Six baseball teams took to an all-artificial-turf field at 11 a.m. Saturday, April 25, for the grand opening of The Miracle League of Newton County! The new field is located in the City Pond Park in Covington, and will now be home to a baseball league for physically and mentally challenged children and adults.
The very first Miracle League was started in Rockdale County in the late ’90s when a coach welcomed a young disabled boy to join his team. A couple heard the story and fund raised to build the very first Miracle League stadium in Conyers. Now, there are over 250 Miracle Leagues all over the world in the US, Australia, Puerto Rico, Canada, Mexico, and South America!
There are six teams in the Newton County League, with 12 players on each team. Games will take place every Saturday up until June 6, with three games each day. By the end of the season, each team will have played a total of seven games.
Come out to cheer on one of the teams or sign-up to be a buddy to one of the players by calling the Newton Recreation Center at (770) 786-4673 or by downloading the Buddy Volunteer form. It is so great to see an organization like this in Newton County!
Are you ready to eat? It’s that time of year again for the annual Taste of Henry. Come out this Friday night with your family and friends and enjoy an evening full of great food and live music.
This annual event is always a fun event for the people of Henry County, but it is important to remember that the real joy is found in the great cause it supports. A Friend’s House is a local non-profit organization that provides a home for neglected and abused children in our area. All proceeds from the Taste of Henry ticket sales go to A Friend’s House. It’s not too often you can stuff your face while also helping a good cause!
There will be 25 local restaurants at this year’s event. Come out and try some food from some of your longtime favorite Henry County food joints like Shane’s, O.B.’s, and Gezzo’s. Some of Henry County’s newest restaurants will be making an appearance as a vendor this year. Brand new to the Taste of Henry this year is South Side Diner. Located off Highway 20/81, directly in front of Lowe’s, and across the street from Cracker Barrel, this Southern and American food joint has been making quite the name for itself since it opened back in March. Smokin’ Swine, a Hampton based BBQ joint, will also be serving up some of their favorites at this year’s Taste of Henry. Come out and support these great restaurants and many others this Friday night. To see a full list of the participating food vendors, head over to the Taste of Henry website.
David Ellis & Melissa Calendar, local favorites, will be providing the live music this year. Come out and hear these two perform as you enjoy the food.
Tickets for the Taste of Henry can be purchased at www.tasteofhenry.org or Friday night at the door. The location for this year’s event is Jason T. Harper Event Center at Heritage Park in McDonough. The event starts at 6 p.m. and ends around 9 p.m.
Come early and get a treat! The first 500 people in the doors will get what they call a VIT (Very Important Taster) bag. This bag is filled with merchandise and treats from participating vendors, sponsors, and restaurants. It is limited to one bag per family, so don’t be late!
This is sure to be a great night in our community and a fun night for family and friends. If you don’t have plans for Friday, then this will definitely be the place to be.
We completed our last day of session Thursday, April 2, also known as “Sine Die,” a Latin term meaning “without assigning a day for further meeting.” We worked late into the night to ensure the passage of important legislation related to transportation and education in our state. I would like to bring attention to a few key pieces of legislation that were passed to improve the quality of life for all Georgians.
House Bill 76
This bill establishes the state budget for Fiscal Year 2016. HB 76 was given final approval during the last week of session through a House and Senate conference committee. As the only piece of legislation that we are constitutionally required to pass, the Fiscal Year 2016 budget passed unanimously and will guide all state spending from July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2016. The majority of new funds will go to K-12 education, an investment in our children that accounts for 55 percent of the state budget. This will allocate more dollars to local school systems in hopes of eliminating furlough days and raising salaries for teachers. Additionally, the final version of the budget ensures that non-certificated school workers will continue to receive coverage under the State Health Benefit Plan.
