On Monday, February 12th, the sixth week of the 2018 legislative session began. The General  Assembly is now officially over halfway through this year’s session! My House colleagues and I are hard at work, passing meaningful legislation for the good of our state and its citizens. This week has been busy but we have accomplished so much and have passed seven different bills. I have listed the bills, followed by a short description below for you.

  1. House Bill 487 – This bill provides more flexibility to emergency response volunteers and was overwhelmingly passed. It would allow state agency employees who are certified Civil Air Patrol disaster service volunteers to be granted paid leave for no more than 15 work days per year to participate in Civil Air Patrol specialized emergency service operations. This bill would also ensure that those who volunteer with the Civil Air Patrol do not lose seniority, pay, vacation, compensatory time, sick time or earned accumulative overtime at work because of their assistance in emergency situations. Our Civil Air Patrol volunteers play a crucial role in search and rescue disaster relief efforts, and this measure would allow these hardworking volunteers to serve without having to face penalties in the workplace.
  2. House Bill 678 – This bill would provide several consumer protections regarding health insurance and would prevent patients from receiving “surprise” bills, which can sometimes be 10-12 times higher than in-network charges. These protections include:
    • Hospitals, health care providers and insurers are required to disclose to patients which doctors in their treatment are part of their insurance network, which healthcare plans they participate in and which hospitals they are affiliated with. This all must be done prior to providing non-emergency services.
    • Patients are allowed to be able to request and obtain information about other medical professionals and hospitals and potential care costs before care is given.
    • Patients who receive a surprise bill would have the right to file a dispute with an arbitrator from the insurance department.
    • This bill would require insurance providers to bill patients for services within 90 days, and the patient would have 90 days once they received the bill to secure payment or negotiate/initiate a dispute.
  3. House Bill 79– This bill passed overwhelmingly as well and it would protect our license plate information from being unnecessarily saved for an undetermined period of time. This measure would require law enforcement agencies that obtain license plate information through automated licence plate recognition systems to destroy unused data after 30 months. They would be able to keep the information if the data is part of an ongoing investigation or a toll violation. The goal of this bill is to strengthen our state’s privacy laws and protect Georgians from having their license plate information stored indefinitely or subject to open records requests.
  4. House Bill 749 – This bill passed unanimously and is a measure that would benefit Georgia’s retired Veterans and their families! This bill would specify that military retirement income is excluded from Georgia’s income tax. If a deceased veteran’s surviving family member, regardless of the family member’s age, were to receive any military retirement income, it would also be excluded from state income tax under this legislation. If signed into law, this bill would bring Georgia up to speed with other states that have instituted similar pro-military policies. As of right now, Georgia is currently one of only 9 states that does not address military retirement pay tax exemptions.
  5. House Bill 740 – This bill would support Georgia students by seeking to improve students’ learning environments.This measure would prohibit schools from expelling or suspending students in public preschool through third grade for five or more days per school year without first providing the student with a multi-tiered system of supports. There are approximately 15,000 kindergarten through third grade students in Georgia’s public schools that are suspended each year, and approximately 2,600 of those students are suspended for five or more days. Instead of continuously suspending and expelling students from the classroom and limiting students’ access to integral curriculum, HB 740 would address students’ underlying needs to help improve the overall outcome of their education. This measure does not prohibit a school from suspending a student who is in possession of a weapon, drugs or any other dangerous item.
  6. House Bill 635 – The House also passed a measure to protect our state’s elderly and disabled adult populations. HB 635 would authorize district attorneys in each judicial circuit to establish an Adult Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation Multidisciplinary Team to plan investigations in response to suspected elder or disabled adult abuse, neglect or exploitation. It is a heartbreaking truth that elder abuse is on the rise in every county and every city in our state, and this measure would allow for cooperation between those who work for the good of our state’s elderly and disabled adults.
  7. House Bill 930 – Proposed by State Representative Kevin Tanner, Chairman of the House Transportation Committee, this is a transportation measure that would create a new regional governance and funding structure for transit in the 13-county metropolitan Atlanta region. Specifically, HB 930 would create the Atlanta-region Transit Link (the ‘ATL’), a regional transit governance structure that would coordinate transit planning and funding and would oversee all Metro Atlanta transit activity, including planning, funding and operations.

We accomplished so much over this past week and I am looking forward to see all that will be accomplished when we  reconvene on Tuesday, February 20, for legislative Day 23. With only 17 working days until we adjourn sine die, be assured that we are hard at work, here at the Georgia State Capitol, on behalf of you, your family and your neighbors. If you have any questions or concerns on any upcoming legislation, please do not hesitate to contact me, as I welcome any opportunity to hear your input. My Capitol office phone number is 404-656- 0287, and my email address is karen.mathiak@house.ga.gov. You may also keep up to date with all that is going on by heading over to my Facebook Page

As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your state representative.

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