We returned to the Gold Dome this past Monday, March 6 for legislative day 29, which began the ninth week of the 2017 session. We completed Crossover Day last Friday, and with that legislative milestone behind us, the House went back to work this week and began to focus on legislation that was already passed by our counterparts in the Senate. We spent much of our time this week reviewing Senate bills in House committee meetings to ensure that each bill is fully vetted before its final passage. The end of the session is drawing closer, but my colleagues and I still have much more work to complete for the citizens of this state before sine die.
As House committees shifted their focus to measures from our Senate colleagues this week, some Senate bills began making their way through the committee process and onto the House floor for a vote. One such bill was Senate Bill 69, which was voted on by the House this week and passed overwhelmingly. SB 69 would eliminate the duplicative registration requirements for those who produce, process, distribute or handle any certified organic food or products in Georgia. Currently, these individuals are required to register with both the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Georgia Department of Agriculture before producing, processing, distributing or handling any food or product labeled “organic.” Under this legislation, certified organic producers would no longer be required to register with the Georgia Department of Agriculture and would only be required to register with the USDA. Both the state and national Departments of Agriculture currently use these registration requirements, which are identical between both agencies, to compile individual lists of Georgia’s certified organic producers. While the Georgia Department of Agriculture would no longer collect this data under SB 69, the department would continue to provide public access to this list on its website by linking to the USDA’s list. By eliminating this unnecessary and redundant state certification requirement, we would improve and simplify this process for Georgians who provide organic foods and products to our state.
My colleagues and I passed another Senate bill this week dealing with the Georgia Department of Agriculture that would better ensure the quality of our food. Senate Bill 78 passed by a wide margin in the House and would authorize the Commissioner of Agriculture to issue variances or waivers to certain Department of Agriculture rules and regulations. Variances or waivers would be issued to rules regarding food contamination and misbranding within the food retail service industry, including establishments such as grocery stores and meat markets that make food products like smoked salmon and beef jerky. SB 78 would authorize the Commissioner of Agriculture to grant a modification to all or part of a food safety requirement or rule if the rule would create a substantial, unique and obvious economic, technological, legal or other hardship that would impair that person’s ability to continue to function in the regulated practice or business. Under SB 78, in order for the commissioner to grant an individual a rule waiver or variance, the individual must first demonstrate that the rule can still be achieved through an alternative method, and variances or waivers would not be authorized if doing so would be harmful to the health, safety or welfare of the public. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) already permits this flexibility at the federal level, and this bill would simply afford Georgia’s Commissioner of Agriculture this same flexibility to help those subject to the department’s rules while also continuing to protect the health of our citizens.
The House also passed Senate Bill 102 this week to preserve life and incentivize statewide health care facility improvements. SB 102 passed the House overwhelmingly and would create the Office of Cardiac Care (OCC) within the Department of Public Health. This office would be responsible for designating qualified hospitals throughout the state as “emergency cardiac care centers,” similar to Georgia’s stroke and trauma care centers. The legislation would establish a three-level emergency cardiac care designation system for these centers with each level providing various degrees of care to help emergency medical technicians quickly determine the most appropriate hospital for cardiac patients depending on the patient’s needs. The OCC would be required to conduct sites visits and collect, analyze and report data on all out-of-hospital cardiac arrest and heart attack patients in hopes of improving survival rates and providing comprehensive care to patients. SB 102 would give hospitals the option to apply through the OCC to be designated as an emergency cardiac care center if the hospital meets certain criteria, and grants would be awarded to hospitals in need of funding in order to be designated an emergency cardiac care center. Under this measure, the OCC would submit an annual report to the governor, the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House and the chairpersons of both the House and Senate Health and Human Services committees specifying the number of hospitals that have applied for grants, the number of applicants eligible for grants, the number of grants to be awarded and the name and amount awarded to each grantee. Additionally, the OCC would provide the medical directors of Georgia’s licensed emergency medical services providers with an annual list of designated emergency cardiac care centers and also maintain a copy of the list in the OCC and online. The survival rate among Georgians with cardiovascular disease is only eight percent and claims the lives of nearly 23,000 Georgians each year, making it the leading cause of death in Georgia. Time is of the essence for these patients, and this measure will save many Georgians by allowing them to quickly receive the care they need.