The FY 2016 budget also prioritizes health and public safety. HB 76 funds new primary care residency slots and includes $3 million to improve the financial health of struggling and closing hospitals in rural Georgia. Public safety is also a key component to the FY 2016 budget, with $100 million dedicated to repairs for Georgia bridges. House Bill 170
The Georgia General Assembly gave final passage to House Bill 170, or the Transportation Funding Act of 2015 this week, providing further funding for transportation infrastructures. This final version converts the state sales tax on motor fuels to an excise tax of 26 cents per gallon on gasoline and 29 cents per gallon on diesel fuel. The rate will be adjusted annually based on an aggregate of fuel efficiency standards (CAFÉ) and the Consumer Price Index begins on July 1, 2016. After July 1, 2018 the Consumer Price Index will no longer be used and the index will be based only on CAFÉ Standards. Not only will the new excise rate help raise the necessary funds for Georgia’s transportation infrastructure, but it will also help stabilize gas prices for Georgia’s consumers.
Under HB 170, local option sales taxes (LOST), homestead option sales taxes (HOST), municipal option sales taxes (MOST), special purpose local option sales taxes (SPLOST) and education special purpose local option sales taxes (ESPLOST) are left untouched. The local sales taxes will not be levied on any price per gallon above $3.00, and the legislation also authorizes counties to seek voter approval for transportation SPLOST of up to 1 percent. These measures ensure that local counties and city governments can continue to generate revenue to provide necessary services for their constituents.
HB 170 adds an annual fee for drivers of alternative fuel vehicles, who currently pay less for Georgia’s roads and bridges because they buy little to no gas for their vehicles. The fee totals $200 for non-commercial vehicles and $300 for commercial vehicles. The tax credit for low emission or zero emission vehicles is also eliminated, in recognition of the tax advantage that those drivers already receive from their limited need for gas. Another measure implemented by HB 170 is a fee for heavy vehicles, which cause more wear and tear on Georgia’s roads. Required upon registration, the heavy vehicle fee will be set at $50 for vehicles weighing between 15,500-26,000 pounds and $100 for vehicles 26,000 pounds +. HB 170 also eliminates a tax credit given to commercial airlines and institutes a $5 per night tax on hotel stays, with an exception for extended stay lodging.
HB 170 requires the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) to provide the Georgia General Assembly with a ten year strategic plan, outlining their use of resources for the upcoming years. The Georgia Transportation Infrastructure Bank must also meet a set of requirements to make every effort to balance any loans or other financial assistance equally among all regions of the state. The Georgia Transportation Infrastructure Bank may give preference to eligible projects in tier 1 and tier 2 counties. Additionally, Preference for grants and other financial assistance may be given to eligible projects which have local financial support. Overall, HB 170 ensures public safety on Georgia’s highways and bridges, while also making Georgia a more attractive place for businesses. Senate Bill 76
One measure in SB 76 requires drivers to stop at crosswalks that have flashing beacons. Other provisions in SB 76 update our state laws for bicycles and motorcycles. One section of the bill will change the existing state law on handle bar height, while another section allows cyclists and bikers to proceed through a traffic light, in the event that the lightweight design of their bike has caused the traffic light to become inoperable. In these situations, the driver must follow all other traffic rules and must ensure that the intersection is clear of oncoming traffic. Senate Bill 132
Senate Bill 132, also known as the “Move on When Ready Act,” which is a companion bill to Senate Bill 2 that was passed last week, would allow all high school students, whether in public or private school, to apply to a postsecondary school in order to take one class or more. If accepted, the student could then earn credit for the class at both the student’s high school and the postsecondary institution. This legislation allows students with unique career paths and interests to move at an accelerated pace. Senate Bill 89
The “Digital Classroom Act,” SB 89, would allow local boards to use digital and electronic software instead of physical textbooks. The bill also encourages local boards to purchase all instructional materials in digital or electronic format and provide electronic devices for students starting in 3rd grade by July 1, 2020. SB 89 ensures Georgia’s children have access to the most cutting edge advancements in education. Senate Resolution 7 / Senate Bill 8
Senate Resolution 7 and its companion legislation, Senate Bill 8, address the needs of these youth by establishing a Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Fund Commission and toughen the fines and penalties against sex traffickers. The Safe Harbor would provide a physical and emotional refuge for children to rebuild their lives after experiencing sexual exploitation. Additionally, human traffickers would be required to register as sex offenders, and pay into a new Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Fund to help victims with housing, healthcare and other services. Funding for the harbor will be derived from penalties and fees on strip clubs, an industry known to participate in human trafficking. House Bill 429
HB 429, which was originally introduced as Senate Bill 1 and passed unanimously in the House, requires insurance companies to cover up to $35,000 for autism treatment for children 6 years of age or younger.
