On Monday, February 24, the House reconvened for the start of the seventh week of the session, and met all five days to vote on legislation. Additionally, we had a joint House and Senate session for the annual State of the Judiciary address. By the end of the week, we reached Legislative Day 21 and passed the half-way point of the session.
Early in the week, the House overwhelmingly passed a bill to improve the quality of Georgia’s freight rail infrastructure. House Bill 820 would establish the Georgia Freight Railroad Program within the Department of Transportation (DOT) to address railroad improvements. Georgia freight will more than double by 2040, and this proactive legislation would allow us to move goods more safely and efficiently while helping to ease future traffic congestion, reduce emissions and limit wear and tear on Georgia’s roads.
The House also passed vital legislation this week to reform senior care in Georgia to better protect elderly individuals living in personal care homes and assisted living facilities in our State. Under HB 987, assisted living facilities would be required to meet specific training and staffing requirements to provide care during waking and non-waking hours. The bill also includes requirements for the availability of nurses and social workers, and would impose and increase mandatory fines for any violation that causes the death or serious physical injury of a resident. This legislation would update our laws to make sure that there is better oversight of these facilities to protect some of our most vulnerable citizens.
We passed a pro-life bill this week. House Bill 842, or Gracie’s law, would prohibit discrimination of individuals with physical or mental disabilities from receiving an organ transplant. Individuals who are candidates for an organ transplant would not be deemed ineligible or denied insurance coverage solely based on the individual’s physical or mental disability. We must protect life from the unborn baby to the grave, and this legislation would be an additional step in that direction.
We also unanimously passed legislation this week to increase access to dental care in our State. House Bill 521 would allow dentists and dental hygienists who are licensed and are in good standing in other states to provide dental treatment and services to low-income Georgians on a volunteer basis. Accessing affordable dentistry services is a health care challenge for low-income Georgians, and this bill will help.
The House unanimously passed another measure this week in honor of Georgia’s veterans. Under House Bill 819, Georgia residents who are now U.S. citizens and veterans of the armed forces for countries that are allies of the U.S. during a time of war or conflict would qualify for a Georgia veteran’s license. Georgia has a significant population of Korean American veterans, most of whom fought alongside U.S. troops in the Vietnam War, and many of these veterans were present in the House gallery when we voted on the bill this week. Representative Bill Hitchens, a Vietnam combat veteran, presented the bill and personally described the heroism and sacrifices made by Korean troops who fought alongside our American forces. When the bill passed, it was very emotional to see these Korean vets stand up and salute Representative Hitchens from the gallery.
Also this week, Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Herold D. Melton gave the annual State of the Judiciary address, where he implored the General Assembly to continue to ensure that all Georgians, rich and poor, have access to justice. To aid in this matter, Chief Justice Melton spoke about several initiatives that offer new services and resources at our law libraries, such as self-help videos on specific legal issues that help litigants better navigate the complex legal process. Chief Justice Melton has also formed an ad hoc committee to explore and promote best practices for transforming law libraries to assist self-represented litigants.
Chief Justice Melton went on to applaud Governor Brian Kemp and the General Assembly for creating the Behavioral Health Innovation and Reform Commission, which is working to identify the ways that behavioral health problems lead to entanglement with the criminal justice system. He also praised the success of our State’s mental health courts that reduce recidivism rates, save taxpayer dollars, and provide alternative solutions for citizens struggling with mental illnesses.
Last week, the House of Representatives recognized the life and service of my lifelong friend, Dr. Craig Taylor. It was my very high honor to present the resolution recognizing his amazing accomplishments to his bride, Kathy Bumgarner Taylor, and his brother, Keith Taylor. Dr. Taylor enjoyed a state-wide reputation for his outstanding dentistry skills and professionalism. An Eagle Scout himself, he was also recognized for his civic involvement, specifically for serving on Monroe’s city council and as well as his life-long support of the Boy Scouts of America.
Pages this week included Rosemary Ferguson, Lendon Briscoe, and Terril Wright. They all did a great job and learned a little more about how a democratic republic operates. I am grateful for their help.
We will return to the Gold Dome this week to start the eighth week of the 2020 session. With our “Cross Over” deadline approaching, we will continue to vote on even more legislation on the House floor. I encourage you to call me with questions or concerns regarding any bill that may impact you and your family. You are always welcome to visit my office at the State Capitol, and you can reach me at 404-656-5024 or firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your state representative.