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Legislative Session Update 2017 for week 8

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The House reconvened on Monday, February 27 to begin our eighth week of the 2017 legislative session, and on Friday, March 3 we reached legislative day 28, also known as “Crossover Day.” Each year, Crossover Day marks a crucial deadline for the Georgia General Assembly as this is the last day for bills to pass the legislative chamber from which they originated to remain eligible for consideration for the session. As a result, Crossover Day is typically one of the longest days of our legislative session, as we worked into the night to pass meaningful and significant House bills to send to our Senate counterparts for their consideration.

One of the most monumental bills that passed out of the House by a significant margin this week was House Bill 65, a bill that would bring medical relief to many more suffering Georgians. HB 65 would expand upon Georgia’s current medical cannabis law by adding eight qualifying medical conditions to those that can register and use medical cannabis through Georgia’s Low THC Oil Patient Registry. Under HB 65, individuals with the following conditions would be able to apply for the registry: Tourette’s syndrome; autism spectrum disorder; Epidermolysis Bullosa; Alzheimer’s disease; HIV; AIDS; peripheral neuropathy; and those who are in a hospice program. These individuals would be allowed to possess cannabis oil with a maximum of 5 percent THC and a maximum amount of 20 fluid ounces. Qualifying individuals would be required to register with the Georgia Department of Public Health after receiving a recommendation from their physician and be placed on the Low THC Oil Patient Registry. These individuals would receive a registration card exempting them from prosecution in Georgia for the possession of medical cannabis oil that has been legally obtained in another state and meets the aforementioned requirements. In addition, the bill would provide reciprocity regarding medical cannabis registration cards of other states, as long as the medical cannabis in such a person’s possession complies with Georgia’s laws. The Low THC Oil Patient Registry was created after the General Assembly’s passage of HB 1 during the 2015 legislative session, and there are currently over 1,300 patients registered, proving the success of the program and the treatment. This legislation would build on our state’s effective program that is already in place and is positively helping so many Georgians. By adding these eight medical conditions to the existing list, more hurting Georgians will be able to benefit from this treatment.

This session, my colleagues and I have focused a great deal of our attention to supporting our state’s rural hospitals and health care needs, and this week, we demonstrated our support for these areas by overwhelmingly passing legislation to would expand the current service cancelable loan program for physicians and practitioners in underserved areas. House Bill 427 would expand the program by making loans available to dentists, physician assistants and advanced practice registered nurses who have completed their medical or health care education and would allow those loans to be repaid by those health care practitioners agreeing to provide health care services in rural areas. This legislation would address the shortage of physicians and other health care practitioners in underserved rural Georgia and reflects a statewide push to solve this issue, as the bill’s intent is to attract quality providers to areas in dire need of medical assistance.

The General Assembly has proven its commitment to improving educational opportunities for Georgia’s students year after year through wide-ranging public policy. House Bill 338 passed the House this week and seeks to improve Georgia’s struggling and lowest performing public schools. HB 338 would create an alternative support and assistance system that falls under the State Board of Education’s (SBOE) intervention power, or schools that receive an unacceptable rating, in the form of a turnaround school which would create a new level of governance to oversee these schools that choose this turnaround alternative. The turnaround system would be led by a Chief Turnaround Officer (CTO) who would be appointed by the SBOE and would be a Department of Education employee with a minimum of 10 years of experience in K-12 education and experience in a principal position or higher in a public school system for at least three years. The CTO would manage and oversee the turnaround schools and recommend turnaround coaches, or individuals experienced in improving failing schools, who would assist in creating initiatives to address and work towards solutions to personal and community conditions, including poverty, wellness, transportation and adult educational opportunities. Upon identification, the CTO would extend an offer to the affected school systems to enter into an intervention contract. Should the school choose to enter the contract, it removes them from the SBOE’s current intervention process, and if the school refuses the contract, the school would remain in the current intervention process. Additionally, this bill would expand the SBOE’s ability to remove local boards of education and would create a Joint Study Committee on the Establishment of a State Accreditation Process to explore the advantages and disadvantages of establishing a state public school and school system accreditation process and a Joint Study Committee on the Establishment of a Leadership Academy to study the possibility of establishing a leadership academy for principals and school leaders to grow in their leadership knowledge and skills. This legislation will greatly benefit our students attending underperforming public schools across our state and also allow us to understand the root of the issues plaguing so many of our young learners, and I look forward to seeing the long-term positive effects of this legislation.

