On Monday, March 13, my House colleagues and I resumed our legislative business on Capitol Hill for legislative day 32 and the tenth week of the 2017 legislative session. With only a few legislative days remaining to complete our work before sine die, the House had a packed legislative agenda this week. We continued meeting in committees to review bills and voted on significant pieces of legislation on the House floor. Sine die is around the corner, and the pace has surely quickened as we continually strive to make Georgia the best state to live, work and play.
We kicked off our week by passing a bill that supports Georgia’s growing craft brewery and distillery industries, legislation that has been in the works for some time. Senate Bill 85 would allow craft breweries and spirit distilleries to sell limited amounts of their products directly to their visitors. Currently, breweries and distilleries are only permitted to distribute their products to customers through facility tours, but SB 85 would remove this requirement and allow these establishments to sell their products to the public for consumption both on and off the facility’s premises. SB 85 would allow malt beverage brewers and manufactures to sell up to 3,000 barrels of malt beverages per year for consumption on and off the premises with a limit of 288 ounces per consumer per day for consumption off-premises. Additionally, spirit distilleries could sell up to 500 barrels of distilled spirits per year for consumption on or off the premises with a limit of 2,250 milliliters per consumer per day for consumption off-premises. Currently, our state’s three-tier system requires breweries and distilleries to sell their products to a wholesale distributor who then sells the products to a retailer where the products are then sold directly to consumers. SB 85 would provide an exception to Georgia’s three-tier system, and with SB 85, Georgia would join the 49 other states that allow direct sales from breweries, bringing Georgia’s policy in line with other states and meeting the demands and needs of this growing marketplace. This bill supports Georgia’s small businesses and would make our state more economically competitive, further solidifying Georgia’s reputation as the No. 1 state in the country for business.
This week we overwhelmingly passed a bill to honor our state’s law enforcement officers and give Georgians a way to show their appreciation to these brave men and women. Senate Bill 169 would create a specialty license plate with the phrase “Back the Badge” displayed across the bottom of the plate in support of Georgia law enforcement officers. These license plates would be available for purchase, and the proceeds from license plate sales would be distributed to the Peace Officers’ Annuity and Benefit Fund of Georgia, a fund that prepares Georgia’s peace officers for retirement and provides retired law enforcement officers with pension benefits. My colleagues and I are immensely grateful for Georgia’s law enforcement officers’ heroic and selfless service to our state, and this measure provides a mechanism for Georgians to thank and express support for the peace officers who put their lives on the line for each and every citizen.
Another bill that passed out of the House this week was Senate Bill 96, a measure designed to improve lives by expediting the organ donation process. Senate Bill 96, which passed unanimously, would expand the list of non-physician medical personnel authorized to determine or pronounce death if it appears the patient died of natural causes. This legislation would authorize registered professional nurses, nurse practitioners and physician assistants to pronounce the death of a patient in a nursing home or hospice care facility in the absence of a physician, regardless of the patient’s organ donor status. Physicians are currently the only health care providers permitted under law that can make a determination or pronouncement of a registered organ donor’s death in a nursing home or in hospice care. Successful organ donation is time sensitive, especially for cornea donations, which are oftentimes the only organs nursing home and hospice patients are able to give. Therefore, a timely organ donation process increases the likelihood that a deceased patient’s organs will be viable for transplant after death, and it is crucial to allow a wider variety of health care providers to aid in this process to provide for more expeditious and successful organ transplant surgeries. One organ donor can save as many as eight lives, and through eye and tissue donations, the same donor can save or improve as many as 50 lives. This bill would improve the quality of care of recently deceased individuals in Georgia while also improving the lives of many organ donation recipients.
