My colleagues and I returned to the Gold Dome on Monday, March 26 for Legislative Day 36 and the 11th week of session. The House had another busy week of reviewing legislation in committee hearings, voting on important bills and resolutions on the House floor and giving final passage to a number of bills that will now be considered by Governor Brian Kemp. With the end of the session just days away, the House worked diligently to pass several key bills.
The House approved two measures that would improve educational opportunities for children with dyslexia in Georgia’s public schools. House Resolution 52 would encourage schools, educational programs and the Georgia Department of Education to recognize the profound effects that dyslexia can have on students and the ways in which it can hinder a student’s ability to learn in certain environments. We also passed Senate Bill 48, which addresses the development of new strategies to identify dyslexia in Georgia students. These two measures would work side-by-side to ensure that all of Georgia’s children have access to exceptional learning opportunities in our state.
Another meaningful piece of legislation that passed in the House this week was SB 158, the “Anti-Human Trafficking Protective Response Act,” which authorizes the Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) to provide emergency care and supervision for a child victim of human trafficking without a court order or the consent of a parent or legal guardian. This bill also directs DFCS and law enforcement to immediately take the child to an available victim services organization, and allows local authorities and citizens to seek civil penalties against businesses that have received three or more separate sexually-related charges or indictments that occur on the premises within a 12-month period.
Also passed this week was Senate Bill 66, or the “Streamlining Wireless Facilities and Antennas Act,” to help simplify the deployment of 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. Similar legislation has been passed in 22 other states. This bill helps meet the growing demand for reliable internet access in Georgia. In fact, AT&T has already announced their intentions to deploy this small cell technology in Walton County.
We also passed two additional measures that would help our rural communities prosper by providing a new pathway to receive modern health care through the use of technology. Senate Bill 118 permits the use of information and communications technologies as acceptable forms of health care, and, as such, insurance providers will provide coverage to patients and health care professionals for telehealth and telemedicine services. We also passed Senate Bill 115 to allow the Georgia Composite Medical Board to issue telemedicine licenses to doctors who are currently licensed in other states and seek to practice telemedicine in Georgia. These telemedicine licenses would provide more doctors for Georgia citizens to choose from. As the use of telehealth services grows in Georgia, these two Senate measures are critical to guaranteeing that doctors and patients have adequate insurance coverage and greater choices in their doctors along the way.
The House also adopted an extremely important measure to address the high rates of maternal mortality in Georgia. House Resolution 589 creates the House Study Committee on Maternal Mortality. Currently, women in the U.S. are more likely to die of childbirth or pregnancy-related causes than women in other high-income countries, and Georgia is among the top ten states with the highest maternal mortality rate, with 60 percent of these maternal deaths being preventable.
After many hours of debate in committee and on the House floor, we passed the LIFE Act (HB-481), also known as the “Heartbeat Bill,” which I supported. Committee members learned that a child with a beating heart has crossed the definitive scientific threshold in which they have a 95 percent chance of being carried to term and the definitive medical threshold that for centuries has established the presence of human life: the heartbeat. The bill makes common sense in how it balances the individual liberty of pregnant mothers with the right to life of the distinct persons living inside of them. In addition to the generous prenatal care benefits that Georgia already provides, HB-481 extends important new benefits to expecting mothers such as access to child support from the baby’s father and a full dependent tax deduction. None of us like to talk about abortion. It is fraught with human hurts and tragic circumstances for all concerned. The procedure itself is gruesome, and no one wants to see the photographic evidence of that fact. In the words of Thomas Jefferson in our Declaration of Independence, we are all “… endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” There is a reason “Life” is listed first among our rights and the LIFE Act ensures this is reflected in our laws.
Finally, on Thursday, March 28, the House fulfilled our only constitutional obligation by giving final passage to the Fiscal Year 2020 (FY 2020) budget, or House Bill 31. We completed our legislative responsibility with the adoption of a conference committee report, which set the final FY 2020 budget at an estimated $27.5 billion. Amongst several important appropriations, more than 50 percent of the FY 2020 funds are allocated for education, 22 percent for health and human services and 8 percent for transportation and economic development. The FY 2020 budget includes several House priorities, but one of our proudest highlights includes funding for the largest salary increase in our state’s history for teachers and certified personnel, which raises their base pay by $3,000 starting in July of this year. Other highlights place a particular emphasis on women and children’s issues, such as program funding to address the high percentage of maternal mortality in Georgia and additional funding for our most vulnerable Georgians, including the elderly and foster children. This comprehensive budget would provide for the wide-ranging needs of our state and its citizens, while epitomizing our legislative and fiscal priorities for Fiscal Year 2020. I am proud of the House and Senate’s collaborative efforts that allowed the Georgia General Assembly to fulfill its constitutional responsibility to give final approval to the FY 2020 budget.
This week, I was honored to meet Ambassador Judith Varnai Shorer, Consul General of Israel to the Southeastern United States, and express my longstanding support for one of America’s closest friends and allies.
Next week marks the final week of the 2019 legislative session, and the Georgia General Assembly will adjourn Sine Die on Tuesday, April 2. The last legislative day will surely be the busiest day of the session, and I encourage you to contact me if you have any questions or input on any measures being considered by the General Assembly. You can call my office number at (404) 656-5024, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.
CAPTION: State Representative Bruce Williamson (R-Monroe) with Ambassador Judith Varnai Shorer, Consul General of Israel to the Southeastern United States.