Governor Deal will now begin reviewing legislation that passed both chambers. If approved by him, these bills will become state law in the coming months. If you have any questions about these potential changes to state code or if you have any suggestions for future legislation, please reach out to me. You can contact 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.
Business at the Capitol resumed Monday, March 23, 2015. We met every day to continually review legislation, as well as continue voting on bills that have been passed through the committee process on the House floor
This would allow Georgians to vote on the creation of an “Opportunity School District” (OSD) in the state of Georgia. This was originally proposed by Governor Nathan Deal as part of his plan to boost student achievement and create more educational opportunities for students. In November 2016, Georgia voters will be able to vote on this measure. This would allow the state to step in and take control in chronically failing public schools. In November 2016 you will have a chance to decide if the OSD model should be practiced here in Georgia.
SB 133 is the enabling legislation that will establish the OSD upon approval of the constitutional amendment set forth by SR 287. The OSD will provide look over schools that are defined as persistently failing, or as scoring below 60 on the College and Career Performance Index (CCRPI), for three consecutive years. The jurisdiction of the school district would fall under the control of the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, and the OSD superintendent would be appointed by the Governor and subject to Senate confirmation. In order to ensure areas needing improvement are addressed appropriately, the OSD would only select 20 affiliated in any single academic year, and the total number of selected schools would not exceed a total of 100 schools at any given time. Schools would remain a part of the OSD for at least five years, but not more than 10 years. Finally, before a school’s oversight is transferred to the OSD, the superintendent must meet with the administration to discuss the school’s evaluation and options for improvement.
SB 2 passed unanimously and allows school boards to award high school diplomas to students who have completed 9th and 10th grade requirements, and are dually enrolled in qualified post secondary educational programs. In order to receive a high school degree under SB 2, the student must have completed the following:
– 9th and 10th grade courses in the core subjects of English, math, science, and social studies, as well as one health and physical education class
– Test scores associated with the courses must meet the required scores by the postsecondary institution
– The student must have also completed either an associate degree program, a technical college diploma program, or at least two technical college certificates of credit programs in one specific career pathway
Senate Bill 72, also known as “Tanja’s Law,” revises the penalties for harming a law enforcement animal in the performance of its duties by creating tiers of offenses based on the offender’s actions. This bill makes the harming of a law enforcement animal a high and aggravated misdemeanor with fines ranging between $5,000 and $50,000 and prison terms ranging from 12 months to 5 years. The offender must also pay restitution to cover the costs of veterinary treatment or the full cost of replacing the animal and its handlers. These animals often times put their own lives at risk for our officers, and SB 72 will allow justice to be served.
SB 134 attempts to provide punishment for Georgia law enforcement by closing a loophole in Georgia’s anti speed trap law. Under current law, drivers can fight tickets in speed traps if the law enforcement agency derives more than 40% of their budget from speeding fines; however, current law has an exception that does not count tickets for speeding more than 17 miles per hour above the limit SB 134 eliminates an exclusion of tickets written for speeds 20 mph over the limit so that citizens can challenge tickets from speed traps. While speeding is a dangerous offense, law enforcement agencies should not create speed traps to generate their revenue.
House Bill 1 was passed to decriminalize the use of medical cannabis oil in Georgia in an effort to improve the lives of hundreds of Georgians. Governor Deal issued an executive order instructing state agencies to prepare for the implementation of this legislation and stated that he would sign HB 1 into law soon. Qualifying conditions under HB 1 include cancer, multiple sclerosis, seizure disorders, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, mitochondrial disease, and sickle cell disease. Now that this legislation has been passed by both chambers, it will soon be signed into law by Governor Deal, and Georgia’s medical refugees can come back home to Georgia.
