peer review and certification process for the veteran court, ensuring continuity across state accountability courts. SB 174 would also allow the following:
• To allow the Board of Community Supervision to offer educational, skills-based programs for probationers.
• To give judges the ability to require fines, fees, or restitution payments as a probation condition with the option to waive payment if the court finds significant hardship.
• To allow Department of Community Supervision to terminate probation if certain criteria are met.
SB 175 would allow juvenile court judges to issue parental compliance orders when dealing with delinquent children. The bill further expands a court’s options in cases where a child has committed a crime but has been deemed incompetent. Currently, delinquent children are released within five days of an incompetent determination; regardless of the threat the child poses to the public. SB 175 changes that, allowing a court to temporarily detain juveniles they see as a potential threat to public safety.
Finally, SB 176 would offer an alternative, other than immediate arrest, when a person fails to appear in court for a non-serious traffic violation. Currently, failure to appear for minor traffic violations results in a bench warrant. Under this bill, if an individual fails to appear, the court would notify the accused a second time by mail before issuing a warrant.
After compromising with the Senate, we successfully passed our most important legislation in any session, a balanced budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1st. This year, we prioritized funding for child welfare, military communities, and for rural communities. I have mentioned the budget in other articles I have written; these are a few highlights of the final version of HB 44 (The Budget):
• $162 million for a 2 percent adjustment to the state teacher, bus drivers, and school nutrition personnel salaries.
• $1,000,000 to improve academic achievement of lowest performing schools
• $1.5 million for the Public School Employees Retirement System
• $38.9 million in lottery funds for the Georgia Student Finance Commission to increase the HOPE Scholarship award amount by 3 percent to meet demands
• $4.1 million for Georgia Alzheimer’s Project promoting early detection and treatment
• $358,996 for the Department of Veterans Service for four veteran benefits training officers; $137,650 for one coordinator position to work with female veterans;
• $55.5 million to annualize the 20 percent pay raise for state-level law enforcement officers and salary adjustment for criminal investigators and canine officers
* $2.6 million to support forensic pathologists and scientists at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to hire new DNA scientists to address and test backlogged rape kits per SB 304 from the 2016 session.
While this version of the budget passed both the Senate and the House, nothing is final until Governor Deal makes his line-item vetoes and signs the dotted line.
As always, it is a pleasure to work for the betterment of our District and State, and I am honored that you have chosen me to be your voice under the Gold Dome. With session ending in less than a week, Marcia and I can’t wait to get home and catch up with everyone! Until then, please let me know if you need anything at all.
My Capitol phone number is (404) 656-7857 and my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.