In addition to passing Senate bills this week, the House also voted on and adopted a number of noteworthy House resolutions, which are typically not subject to the Crossover Day deadline. One resolution, House Resolution 389, would create the House Rural Development Council to identify the challenges and economic development opportunities in Georgia’s rural communities, an issue that has been at the forefront of many discussions this session. The House Rural Development Council would be made up of 15 members of the House of Representatives appointed by the Speaker of the House and would be tasked with examining the various challenges facing rural areas across our state. This council will also explore potential legislative solutions in policy areas such as education, infrastructure, health care access and economic growth incentives to revitalize our rural areas. Beginning April 1, 2017, the council would lead a thorough, intensive and systematic two-year study of rural Georgia by holding meetings throughout rural areas on a regular basis to hear from local officials, educational and business leaders, health care providers, civic groups and individuals interested in offering input. The council would submit two reports detailing its findings and legislative recommendations, with the initial report to be submitted by December 31, 2017, and the second report to be submitted by December 31, 2018. Although Georgia is the No. 1 state in the nation to do business, not all parts of our state have enjoyed the same levels of economic success, and rural Georgia faces its own unique challenges. The House Rural Development Council would provide our legislators with the opportunity to examine and seek solutions to these distinctive issues in rural parts of our state, and I look forward to seeing rural Georgia thrive as a result of this council’s work.
Another important resolution that was adopted this week was House Resolution 170 to bring attention to a little known disease. HR 170 would urge state agencies, medical service providers, health care agencies, research facilities, medical schools and other interested parties to increase research, clinical care and medical education for myalgic encephalomyelitis. Myalgic encephalomyelitis, also known as chronic fatigue syndrome, is an incurable and debilitating cellular disorder that limits the activities and abilities of those diagnosed by causing profound fatigue, weakness, pain, abnormal sleep patterns and other symptoms that are made worse by physical and mental exertion. Between 32,000 and 79,000 Georgians of all ages, races, and sexes are believed to suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome, with one-quarter of patients housebound or bedridden and a half to three-quarters of patients unable to work or attend school. The cause of chronic fatigue syndrome is unknown, and there is no diagnostic test or FDA-approved treatment for the disease. Therefore, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 84 percent of chronic fatigue syndrome patients go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. This disease costs our state between $75 million and $685 million every year due to extensive medical expenses and lost productivity. The National Academy of Science’s Institute of Medicine has reported a lack of research and funding, as the current amount of research does not reflect the disease’s magnitude, frequency and economic cost to society. It is evident that chronic fatigue syndrome has devastating implications for those diagnosed as well as their families, and I hope this resolution will bring attention to this grossly unrecognized and under-researched disease.
In addition to passing these bills and resolutions this week, my colleagues and I also had the chance to honor some very deserving Georgians. On Thursday, March 9, Major General James E. Rainey and men and women of Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield’s Third Infantry Division joined us in the House chamber as the House of Representatives recognized Third Infantry Division Day at the Capitol. Fort Stewart is home to more than 20,000 active duty military soldiers and has been distinguished as the top U.S. Army installation worldwide six times. The Third Infantry Division, which is based at Fort Stewart, has one of the most successful combat records of any U.S. Army division, having been deployed in both world wars, the Korean War, the Persian Gulf War and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Additionally, the Third Infantry Division played a key role during the Cold War, and 51 Third Infantry Division members are Congressional Medal of Honor recipients. The House commended Major General Rainey and the Third Infantry Division with House Resolution 490 for their heroic service and great sacrifices for the people of our state and nation, and I am honored Fort Stewart and its courageous soldiers call Georgia home.
Finally, we took time this week to celebrate Law Enforcement Appreciation Day at the State Capitol. House Resolution 492 recognized March 6 as Law Enforcement Appreciation Day. This day was dedicated to honoring Georgia’s highly trained and professional certified peace officers who daily put their lives on the line to serve and protect everyone of us. Georgia’s approximately 54,000 certified peace officers serve across many state agencies. All of these officers must undergo a comprehensive training program that includes classroom instruction, practical skills building sessions and advanced specialized courses based off of their specific sections, such as criminal investigations and legal and organizational development. Georgia’s certified peace officers enforce traffic laws and investigations, provide criminal investigation and forensic laboratory assistance, respond to natural disasters and promote and facilitate overall crime prevention and public safety. We have lost 699 officers in the line of duty throughout our state’s history, including nine officers within the past year alone, and it was only fitting that we honor the lives of the brave men and women we have lost and those who continue to serve and protect our communities.
We ended the week on Friday, March 10 which marked legislative day 31 of the 2017 legislative session. As we continue working with the Senate to ensure the final passage of meaningful legislation, I encourage you to contact me in the weeks remaining with any concerns you might have about any of the bills that are up for consideration in the House or Senate. Your comments are always important to me
As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.