On Tuesday, February 20th, my House colleagues and I gathered together at the Georgia State Capitol for the seventh week of the 2018 legislative session. It was a busy week, where we voted on several bills in the House Chamber and various committees worked diligently on important legislation before next week’s “Cross Over Day” deadline. This week also included the joint session with our Senate counterparts to hear the Supreme Court of Georgia’s Chief Justice P. Harris Hines to deliver the annual state of the Judiciary address.

The week began with Governor Nathan Deal, along with several House and Senate members held a press conference to introduce House Bill 918. This legislation would update Georgia’s tax code, which has not been updated in decades! This bill made its way from the committee to the House Floor on Thursday, where it was overwhelmingly passed! The components of House Bill 918 are:

  • This bill would double the state standard deduction for Georgia taxpayers for all filing statuses effective Jan 1, 2018.
  • This bill would reduce the income tax rate for individuals and businesses from 6% to 5.75% on January 1, 2018.
  • This bill would reduce the tax rate to 5.5% on January 1, 2020 but would require the approval of the General Assembly, as well as the signature of the governor in order to take effect.
  • This bill would eliminate the sales tax on jet fuel in order to help our state be more competitive and to encourage airlines to fly additional direct flights from Georgia to global destinations.
  • Finally, this revenue neutral tax proposal would also address the state revenue rejections resulting from the recent Federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

This tax update would be nothing short of historic! This tax update would benefit all of Georgia’s citizens by allowing them to keep more of their hard-earned money in their pockets! I am proud of the work that the General Assembly has done on this measure.

House Rural Development Council (RDC)

This week, the House passed several bills that came from the RDC legislative recommendations.

House Bill 769 – This bill was passed overwhelmingly by the House and is an effort to improve access to quality health care in the more rural areas of our state. This bill includes many different health care provisions, such as:

  • Allowing for remote pharmacy orders.
  • Updating credentialing and billing practices
  • Establishing the Rural Center for Health Care Innovation and Sustainability.
  • Establishing micro-hospitals and creating a grant program for physicians practicing in medically underserved rural areas of the state.
  • A Georgia licensed pharmacist located within the United States could remotely place pharmacy drug orders for hospital patients, provided that the orders are reviewed by a pharmacist who is physically in the hospital within 24 hours or by the next business day.
  • The bill would also direct the Department of Community Health to study various ways to streamline and expedite the credentialing and billing process for state medical plans.
  • It would establish a Rural Center for Health Care Innovation and Sustainability through the existing Office of Rural Health. This center would provide leadership training and health data analysis for rural hospitals and would be located at a Georgia postsecondary institution with a health program or college that focuses on rural and underserved areas of the state. The center would educate and train rural hospital leaders on best practices and hospital operating standards.
  • This legislation would allow for the creation of micro-hospitals, which is a hospital in a rural county that has two to seven inpatient beds and provides 24/7 emergency services.
  • Finally, the bill would create a grant program within the Georgia Board of Physician Workforce to provide financial assistance for some rural physicians who establish or operate a practice in an undeserved area of the state.

This measure was the first RDC-related bill to pass the House this session, and the bill’s wide-ranging health care provisions would allow this critical sector to thrive in rural Georgia.

House Bill 735 – This bill would create an income tax credit for track maintenance expenditures on owned or leased short line railroads. This tax credit would be 50% of the maintenance expenditures during the taxable year and would be capped at $3,500 per mile of railroad track. This measure’s goal would be to incentivize investment in rail infrastructure, boost reinvestment, create jobs and keep rural Georgia connected to the rest of the state.

House Bill 876 – This bill would prohibit counties and municipalities from banning the use of wood products as construction material, as long as the products meet the state minimum standard codes and the Georgia State Fire Code. This measure would level the playing field for our state’s tree farmers, as well as boost business for Georgia’s 97 sawmills, most of which are located in rural parts of the state.

Education:

House Bill 853 – This bill passed through the House unanimously and would exempt public school students who are admitted under a physician’s order into a licensed psychiatric residential treatment center from paying tuition or fees to a local school system.

Human Trafficking

House Bill 732 – This bill was also passed unanimously. This is a measure to fight the horrific practice of sex trafficking within our state. This bill expands the definition of sex trafficking to include anyone who patronizes sexually explicit conduct from a sex trafficking victim. Due to this clarification of state law, anyone who commits this offense would be charged with a felony and would be required to serve a prison sentence of 5-20 years. This bill seeks to ensure that individuals who knowingly engage in sex trafficking acts with victims of sex trafficking are prosecuted accordingly. This is such a terrible but true reality in our state and it is my hope that this bill will help to alleviate this great injustice.

Military

House Bill 840 – On Thursday the House unanimously passed HB 840. This bill would exempt active-duty military members serving in a combat zone from penalty fees associated with unintentionally unpaid special, occupational or sales taxes and license, regulatory or administrative fees incurred while they are in combat zone. This does not exempt them from paying these taxes, but instead it gives them 60 days from the time they return from their military service to make full payment of taxes due without any penalties while they are deployed.

Finally, on Thursday, Feb. 22, Chief Justice Hines delivered the annual State of the Judiciary address. Each year, the Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court addresses the General Assembly to report on the judicial branch’s accomplishments and future objectives. During his remarks, Chief Justice Hines, who serves as the head of the judiciary, pointed out that 2018 will bring about great change to the judicial branch, as several new judges will be elected. Georgians will elect a new state Supreme Court justice and Gov. Deal will make his fifth appointment to Georgia’s highest court.

We accomplished so much over this past week and I am looking forward to seeing all that will be accomplished when we reconvene Wednesday February, 28th. This is also known as Cross Over Day. This is the last day a bill may pass out of its original legislative chamber and remain eligible for consideration this legislative session. With this deadline in mind, my colleagues and I will be working even longer hours next week to ensure that quality and meaningful legislation passes the House this session. If you have any questions or concerns regarding any legislation up for consideration in the House, or any input on how I may better serve our community, please do not hesitate to contact me. I can be reached at my Capitol office at 404-656-0287, or via email at karen.mathiak@house.ga.gov. Check out my Facebook Page for more updates!

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

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