As we continue our efforts to enact legislation that improves the lives of our state’s military personnel, we saw the passage of several bills this week that would further improve Georgia’s status as a “military friendly” state. House Bill 245, a bipartisan measure that received unanimous passage, would require the Georgia Professional Standards Commission to streamline the process to allow military spouses to qualify for temporary certificates, certificates by endorsement or expedited certificates to better facilitate their entry into Georgia’s workforce when moving to our state. This legislation was introduced following last session’s passage of the Military Spouses and Veterans Licensure Act, a measure requiring professional licensing boards in the state to implement a process by which military spouses can qualify for the profession, business or trade temporary licenses, licenses by endorsement and expedited licenses. The Military Spouses and Veterans Licensure Act addressed a real concern thousands of military families faced, but the act inadvertently omitted teacher’s licenses from eligibility. HB 245 corrects this exclusion by authorizing military spouses who serve as certified educators in another state to teach in Georgia’s public schools, allowing the individual to immediately begin working upon relocation while they await permanent licensure. We have 12 military bases throughout this state and have the fifth largest military population in the nation, and further streamlining this process would allow even more individuals the chance to enter our workforce and provide for their families in a more efficient and simple manner. This bill is yet another attempt by the House to ensure Georgia is the most military-friendly state in America.

Another bipartisan bill that passed unanimously this week and would create a better quality of life for our military personnel was House Bill 470. House Bill 470 would authorize the Department of Economic Development to create the Governor’s Defense Initiative, a grant program aimed at reviewing economic development opportunities at and around military installations and providing assistance to communities surrounding these facilities. A military community would submit a grant application to the Department of Economic Development, and the department would determine the grant amount on a case-by-case basis by taking into account the proposed goal of the grant; the extent that the grant would better the relationship between the military community and military facilities; the promotion of the military installation’s economic development investment into the military community; or assistance in efforts to protect the military installation from a federal review. In order to receive the grant, each military community would be required to match these awarded funds allocated by the Department of Economic Development. HB 470 would provide military communities with the opportunity and financial means to simultaneously invest in the communities and protect Georgia’s precious military installations. Our military installations represent the single largest economic development investment in our state, providing thousands of jobs to their surrounding communities, and investing in these communities encourages stronger relationships between military installations and the communities they host. Our military personnel and families make great sacrifices to ensure our safety, and this measure and other the military-friendly bills passed this session, are the least we can do to thank the brave men and women who selflessly protect our freedoms.

Finally, the House unanimously passed two bipartisan bills to improve kinship care in Georgia. House Bill 330 would require the Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) to provide kinship caregivers, meaning relatives or family friends who have taken the responsibility and guardianship of a child, with contact information for a regional DFCS case worker who is knowledgeable in kinship care and financial assistance information. House Bill 331, known as the Caregiver Educational Consent Act, would authorize a kinship caregiver to give legal consent for educational services, medical services relating to academic enrollment and curricular and extracurricular participation, making it easier for kinship caregivers to enroll children in school. The bill would create the Kinship Caregiver’s Affidavit, a form that would be valid for one year and would designate the caregiver as a school’s point of contact for the child regarding attendance, discipline and educational progress, but would not affect the rights of the child’s parent or legal guardian. Under current Georgia law, the only way a kinship caregiver can enroll a child in their care in school is through a non-parental affidavit, a process which requires a signature from the child’s parent or legal guardian, which may not always be possible for some kinship caregivers to obtain. There are over 100,000 children in Georgia in kinship care, and this legislation would provide support to these families across the state by simplifying processes and providing caregivers with necessary resources to help them raise a child.

Now that Crossover Day is behind us, all bills passed by the House must “cross over” to the Senate and vice versa, and we will then spend the remaining 12 legislative days considering Senate bills. In these last days of the 2017 session, I hope you will reach out to me if you have any questions on bills that may be up for consideration during these final weeks. As your representative, your thoughts and opinions on these important issues are essential to my decision-making process, and I appreciate your input and am happy to answer your questions.

As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.

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