The House saw the unanimous passage of another measure this week that would provide a licensure exemption to allow certain visiting, out-of-state medical practitioners to legally provide services while they are in Georgia. Senate Bill 47 would permit out-of-state physicians, physician assistants and athletic trainers traveling with a sports team to provide care for athletes and coaching staff during sporting events in Georgia. The visiting practitioners would be required to be licensed and in good standing in another state, and this licensure exemption would require an agreement with the sports team before care could be provided. Such out-of-state medical personnel would not be authorized to provide care or consultation services to Georgia residents, practice at any Georgia health clinic or facility or write prescriptions in this state. Under current Georgia law, out-of-state physicians, physician assistants and athletic trainers are not permitted to provide care to their teams while they are in Georgia for a sporting event, but SB 47 would let these traveling health care providers perform their medical duties while visiting our state. There are 22 states with similar legislation, and enacting this legislation in Georgia would further encourage reciprocity between states.
This week, the House also passed two resolutions establishing joint study committees to examine one of our state’s most valuable natural resources: our water supply. Senate Resolution 152 passed unanimously and would create the Joint House and Senate Study Committee on Stream Buffers to review existing data and current practices relating to the conditions, needs, issues and problems associated with stream buffers. Buffers are strips of natural vegetation along the bank of a stream, lake or other water body that separates the water from lawns, buildings, roads, driveways and other structures and are often located on private property areas. This study committee would look at ways to strike the proper balance between water protection and private property rights related to stream buffers. SR 224, on the other hand, would create the Joint House and Senate Study Committee on Storm-Water Management Fees to examine information and current best practices regarding storm-water collection and disposal fees. Currently, many local governments in Georgia have storm-water management plans and utilities in place to manage and mitigate storm-water runoff. However, these plans charge private property owners storm-water collection and disposal fees without considering the owner’s individual impact on the storm-water collection and disposal system. Because of this issue, the committee would study ways to protect our water quality while also holding stakeholders equally responsible for storm-water system impacts. Each of these study committees will hold meetings to explore the respective issues and would file a report detailing the findings or legislative recommendations before December 31, 2017. These joint study committees will review these issues in order to protect our state’s quality water sources and provide clean, usable water while also listening to the concerns and protecting the rights of property owners in Georgia.
The House also saw the final passage of House Bill 146 this week, one of the first of many bills this session to receive final approval by both chambers of the General Assembly. House Bill 146 would require fire departments to provide adequate insurance coverage for Georgia’s firefighters who have been diagnosed with cancer. Because of their line of work, firefighters are exposed to dangerous cancer-causing carcinogens, and according to research, firefighters more likely to be diagnosed with certain cancers than the general population. Georgia’s courageous firefighters selflessly put themselves in harm’s way, in spite of the health risks associated with their occupation, to keep our families and communities safe. As a reflection of the General Assembly’s gratitude for their service, this bipartisan measure received overwhelming support in both the House and Senate this legislative session. This critical legislation will now go to Governor Deal’s desk for final consideration.
Finally, on Tuesday, March 14, the House recognized some of its most admirable citizens in honor of National Guard Day at the Capitol. As we celebrated National Guard Day in the House chamber, Adjutant General Joe Jarrard and members of the Georgia National Guard joined us and were presented with House Resolution 173 commending the Georgia Department of Defense’s 10,908 Army National Guard Soldiers, 2,896 Air National Guard Airmen and 509 State Defense Force members. These men and women serve the U.S. Department of Defense’s combatant commanders as ready military forces, as well as support homeland defense and provide civil authorities with defense support with the governor’s consent. Georgia’s Army National Guard is the eighth largest in the country, and last year alone, the Georgia National Guard deployed more than 600 soldiers and airmen. Our state’s valiant warriors are true patriots and make tremendous sacrifices to defend our freedoms, and it was an honor to recognize the remarkable and distinguished Georgia National Guard members under the Gold Dome.
With only legislative five legislative days remaining in the 2017 session, the House will be busier than ever during this crucial time to ensure that the legislation being considered is good policy for Georgia and its citizens. As we continue working with the Senate to ensure the final passage of legislation this year, please do not hesitate to contact me with any concerns you may have about bills being considered at your State Capitol.