On Monday, February 26th, the House and I began our eighth week at the Georgia State Capitol for the 2018 legislative session. This week was undoubtedly the busiest week of the 2018 legislative session so far. On Wednesday, the 28th, we reached legislative day 28, which is also known as Crossover Day. Crossover day was the critical deadline in the General Assembly where any piece of legislation could pass out of its original chamber and still remain eligible for consideration by the opposite legislative chamber.

My colleagues and I worked diligently and well past midnight on Crossover day to pass many important House Bills for the state of Georgia. To update you as of now, all the measures that have passed the House this session are now being considered by our Senate counterparts, while we begin to review legislation that has been passed by the Senate.

House Rural Development Council:

As we’ve already discussed, the House Rural Development Council, was created last session in order to focus on creating legislation to spur economic growth in the more rural areas of our state. This past week the House passed several important measures for this goal. They are as follows:

  1. House Bill 951 – This bill passed overwhelmingly with bipartisan support. This bill would create the Center for Rural Prosperity and Innovation (CRPI) in order to serve as a central information and research hub for rural leadership training and best practices, including models, industry-specific assistance and cooperative efforts with nonprofits, religious organizations and other higher education partners. The CRPI would be located within a college or institution of the University System of Georgia that awards Bachelor of Science degrees in rural community development  and the president of the college or institution would appoint a center director to be approved by a majority vote of the Georgia Rural Development Council. The 12 member Georgia Rural Development Council would offer guidance to to the CRPI, as well as study the conditions, needs, issues and problems that are affecting rural economic development, education, unemployment and infrastructure.
  2. House Bill 887 – This bill was passed by the House Wednesday and it implements several recommendations from the House Rural Development Council. This bill would seek to expand broadband and other communications services throughout the state by establishing the Georgia Communications Services Tax Act. House Bill 887 would allow municipal corporations electrical membership corporations to provide broadband service in unserved areas within its corporate limits. It would also establish the Local Government Communication Services Fair Competition Act of 2018 to encompass all communication services, not just cable service. This would require franchising authorities to meet several requirements prior to allowing public providers to deliver communication services, thus ensuring fairness, transparency and accountability amongst communications services providers. This week, my House colleagues and I passed legislation to expand Georgia’s medical

Healthcare

House Bill 764 – This week the House also passed HB 764 in order to expand Georgia’s medical cannabis oil program in order to help more suffering Georgians. This bill would add two additional illnesses to the current list of qualifying medical conditions for patients to be treated with low THC oil. These illnesses are post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and intractable pain. These eligible individuals could apply for Georgia’s Low THC Oil Registry under the Georgia Department of Public Health at the recommendation of their physicians, and once approved, such individuals would receive and identification card exempting them from prosecution in Georgia for possessing medical cannabis oil that meets our state’s requirements. These individuals could legally possess a maximum of 20 fluid ounces of cannabis oil with a maximum of 5% THC in Georgia.

Hidden Predator Act

House Bill 605 – My House colleagues and I also unanimously passed a bipartisan measure that would update Georgia’s Hidden Predator Act. This bill would hold negligent individuals or entities who conceal child abuse accountable for these actions. This bill would also extend the statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse cases from age 23 to age 38. In addition to this, HB 605 would lengthen the discovery time period from 2 years to 4 years for a victim who experiences psychological or emotional problems as a result of child sexual abuse to report such abuse. The last aspect of this bill is that it would establish a one-year period for a childhood sexual abuse victim to file civil actions against an entity if the entity: was responsible for the victim’s care; knew or should have known of the conduct that brought about the civil action; or intentionally or consciously concealed evidence of sexual abuse. These changes seek to acknowledge that the effects of childhood sexual abuse can be latent, and the updated Hidden Predator Act would align Georgia’s laws with what scientific research and what real world experience have taught us about sexual abuse cases. I am pleased with all the progress Georgia is making in this area.

Public Safety

House Bill 673 – As a response to the alarming rise in automobile accidents and fatalities in recent years, which is most likely due to increased cell phone usage, my House colleagues and I passed HB 673. This bill would prohibit drivers from holding, supporting or reaching for a wireless telecommunication device or stand-alone electronic device while operating a vehicle. This measure would also ban drivers from texting, browsing the internet or watching or recording videos. Drivers will be permitted to use GPS navigation and voice-to-text features on their devices. Anyone convicted of violating this proposed law would be fined and charged with a misdemeanor. Moreover, first-time offenders would receive a 2- point deduction on their driver’s license, and the bill would establish a staggered point deduction system for repeat offenders. This measure intends to decrease automobile accidents, injuries and fatalities and would make our roads safer for all Georgia commuters!

Security and Identity Theft

House Bill 866 – This bill was passed Monday in response to the increasing cases of identity theft and credit fraud. This legislation would prohibit credit reporting agencies from charging a fee for freezing or unfreezing a consumer account and empower Georgians to protect their identity and credit accounts without being financially burdened with fees.

Military

House Bill 718 – This bill was passed unanimously by my House Colleagues and I. This legislation would benefit our state’s military families by allowing schools to grant students up to five excused absences to attend military affairs sponsored events if a student’s parent or guardian currently serves or previously served in the armed forces, Reserves or National Guard. This bill would require students to present proper documentation prior to the absence, and absences may not exceed five days per school year for a maximum of two years. All school systems would be required to adopt this excused absence policy.

Georgia Transit

House Bill 930 – I first introduced this bill in my Week 6 blog post. The updated progress on this bill is that the House has  overwhelmingly passed this vitally importation transportation measure by a vote of 162-13! This bill seeks to improve transit in the metropolitan Atlanta region by facilitating transit coordination, integration and efficiency and promoting a seamless and high-quality transportation system for the area. The bill would create the Atlanta-region Transit Link (ATL) Authority to coordinate transit planning, funding and operations within 13-county metro Atlanta region and would establish state and local funding sources to improve transit access. This comprehensive transportation measure is a product of the House Commission on Transit Governance and Funding and would have a lasting and positive impact on the metro Atlanta region for generations to come. I’m excited to see what comes of this!

The General Assembly has officially passed the Crossover Day deadline, and from this point forward, my House colleagues and I will be considering Senate measures in our respective committees and passing such measures in the House Chamber. Legislative Day 40, our last day to conduct business for the 2018 legislative session, is quickly approaching on March 28! I hope you keep this in mind so that if you have any input regarding any pending legislation you will contact me. I welcome your thoughts and opinions, and I encourage you to reach out to me anytime. My Capitol office phone number is 404-656- 0287, and my email address is karen.mathiak@house.ga.gov. You can also keep up to date with me on my Facebook Page.

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

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