A compromise on Senate Bill 1 was made to address the growing number of children with autism in Georgia. On Thursday, House Insurance Chairman Richard Smith (R-Columbus) and Senate Insurance and Labor Chairman Charlie Bethel (R-Dalton) revealed a two-pronged plan that will allow dozens of Georgia children to receive necessary treatment for autism. First, the plan includes legislation that requires insurance companies to cover autism treatment for children 6 years of age or younger. The second element to the House and Senate compromise is a new piece of legislation that will be considered during the 2016 legislative session. This bill would create a November 2016 referendum, so that voters could decide on a fractional state sales tax that would fund autism treatment for all children under the age of 18.
House Resolutions 612, 743, and 744 establish House study committees to discuss fibroids education and awareness; annexation, deannexation, and incorporation; and the use of drones. These committees will meet the remainder of the year to prepare any necessary legislation for the 2016 legislative session.
We will begin the final week of the 2015 legislative session next week. On Thursday we will adjourn “Sine Die,” which is Latin for “without assigning a day for further meeting.” This last week is crucial, so I hope that you will reach out with any questions and concerns. I always take your comments to help guide my decisions at the Georgia State Capitol. 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.
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.
This past Friday we reached day 30 of the 2015 legislative session. The 30th legislative day marks a crucial deadline for the Georgia General Assembly. This date, also known as “Crossover Day,” is the final chance for bills to pass the legislative chamber from which they originated. After Crossover Day, all bills passed by the House must “cross over” to the Senate, and vice versa. The remaining ten legislative days will be spent considering Senate bills.
HB 131, also known as “The End to Cyberbullying Act,” strives to provide our children with a safer, healthier, learning environment by expanding public school policies on anti-bullying to include any bullying that occurs over the internet, also known as “cyberbullying.” The use of technological equipment such as cell phones, wireless communication devices, computers, email, instant messaging, etc., would be prohibited to stopcyberbullying. The End to Cyberbullying Act would apply both on campus and off campus. In today’s society, technology is used so frequently; this legislation is necessary to address a common problem among our youth. Becausecyberbullyinghas such a profound impact on the happiness and health of our students, it is necessary that we take precautions to combat this detrimental act.
HB 17, or the Hidden Predator Act, is aimed at reforming the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse victims. Under current Georgia law, a child sex abuse victim may only bringactionagainst his or her abuser up to five years after the victim turns 18 years old. Current law also bars the victim or their guardian from accessing police and otherinvestigationrecords in which the victim is the subject, HB 17 would amend this so they could access investigation records. HB 17 would provide a 30 year extensiontothe civil statute of limitations for child sexual abuse claims. The legislation would also allow for a retroactive “window” that would provide a two-year time frame for sexual abuse victims to file a case against their perpetrator. Not only will HB 17 ensure that justice is served, but it will also help law enforcement officers catch predators before they find their next victim.
We passed House Bill 225 with overwhelming bi-partisan support. This legislation ensures proper licensing requirements for drivers in app-based ride sharing companies, such asUberand Lyft, which utilize a digital network or internet network to connect passengers to ride-share drivers as a form of for-hire transportation. Unlike ride-share drivers, traditional taxi and limo drivers must go through a state issued background check to obtain a “chauffeur endorsement,” which indicates that the driver is authorized to operate a vehicle to transport passengers for pay. HB 225 clarifies this discrepancy by requiring ride-share driversto secure similar “for-hire license endorsements,” and go through background checks. These ride-share companies would be permitted to conduct their own background checks and will be subject to state audit. The legislation also requires the companies to obtain the same levels of liability insurance as taxi and limo drivers and either pay state sales taxes or an annual fee for each car in its network.
House Bill 48 allows law enforcement officers, firefighters, and other first responders who have sustained a major injury on the job to receive special license plates. Currently special license plates are also available to theseindividualsfamily members, and HB 48 extends that privilege to brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law. HB 48 also allows disabled veterans to receive free license plates for cars or motorcycles. I’m glad that HB 48 recognizes the brave men an women in uniform in this way.
