Monday, March 20th marked the beginning of the 11th week of the 2017 legislative session. With sine die being less than a week away, the House had another full week of voting on bills and resolutions on the House floor before they are passed on to Governor Deal. As the time left in session lessens, our work to perfect each legislation seems to increase.

Concerning the Health of Children in Georgia
Senate Bill 206, known as the Hearing Aid Coverage for Children Act, was passed with overwhelming support this week. SB 206 is a bipartisan measure that would provide hearing aids to children in Georgia. Under this legislation, health insurance plans in Georgia would be required to cover the cost of hearing aids for children 18-years-old and younger who have been diagnosed with hearing loss. Coverage would be provided for up to $3,000 per hearing aid, and providers would be required to repair or replace one hearing aid per hearing impaired ear every 48 months for those who are covered. Insurance plans would also be required to cover any services and supplies that are considered medically necessary, including the initial hearing aid evaluation and all follow up appointments. This bill is extremely important, as hearing loss is one of the most prevalent defects in children from birth to age three, and early intervention is critical for children at an early age as hearing loss can cause other problems to occur in the child’s life, such as literacy deficiencies.

Concerning Georgia’s Military
Passed unanimously, Senate Bill 108 would instruct the Department of Veterans Service to create and maintain a women veteran’s office to better serve Georgia’s nearly 100,000 female veterans. This office would provide outreach for women veterans so they are better informed of federal and state veterans’ benefits and services eligibility, as well as assess the specific needs of women veterans regarding benefits and services. Additionally, the office would review programs as well as research other initiatives designed to specifically aid Georgia’s women veterans. The women veterans’ office would also be responsible for researching projects and other initiatives designed specifically to aid Georgia’s women veterans. Lastly, the women veterans’ office would recruit and train women veterans to serve as mentors for the younger women veterans participating in a veterans’ court division, which provides an alternative to the traditional judicial system for cases involving a veteran defendant.

House Resolution 462 confirms the House’s commitment to strengthening Georgia’s military installations and supporting our troops, their families, and our veterans. This resolution states that the House would take all actions deemed appropriate improve our veterans’ quality of life, empower, and contribute to our nation’s defenses and maximize the value of our military installations. Furthermore, HR 642 restates the House’s desire for the state of Georgia to remain integral to our national defense. Our state has the fifth largest military population in the country, and our military is one of our state’s biggest economic drivers. The Department of Defense employs almost 150,000 Georgians and is indirectly responsible for an estimated 330,000 jobs in the state. Our state is home to approximately 750,000 veterans. There is a threat of federal base downsizing and closure due to future federal Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC), and in anticipation of future BRAC proceedings, the House has passed many bills and resolutions that support our military bases and service members this session.

Concerning Georgia’s Motor Vehicle Laws
Senate Bill 219 would allow fully autonomous vehicles to operate on Georgia roadways. In order to operate these vehicles without a human driver, the vehicles would be required to have an engaged automated driving system that would obey all traffic laws and would have to be certified by the manufacturer, stating that the vehicle complies with federal motor vehicle safety standards. In the event of vehicle failure, the vehicle would be required to have the ability to achieve a low-risk operating mode to bring the vehicle to a reasonably safe state or a complete stop. In the event of an accident, the autonomous vehicle would have to remain on the scene while the vehicle’s operator reports it to local law enforcement officers. SB 219 would exempt the operator of an autonomous vehicle from Georgia driver’s license requirements and would hold the autonomous vehicle occupants responsible to comply with Georgia’s safety belt and child passenger restraining system requirements. These vehicles could certainly increase mobility in our state, reduce congestion, improve land use, and position Georgia for future growth.

Concerning Georgia’s Criminal Justice System
Senate Bill 174 would allow the Council of Accountability Court Judges to establish a peer review and certification process to guarantee that veteran court divisions are following the council’s standards and are adhering to the same policies, procedures, and standards of accountability in Georgia. SB 174 would also allow the Board of Community Supervision to offer educational, skill-based programs for probationers. This would encourage employment and successful reentry into society. This legislation would also give judges the ability to require fines, fees, or restitution payments as a probation condition with the option to waive the payment if the court finds a significant hardship.

Senate Bill 175 would allow juvenile court judges to issue parental compliance orders in cases involving a delinquent child in order to promote the child’s rehabilitation and welfare and encourage parental involvement. This would also give the courts more options in deciding how to proceed in cases involving a child that has been deemed incompetent but has committed a crime. Currently, these children are released within five days of an incompetent determination, regardless of the threat the individual poses on the public. Under SB 175, a court would be allowed to temporarily detain these individuals who pose a threat on public safety.

Senate Bill 176 would offer a lower cost alternative to arrest and incarceration when an individual fails to appear in court for a non-serious traffic violation. This legislation would also mean an individual who commits a minor traffic violation would be issued a traffic citation, and the officer would then release the individual for further appearance before the proper judicial officer. The court would be required to notify the accused a second time, after non appearing in court, by mail before issuing a bench warrant, giving the individual 30 days to dispose of the charge or waive arraign and plead not guilty.

This week the House and Senate gave final approval to House Bill 44, the Fiscal Year 2018 state budget. The FY 2017 budget will guide all state spending from July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018. HB 44 was set by a revenue estimate of $24.9 billion, a $1.25 billion increase from the original 2017 state budget, and addresses some of our state’s critical needs and moves forward for our citizens. Some of the state’s priorities that are included in the budget are child welfare, military communities and service members, and rural communities. HB 44 has allocated money for foster parents and workers for the Division of Family and Children Services. This bill supports our military by providing funds for additional school counselors in school systems with large military populations. The FY 2018 budget now heads to Governor Deal’s desk for his final approval.

Only two legislative days remain in this year’s legislative session! My colleagues and I will be quickly and efficiently reviewing and passing legislation to Governor Deal. Because it is the last week of session, I value your opinions and concerns. 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.

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