Legislative Update – Week 5 – 2019

My colleagues and I returned to the Capitol on Monday, February 11 for the fifth week of the 2019 legislative session. We are now over one-fourth of the way through, but we still have a great deal of work ahead of us.

The House kicked off the week on Monday with the unanimous passage of House Bill 23 to expand internet access in rural Georgia. HB 23 would allow electric membership corporations (EMCs) and their affiliates to provide broadband services.. Broadband is essential to almost every factor of economic development, and this legislation is a tremendous step in the right direction to help spur economic development in rural Georgia.

The House also passed a bill this week that would provide a pathway for deployment of small cell and 5G technology in public rights-of-way. Over the past seven months, the House has worked with advocates, area experts and local authorities to craft a bill that would support the growing consumer-driven demand for high-speed wireless access while also preserving the ability of our local governments to protect historic districts and community aesthetics. Due to the overwhelming concentration of cellular data in our urban areas, House Bill 184, or the Streamlining Wireless Facilities and Antennas Act, would allow wireless service providers to install “stealthy” small-cell wireless towers throughout cities to offer greater wireless coverage. This groundbreaking technology would eventually deploy 5G streaming services to all of Georgia using small boxes that are attached to utility poles in public areas, providing coverage up to  1,000 feet in any direction of the poles. This legislation would allow our state to move forward in deploying small cell wireless technology on a larger scale to further enhance economic opportunities across our state.

Also this week, my colleagues and I overwhelmingly passed House Bill 62, or “Margie’s Law,” to assist in the early detection and treatment of breast cancer. This bipartisan measure passed by a vote of 166-1 and would require mammography examiners to notify patients when dense breast tissue is found. While dense breast tissue is common and not always abnormal, it can make it more difficult to detect cancer through a mammogram and can increase the risk for breast cancer. Findings show that dense breast tissue is detected during annual exams in at least 40 percent of woman over the age of 40. If signed into law, Georgia would join 30 other states that have passed similar legislation to help save lives from breast cancer.

The House took up another very important measure this week to clarify existing law regarding when drivers can or cannot pass stopped school buses. Senate Bill 25 passed unanimously and clarifies ambiguous language that was enacted as a result of House 978 that passed last year that allowed drivers to pass a stopped school bus when traveling in the opposite direction when a turn lane is present. This caused confusion on the roadways and created safety issues for our school children. SB 25 reduces this risk and protects our school bus riders by making it clear that drivers can only pass a stopped school bus on the other side of the road when the roadways are divided by a grass median, unpaved area or physical barrier. Governor Kemp recognized that swift action was needed to resolve this issue and signed SB 25 into law on Friday, February 15, and the bill went into immediate effect to protect the lives of our children.

Over the last two years, the House has supported Georgia’s brave military service members and our veterans by passing 23 military-friendly bills. To build upon these efforts, we passed House Bill 25 this week to provide financial relief for active duty members of the U.S. military, Georgia National Guard or Georgia Air National Guard. This bipartisan legislation would allow over 100,000 active service members in Georgia to terminate contractual obligations with a provider of subscription services like television, video, and audio programming services; internet access services; or health spa or gym services. To qualify, service members must be on active duty, receive orders of deployment to a location that does not support these same exact services and give a 30 day notice. Inspired by similar legislation implemented in 18 other states, the House has worked alongside federal officials to craft legislation that would alleviate some of the financial burdens for those who protect our great state and country.

The House completed the week on Friday, February 15 by passing House Bill 63 to allow health care providers to request exceptions to step therapy protocols to provide proper medication to patients when it is medically necessary. Currently, insurance companies in Georgia often use step therapy, which is a process that requires a patient to try and fail one or more medications preferred by their insurer before receiving coverage for the medication that their doctor originally prescribed. This bill would allow physicians to submit a step therapy exemption or appeal if the required prescription drug will cause an adverse reaction or physical or mental harm to the patient, is expected to be ineffective, the patient has tried the required prescription drug or the patient’s condition is stable on a prescription drug previously selected by his or her practitioner. HB 63 also ensures that patients would not have to begin a step therapy process for a medication after switching insurance providers.

I welcome you to contact my office with questions or concerns as we make our way through the legislative session. My Capitol office number is 404-656-5024, and my email address is bruce.williamson@house.ga.gov. Please contact me anytime.

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

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