The House passed House Bill 110, which legalizes the sale of fireworks in Georgia. Georgia businesses are currently only allowed to sell sparklers while in four of our five neighboring states fireworks are sold. For this reason, many Georgians drive across state lines to buy their fireworks. HB 110 opens the profitable firework market to Georgia business owners, allowing more dollars to stay at home in Georgia and creating new jobs. The money from firework sales will not only boost local economies, but it will also generate new tax revenue. If approved by the Senate and Governor Deal, I look forward to seeing the positive economic impact this will have.
Our next step will be to begin considering pieces of legislation that have already been approved by the Senate. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.
HB 170, or the Transportation Funding Act of 2015, is a comprehensive package of measures to address the critical and urgent need for funding for Georgia’s transportation infrastructure needs. HB 170 seeks to raise just under a billion dollars for maintenance and repair of our state’s bridges and roadways. These funds are crucial to guarantee that our roads and infrastructures are safe for Georgia drivers. These road improvements will also continue to attract new businesses and create jobs for Georgians.
– Funding for HB 170 come in various ways, including the conversion of the state sales tax on motor fuel to a straight excise tax that will be dedicated to transportation. This excise tax will initially be set at 29.2 cents per gallon, which approximates the sales tax rate that has been imposed on gasoline using a weighted average of the price of gasoline over the previous four years. Unlike the current gas tax, which is a 4% sales tax that varies with the cost of gas, the flat excise tax will provide a more stable alternative. I agree we need to move to an excise tax on motor fuel so those funds collected can only be used for transportation purposes. The debate is at what rate we set it at per gallon. The State budget increased by $1 Billion for 2016. If the transportation issue is one of our primary concerns, a substantial increase in transportation funding should be earmarked for it instead of the $55 million it received. Increasing motor fuel taxes above the current rates should not be our first idea. For this reason I was unable to support HB 170. It is hoped the bill continues to move through the process where at least we come to an agreement on an excise tax that we can all support which is more revenue neutral and in future years allocate revenue growth dollars to transportation as our economy continues to grow.
– Funding for Georgia’s 128 transit systems will be part of a significant bond package that will create additional revenue for HB 170. This will enable more communities across our state to take advantage of public transportation options. This is a practical way to provide more immediate funding, while leveraging the state’s high credit, AAA bond rating to borrow at little cost to the state.
– The establishment of a user fee for alternative fueled vehicles of $200 for non-commercial and $300 for commercial vehicles each year. Since these vehicles do not use gasoline, their owners do not currently pay their share of taxes for maintenance of roads they use. This fee will provide equality among those who drive on our roads.
– HB 170 will also eliminate the state tax credit for the purchase of alternative fueled vehicles, as well as the state tax credit on jet fuel.
– The Georgia Transportation Infrastructure Bank will allow for preference for loans to be given to tier 1 and tier 2 counties, as well as to eligible projects with local financial assistance.
I also support looking at new funding sources that are being used successfully in other states like P3’s (public/private partnerships). Moreover, in 2014 60 billion pounds of cargo moved through our ports in Savannah, Brunswick and Hartsfield. Buyers and sellers of that cargo moving freight through our ports, perhaps should share in the burden of maintaining our roads. Many of these buyers and sellers already receive large tax incentives from the state. What good are ports if you cannot efficiently move freight to and from the ports? The trucking industry continues to bear the brunt of the cost of supporting our infrastructure, maybe buyers and sellers should contribute as well. I think it is a conversation worth exploring.
The easy way to fix the problem is to simply raise the price at the pump for all Georgians. However, we need a solution that is going to incorporate a balanced approach of dedicating current revenue streams to transportation, allocating future tax revenue growth to transportation, exploring new funding sources and cutting wasteful spending throughout our state budget. I think all Georgians could vote for that!
HB 190 requires drivers in transportation network companies,such as Uber and Lyft to have appropriate auto insurance. Currently, many of these drivers are offering ride-share services to the public with their personal auto policy, which does not cover commercial activity when the vehicle is being used for hire. There are gaps in the insurance coverage because personal policies will not cover any damages or losses if a vehicle is being used for commercial use, which puts both the driver and passenger at risk. HB 190 addresses the differences in coverage by requiring the transportation network company or the driver to purchase a commercial motor vehicle insurance policy that maintains $1 million in insurance coverage for drivers anytime they are logged into the company system, regardless of passengers are on board. It also requires at least $300,000 in coverage for bodily injury or death and $50,000 for property damage.
