Week Nine of the 2017 Legislative Session began Monday, March 6th. With Crossover Day behind us, my colleagues and I went back to work focusing on the legislation that was already passed by the Senate. This week was spent fully reviewing each Senate bill before its final passing. With the end of Session quickly approaching, we had a lot of work to do.

Concerning the United States and Georgia Departments of Agriculture
Senate Bill 69 would eliminate the duplicative registration requirements for those who produce, process, distribute, or handle any certified organic food or products in Georgia. Current requirements for such individuals or organizations include registration 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.” Certified organic producers would no longer be required to register with the Georgia Department of Agriculture under this legislation, and would only be required to register with the USDA. The registration requirements between both the state and the national Departments of Agriculture are identical. Even though 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. This legislation would simplify this process for Georgian’s who provide organic foods and products to our state.

Senate Bill 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.

Concerning Georgia Healthcare
Senate Bill 102 was overwhelmingly passed in the House this week 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. 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 then conduct site visits to collect, analyze, and report data on providing care to patients. SB 102 would also provide hospitals with the option of applying through the OCC to be designated as an emergency cardiac care center, granted the hospital meets the necessary requirements. Under this legislation, 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 the 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. In addition, 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 online. This legislation will benefit the healthcare of many Georgians.

House Resolutions
The House also voted on and adopted several House resolutions.

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. It would be made up of 15 members of the House of Representatives who would be appointed by the Speaker of the House. They would be tasked with examining the various challenges facing rural areas in Georgia. They would also look for ways to improve areas such as education, infrastructure, health care access, and economic growth. The council, beginning April 1st, would lead a thorough 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, healthcare providers, civic groups, and other individuals interested in helping. The council would report its finding by December 31st, 2017 and December 31st, 2018.

House Resolution 170 would bring awareness and aid to Georgians suffering from myalgic encephalomyelitis, or chronic fatigue syndrome. This is a cellular disorder that limits the activities and abilities of those diagnosed by causing extreme fatigue, weakness, pain, abnormal sleep patterns, as well as other symptoms that are worsened by physical and mental exertion, and its cause is unknown. This disease costs Georgia between $75 million and $685 million every year due to extensive medical expenses. The National Academy of Science Institute of Medicine has reported a lack of research and funding, as the current amount of research does not reflect the magnitude of those affected by the 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.

This week, my colleagues and I also had the opportunity to honor Major General James E. Rainey and men and women of Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield’s Third Infantry Division as part of Third Infantry Division Day at the Capitol. The Third Infantry Division 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. 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.

We also took time this week to celebrate Law Enforcement Appreciation Day at the State Capitol. House Resolution 492 recognized March 6th as Law Enforcement Appreciation Day. We honored Georgia’s highly trained and professionally certified peace officers who put their lives on the line daily. The state of Georgia has approximately 54,000 certified peace officers who serve across many state agencies. We have lost a total of 669 officers in the line of duty throughout our state’s history, including nine officers within the last year alone, and it was very fitting to honor those lives through an entire day devoted to them.

The week ended on March 10th which marked day 21 of the 2017 Legislative Session. We will continue to work through the Senate legislation in the coming days, and welcome your suggestions and questions as we move forward.

You are welcome to visit me at my office located at 607-F Coverdell Legislative Office Bldg.Atlanta, GA 30334. You may also feel free to call me at 404.656.0287 or send me an email at karen.mathiak@house.ga.gov. You can also stay up-to-date by following my Facebook page.

Thank you for letting me continue to serve and represent you.

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