Final full week of the legislative session in the books

Published 10:03 pm Tuesday, April 2, 2019

It’s been a very productive session and this week was no exception, particularly with adjournment scheduled for Tuesday, April 2. Many bills passed both the House and Senate and are now on the governor’s desk for his consideration. Most importantly this week, we fulfilled our state constitutional mandate of passing the FY 2020 General Budget to begin July 1, 2019. House Bill 31 is set by a revenue estimate of $27.5 billion, an increase of $1 billion or 3.95 percent over the FY 2019 original budget. K-12 Education is designated to receive 63 percent of the new revenue. For the total budget, all education agencies receive 55 percent of available funds, followed by 22 percent budgeted for health and human services agencies, 8 percent for public safety activities and the remaining 15 percent for economic development and general government agencies. 

On Friday, the House gave final passage to HB 481, commonly known as the “heartbeat bill,” which would outlaw most abortions after the sixth week of pregnancy. Under the proposal, women still would be able to get later abortions in cases of rape, incest, if the life of the mother is in danger or in instances of “medical futility,” when a fetus would not be able to survive after birth. This has been by far the most watched and most controversial bill of the session and the Georgia House narrowly approved it 92-78.  Gov. Kemp is expected to sign this bill after the legislative session, which ends Tuesday. He vowed during his 2018 campaign to sign the strictest abortion law in the country.

This week, my colleagues and I passed a Senate bill to continue in our efforts to promote broadband expansion in rural Georgia. Senate Bill 66, or the “Streamlining Wireless Facilities and Antennas Act,” would help streamline the deployment of small cells, or small wireless facilities, in public rights-of-way by placing limits on fees that providers could pay and by implementing deadlines for local governments to follow during the permit application process. SB 66 would simplify and expedite new broadband installation by creating a standardized process for wireless providers to install, mount, modify or replace small cells and/or poles without the requirement of an agreement by a city official and without an implementing ordinance. This important bill would ultimately encourage Georgia’s broadband providers to expand in rural areas, while ensuring that rural Georgians quickly receive these new broadband and wireless services.

Sex trafficking is a horrendous crime that has infiltrated our state. SB 158 is the ‘Anti-Human Trafficking Protective Response Act’ that authorizes the Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) to provide emergency care and supervision of any child who is the victim of human trafficking for labor or sexual servitude without a court order or the consent of the parents or legal guardian. Moreover, SB 158 directs DFCS and law enforcement to take the child to an available victim services organization, which is certified by the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, to provide comprehensive trauma-informed services. The bill also limits the prosecution of prostitution to individuals who are 18 years of age or older. The House passed this bill unanimously.

Regarding healthcare, Senate Bill 106, referred to as the ‘Patients First Act’, authorizes the Department of Community Health (DCH) to submit a waiver request to the United States Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services by June 30, 2020. This may include an increase in the income threshold of up to a maximum of 100 percent of the federal poverty level.

Senate Bill 48 instructs the State Board of Education to develop policies for referring students in kindergarten and grades one through three for screening who have been identified as having dyslexia characteristics.

The bill also requires the Georgia Department of Education to implement guidance and training in all schools regarding teaching students with dyslexia. I believe this bill will help with early positive intervention for students with dyslexia so they can get the help they needed early in their school years.