HB 325 expands seat belt laws by requiring vans that have 15 passenger capacities to wear seat belts. Currently, safety belts only required for vans that carry 10 or less passengers. HB 325 draws attention to this important issue, and will make drivers and passengers on Georgia’s roads more aware of the need to buckle up.
House Bill 210 allows Georgia citizens to qualify for organ donation by utilizing state issued I.D.cards. Currently, organ donor status is only listed on drivers’ licenses. HB 210 makes it so more people can become organ donors, regardless of their eligibility to drive in Georgia. It is important that we encourage public education and awareness of the value and life saving ability of organ donation.
The House also passed a bill to improve the health and safety of our children. House Bill 362 allows schools to obtain/stock levalbuterol sulfate, a medication commonly used to treat asthma. Under HB 362, any school employee who is trained in recognizing symptoms of respiratory distress could administer the medication to students. Asthma is very common and schools should be prepared to help handle these types of emergencies.
Governor Deal and First Lady Sandra Deal this week announced Read Across Georgia Month, a campaign to make reading more fun for Georgia’s children. First Lady Deal visited the House and introduced a new Pre-K book, TJ’s Discovery, which was written by teachers at the Rollins Center for Language and Literacy at the Atlanta Speech School. This book will be given as a gift to every student in Georgia’s Pre-K program. Mrs. Deal is making a great commitment to our state’s youth through this campaign.
This week we took some time to recognize John Smoltz. Smoltz, a former pitcher for the Atlanta Braves, honoree in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, an eight-time All Star and the only pitcher in major league history to top both 200 wins and 150 saves, was honored before the Georgia House of Representatives with House Resolution 343 for his accomplishments both on and off the field. I’m proud that such an outstanding athlete and citizen claims Georgia as his home state.
Next week will be an extremely busy week. March 13, we are scheduled to complete the 30th legislative day, which is also known as “Crossover Day.” Crossover Day is the last date in which a piece of legislation must pass at least one of the General Assembly’s two chambers. We will work diligently every day to pass legislation through the House chamber. I hope that you will contact me during this important week, so that I can address any concerns you might have. You can visit me or call my office. The number is 678-438-7181. I look forward to hearing from you.
We have reached the half-way point of the 2015 legislative session, meaning there are only 20 days left to pass legislation this year. One of the most crucial pieces of legislation this session, the Fiscal Year 2016 budget, was passed this week.
According to the Georgia Constitution, the Fiscal Year 2016 budget is the only piece of legislation that the General Assembly is required to pass. This year’s budget was increased by 4.5 percent from 2015’s budget. This year’s revenue estimate is $21.7 billion. Thanks to this increase, a number of the House’s priorities are funded in the Fiscal Year 2016 including the following:
Enhanced funding for education
Maintaining State Health Benefit Plan coverage for non-certificated school employees
Support for Georgia’s rural hospitals.
Sixty percent of the funds are budgeted for K-12 education expenses. These funds total $571.9 million and will help fully fund the following:
Additional training for teachers
Provide charter system grants and State Commission Charter School supplements
Increase opportunities for agricultural and career/technical education
Distribute more dollars to local school systems in hopes of eliminating furlough days and raising salaries for teachers
The House’s version of the budget also includes the State Health Benefit Plan coverage for non-certificated school workers and includes additional funds to continue coverage for these valuable school workers.
Funding for state transportation projects was also set as a top priority. HB 76 includes an infusion of $55 million in state dollars and $210 million in bonds to improve roads, rail, airports, bridges and cargo. This funding includes:
$3.9 million in prior-year funds
$2 million to match federal funds for traffic management and control projects
$9.6 million for the State Road and Tollway Authority, $7.6 million of that specifically dedicated to funding projects through the Georgia Transportation Infrastructure Bank
$17.1 million in debt service for $200 million in bonds for bridge repair and rehabilitation and transit projects statewide
It’s very important we maintain and repair our roads and bridges; it is our responsibility to ensure roads are safe for Georgia Drivers.
