Thursday, March 30th, marked the end of the 2017 legislative for the House and Senate, also known as “sine die.” This Latin term means “without assigning a day for further meeting.” My colleagues and I worked late into the night both days of the twelfth week, ensuring each piece of legislation received thorough review and consideration. Many of these pieces of legislation were passed to Governor Deal’s desk for consideration.

Concerning Medical Care Georgia
Senate Bill 16 would expand Georgia’s medical cannabis oil program by adding six illnesses to the list of qualifying medical conditions to allow patients to legally possess a maximum of 20 fluid ounces of cannabis oil with a maximum of 5% THC in Georgia. This legislation would allow patients with the following conditions to legally possess cannabis oil in this state: Tourette’s syndrome; autism spectrum when the patient is at least 18 years old and severe autism when the patient is under 18; Epidermolysis Bullosa; Alzheimer’s disease when diagnosed as severe or end stage; AIDS when diagnosed as severe or end stage; peripheral neuropathy when diagnosed as severe or end stage; and hospice patients that have been authorized by their physicians to use medical cannabis oil. Individuals that are considered eligible and parents and caregivers of those individuals would be able to apply for Georgia’s Low THC Oil Registry under the Georgia Department of Public Health after a recommendation from their physicians. Once approved, these individuals would receive an identification card exempting them from prosecution in Georgia for possessing medical cannabis oil that meet our state’s requirements. SB 16 would also honor medical cannabis registration cards issued by other states if the medical cannabis oil meets Georgia’s legal standards and as long as the individual has not been in the state for more than 45 days. This legislation would also remove the requirement that individuals must reside in Georgia for at least a year to be eligible for the registry, which would permit them to immediately use cannabis oil upon moving to our state. Finally, this legislation would require physicians to semi annually report information, including recommended dosages for specific conditions, patient clinical responses, levels or THC or THC acid present in test results, compliance, treatment responses, side effects, and drug interactions.

Senate Bill 88, also known as the Narcotic Treatment Programs Enforcement Act, would update the application process and licensing requirements for Georgia’s drug abuse treatment and education programs and narcotic treatment facilities that treat individuals who are dependent on heroin or opiate-like drugs. This legislation is applicable to any system of treatment that administers narcotic drugs under physicians’ orders. SB 88 would establish minimum quality standards, regulation, and oversight for narcotic treatment programs in Georgia under the Department of Community Health (DCH). DCH would enforce minimum operating standards, including necessities such as adequate buildings or housing facilities and program equipment, sufficiently trained staff, intake, and discharge of drug dependent individuals. This legislation would require anyone interested in opening a narcotic treatment to apply to DCH during an annual or biannual enrollment period. Once the open enrollment period has come to a close, applicants would be considered by an application review process committee and would be required to prove that communities need their services by providing data and details on treatment and counseling plans, qualifications of owners and all required staff, existing narcotic treatment programs and those programs’ patients within a 75-mile radius of the proposed location and the community surrounding the proposed location. SB 88 would establish 49 regions with the number of narcotic treatment programs in each region limited to four in order to evenly distribute access to care across the state. DCH would also have the ability to deny applicants and suspend to revoke licenses if rules or regulations are violated. This legislations expands upon SB 402, a legislation passed in 2016 that placed a moratorium on new applications for the licensure of narcotic treatment programs and created the State Commission on Narcotic Treatment Programs to study the necessary changes to program licensure laws during the moratorium. Georgia has 67 narcotic treatment center programs that have been previously underserved.

Senate Bill 180 would modify the Rural Hospital Tax Credit legislation, which was passed last session, to incentivize and attract individual and corporate donations to rural hospitals in areas with a population of 50,000 people or less. Additionally, this legislation would increase the amount of the tax credit for contributions to rural hospitals from 70% of the amount expended to 90% of the donation or $10,000 per year for married couples. Corporations would be able to receive a tax credit worth up to 90% of their donation or up to 75% of the corporation’s income tax liability, whichever is less, and would cap the tax credit at $60 million for 2017, 2018, and 2019. This bill would also create a solution to the shortage of health care professionals in rural areas. It would do this by providing a tax credit for physicians, advanced practice registered nurses, and physicians’ assistants who serve as volunteer mentors to help train medical, physician’s assistant, and advanced practice registered nurse students.

Senate Bill 14, the Rural Hospital Organization Assistance Act of 2017, would offer a solution to offset the financial burdens on rural hospitals by allowing rural hospital organizations to apply for state grants. SB 14 would hold the Department of Community Health responsible for distributing the grants to rural hospital organizations, and the grants would be capped at $4 million per grant per calendar year. These grants would be awarded to hospitals that continue to deliver essential health care services to their communities and engage in long-term plans to keep their communities healthy. Some circumstances that would be rewarded with grants are infrastructure development, strategic planning, nontraditional health care delivery systems, and the establishment of 24-hour emergency room services open to the public. This legislation would help to ensure our rural hospitals are financially secure.

Considering Child Safety in Georgia
Senate Bill 250 would prohibit individuals who are registered on another state’s sexual offender registry or have been convicted and failed to register from residing, working, or loitering near any child care facility, school, church, or any other area where children gather. Current law does not extend coverage to include those individuals who are registered in other states.

As this year’s session has come to an end, Governor Deal will begin reviewing legislation that received final passage by the House and Senate, and these legislations will become law upon his signature. If he does not sign or veto within 40 days, it automatically becomes a law. Even though the 2017 legislative session has come to an end, I am still dedicated to your interests. You may 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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