Last Friday was the 30th legislative day for the 2015 Georgia General Assembly. Known as Crossover Day, this date was the final chance for bills to pass at least one of our two legislative chambers. We returned to Capitol Hill this week to focus on legislation that has already been passed by the Georgia Senate. We spent most of our time this week in committee meetings reviewing Senate legislation to ensure that every bill is fully vetted before its final passage.
The House Education Committee heard public testimony on a very important measure: the creation of “Opportunity School Districts” in the state of Georgia, or Senate Bill 133. SB 133 and its companion legislation, Senate Resolution 287, would create an “Opportunity School District” to allow the state to temporarily step in to assist chronically failing schools. Governor Nathan Deal strongly supports this piece of legislation. Opportunity School Districts have been implemented in other states across the nation, so we have the advantage of learning about the program from those who are administering such schools today.
A few pieces of legislation passed out of their respective committees and made it to the House floor for a vote.
• Senate Bill 51 will help patients enjoy more convenience at Georgia pharmacies by allowing a pharmacist to give a patient a drug that is “interchangeable,’’ or “bio-similar,” with the patient’s currently prescribed biologic drug. More doctors are using complex drugs made from living organisms, called biologic medicines, to treat their patients with chronic diseases like arthritis and psoriasis. The cost of medication could potentially be reduced by up to 80% if physicians were able to prescribe and pharmacists to dispense bio-similars, similar to a generic version of biologics. With SB 51, the pharmacist must notify the prescriber of this substitution within 48 hours so the doctor is aware of the changes made to the patient’s treatment. SB 51 will improve efficiency in the delivery of Georgia’s healthcare by making it easier for patients to obtain their prescribed medications and offering potential cost-saving benefits.
• There is a need for comprehensive civics education curriculum in Georgia’s schools to improve students’ civic knowledge and skills. House Resolution 303 urges the State Board of Education to develop and implement this. The curriculum should teach students about their legal rights, as well as their responsibilities as law abiding citizens. Classroom discussions on current events, community service opportunities, and extracurricular activities could all be used as means for delivering the important civics lessons.
• House Resolution 302 strives to increase the number of doctors in Georgia through a plea to the United States Congress. Particularly in rural parts of the state, Georgia faces a shortage of doctors. Last year, Gov. Nathan Deal appointed a committee of legislators and health care advisers to study the problem, and the House Study Committee on Medical Education found that the shortage of doctors is primarily caused by a shortage of residency slots in our state. We still need more support from the federal government to help fund residency slots, even though the state has taken great steps to increase the number of medical students in Georgia. HR 302 urges Congress to enact reforms to the nation’s federally-financed graduate medical education programs, so that states like Georgia can receive the fair amount of support we need to meet the health workforce requirements of the future. Since doctors tend to reside where they do their residencies, it’s necessary that we offer more residency slots in rural areas to ultimately gain more doctors in Georgia.
Also this week, we also took some time to recognize some distinguished guests in the House chamber. We welcomed two distinguished gentlemen to the House on Thursday, March 18.
• Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, who is a recording artist, actor, rapper, record label executive, entrepreneur, philanthropist, hip-hop culture icon, and resident of Georgia. He is also the founder of The Ludacris Foundation, which has donated over $1.5 million and 5,000 hours in hands-on service to youth organizations across the country. Ludacris was recognized for his accomplishments with House Resolution 643.
• Former Governor Jeb Bush, who served as the 43rd governor of Florida, visited us in the House chamber this week. He reminded us that academic achievement should be our number one priority every year. He discussed that diligence in bettering our education system will help every child in Georgia gain the skills they need to obtain good jobs in adulthood. I could not agree more with Governor Bush on this matter.
I am also happy to announce that our colleagues in the Senate this week passed a measure that continues to put education as the top priority for state spending. The Senate passed House Bill 76, the 2016 Fiscal Year budget, on Friday; this legislation will guide state spending from July 1, 2015, through June 30, 2016. The $21.7 billion state budget plan designates a majority of state revenue to education, proving that Georgia’s children are once again our most important investment. Behind education, other priorities include health and human services and public safety initiatives. Now that the Senate has passed their version of the budget, members from both chambers will work together to resolve any discrepancies through a joint conference committee. We will vote on the final version of the budget in two weeks.
I hope that you will contact me to express your ideas and opinions during these last few weeks of session. Please reach out if you have any comments or questions concerning our great state. Your comments are always welcome and are important to me. You can reach me at my office at 678-438-7181 or by email at Dale.Rutledge@house.ga.gov. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.