$3 million of funding will be to help, financially, struggling and closing hospitals in rural Georgia improve technology to better patient outcomes. HB 76 also includes a $250,000 start-up grant for a community health center in Wheeler County and $50,000 to support the Georgia Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center at Grady Memorial Hospital. Investing in our future doctors is very important, which is why an increase in funds was made for both Mercer and Morehouse Schools of Medicine, funding for 11 additional primary care residency slots, the establishment of a rural clinical rotation for primary care students in Sandersville, and $200,000 to renew a rural dentistry program that offers debt relief with a service commitment to practice in underserved areas.
The Senate will now carefully review the Fiscal Year 2016 budget.
In addition to passing the Fiscal Year 2016 budget, HB 1 was passed in the House and made it legal for individuals with certain medical conditions to possess medical cannabis oil in Georgia if they’ve obtained cannabis oil legally in another state. Qualifying medical conditions under HB 1 include:
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease)
Sickle cell disease
Cannabis oil could only contain a maximum of 5 percent THC and individuals could only have a maximum of 20 ounces. Potential patients would also be required to register with the Georgia Department of Public Health and be placed on the “Low-THC Oil Patient Registry.” They would then receive a registration card to show they are legally in possession of the oil, this would exempt them from prosecution in Georgia as long as the oil has been legally obtained in another state and meets the previously mentioned requirements.
Georgia Commission on Medical Cannabis
Since this legislation is merely a starting point, the bill also creates this commission to consider the possibility of future policies related to medical cannabis oil in Georgia. This commission would be responsible for recommending a potential model to supervise the formation of anin-stategrowth/distribution model of medical cannabis, and must make its recommendations to Governor Deal by December 2015.
This legislation encourages Georgia’s technical schools, colleges, and universitiesto includegerontology and dementia in their academic curriculum. Georgia’s elderly population continues to rise, making the for this legislation necessary. Due to this rise, healthcare professionals will begin to see an increase in patients with dementia and other age-related health issues, and they must be prepared to handle these cases.
On a lighter note, we passed House Bill 70 to recognize the whitetail deer as Georgia’s official state mammal. The idea came from first-graders at Reese Road Leadership Academy in Columbus, Georgia. Georgia is one of only three states that does not have an official state mammal and the children brought this to attention. The white tail deer bring in over $800 million per year in hunting license fees, sporting equipment sales, food, and land leases, making a significant economic impact on Georgia.
Soon we will begin to work even longer hours and vote onmore legislationduring the next half of the legislative session. I hope that you will contact me, so that I can apply your ideas and opinions to these last few weeks of lawmaking. You are always welcome to visit or call my office. The number is 678-438-7181. I look forward to hearing from you.
The sixth week of the 2015 legislative session began on Tuesday, February 17. We are just about halfway finished with the session. With the 2015 legislative session heating up, an increasing number of bills were passed out of committees and voted upon by the House this week.
Senate Bill 5
This bill is the first bill to make its way through the General Assembly. This bill passed in both the House and Senate by unanimous vote. Senate Bill 5 allows the Georgia Ports Authority to accept federal dollars for the Savannah Harbor deepening project. Beginning last month, the project will make the depth of the Savannah River 47 feet; the current depth is 42 feet. When this change is made, the port can then accommodate larger container ships. $266 million has been designated to the project by the state of Georgia, and President Obama requested the appropriation of $42 million in federal funds from Congress. The project is currently scheduled to be finished by 2020, thanks to the combination of state and federal funding. The Savannah Harbor could become one of the busiest ports in the world when the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project is complete; this will also be a key economic driver in this state. I am positive that this project will bring hundreds of jobs to our great state and have an extreme impact on everycounty across Georgia.
House Bill 100
House Bill 100 was passed to better ensure that children are developmentally prepared to begin school. A child must be 5 years old by August 1 in order to be eligible to enroll in kindergarten, according to this statute. The current cutoff date is September 1st, and this change will take effect for the 2017-2018 school year; July 1st will be the cutoff date for the 2018-2019 school year and all years thereafter. The school year for many schools in Georgia begins the first week in August, which, under current law, means that children who are 4 years old can enroll and begin kindergarten. Concern has been expressed by some educators that younger students are sometimes not mature enough to begin kindergarten and can slow progress of other students if they have never been in a classroom environment. HB 100 simply aligns the age requirement date with the start date of the new school year. By ensuring that children are well prepared and mature enough to begin their educational careers, they will then be provided a better journey to success.
House Bill 198
This bill increases suicide awareness and prevention in Georgia schools to protect young people. HB 198 plans to require annual suicide prevention training for certified public school system employees in order for them to better identify symptoms of suicide. The implementation of this program would be free for school systems, and the training would teach staff when to refer students to mental health services and how to identify those resources within their schools and communities. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the third leading cause of death for youth ages 10 to 24. This bill addresses a very severe issue that affects a growing number of teens and young adults, and that is why it was unanimously passed in the House.
House Bill 119
House Bill 119 authorizes probate judges to tell peace officers if a patient who is being held in their custody and is legally determined to be mentally ill has AIDS. This bill allows our law enforcement officers to take appropriate health safety precautions when faced with these scenarios. The men and women in uniform already make so many brave sacrifices, and I believe it is important that we arm them with the necessary information to protect their wellbeing while on the job.
I am your state representative, and my job is to represent your thoughts and opinions in Atlanta. If you have questions or concerns about these bills or any other pieces of legislation, I hope that you will contact me. Please stop by and visit if you are in Atlanta during the legislative session, or call my office and let me know what I can do for you and your family. The phone number is 678-438-7181.
Monday, February 9 marks the fifth week of the 2015 legislative session.Bills are starting to leave committee to receive a vote from the House of Representatives. We began voting on several pieces of legislation to help Georgia citizens. We passed the following bills this week:
This legislation will make it easier and more affordable for Georgians to put solar panels on their rooftops by allowing individuals to fund solar power installations through third-party financing plans, allowing them to pay overtime. This measure will provide more energy options and the opportunity to take advantage of this innovative technology, while ultimately lowering power bills. This legislation was passed unanimously by our body.
This bill creates the Georgia Adult and Aging Services Agency, which would move the current Division of Aging Services out of the Department of Human Services. The Georgia Adult and Aging Services Agency would be responsible for improving services and ensuring that services are properly and effectively administered to meet the needs of older adults and people with disabilities. This new agency would allow the state to better focus on its services for those individuals dealing with Alzheimer’s and dementia. This important bill ensures that our seniors receive the full care and attention that they deserve.
This legislation would make it easier for students to obtain high school diplomas.This bill allows former high school students who failed the Georgia High School Graduation Test, an assessment that was phased out in the 2011-2012 school year, the chance to receive a diploma. HB 91 allows those students who met all other requirements for graduation to petition their local school board where they were last enrolled to obtain a degree from their high school. This bill tremendously benefits these individuals by giving them a second chance to pursue postsecondary education. As I have stated over the past few weeks education is a top priority in the General Assembly, and the unanimous passage of HB 91 in the House this week further speaks to that point.
This week, Governor Deal, along with Senator Butch Miller, introduced a Senate resolution to create “Opportunity School Districts.” This model of education allows the state to temporarily step in to assist chronically failing schools. A school is considered to be chronically failing if it scored below 60 on the College and Career Performance Index, the Georgia Department of Education’s accountability measure, for three consecutive years. If considered an Opportunity School District, the state would then temporarily assume supervision, management, and oversight of that school. This measure, which would require a constitutional amendment and referendum from Georgia voters, would ensure that all children have access to the education they deserve.
We also passed an adjournment calendar that sets the legislative schedule through the remainder of the 2015 legislative session. Based on this adjournment resolution, April 2 will be the 40th legislative day, marking the conclusion of session. I hope that you will contact me before then to provide feedback on how I can better serve you and your family. Please stop by and visit if you are in the area or call my office. The phone number is 678-438-7181.