My colleagues and I reconvened at the Capitol on Tuesday, February 21. This marked the beginning of the seventh week of the 2017 Legislative Session, where we got back to work discussing and passing legislation. Our work hours were a bit longer this week, as some of the pieces of legislation demanded a very thorough review. We passed several bills on the House floor this week.
One of the first bills passed this week, House Bill 250, was a bipartisan bill meant to provide more support for foster parents and foster children across the state of Georgia. This bill, which was passed unanimously, would allow foster caregivers to foster children who have received background and fingerprint checks within the last 24 months through an agency other than the Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS) to submit those checks to DFCS in order to provide care for said foster children. Currently, any individual who cares for a foster child must complete and pass a background check through DFCS, and DFCS does not accept background checks from other state agencies. This bill would change that, allowing more individuals who have successfully completed a background check to provide care for Georgia’s foster children.
House Bill 159 was also passed unanimously. This legislation would reform adoption laws in Georgia. These changes would be based on the best practices and interests of the child, birth parents, and adoptive parents. HB 159 would lower the minimum age of a single-petitioner from 25 to 21. This allows judges to use discretion to decide on a case-by-case basis if an adoption is in the best interest of the child. In addition, HB 159 would provide a narrow exception to the requirement that the petitioner must be 10 years older than the adoptive child in the case of a relative or stepparent adoption. This legislation would also update and streamline the path for domestication of a foreign decree of adoption and provide a path for the adoption of a child who is born internationally for whom Georgia parents were only previously able to obtain a guardianship, making the adoption process easier for Georgia’s adoptive parents. HB 159 would also add the option for an individual over the age of 18 who signs a surrender of parental rights to waive the 10-day right to revoke his or her surrender so that the individual may elect to eliminate the six-month residency requirement for adoptive parents to petition to adopt, allow non-residents to adopt Georgia-born children, and allow Georgia residents to adopt from out-of-state agencies. Finally, HB 159 would allow birthmothers in non-agency adoptions to receive limited living expense payments to cover the cost of food, rent and utilities, authorizing independent attorneys to dispense expenses for a limited period of time in connection with private independent adoptions. This bill updates Georgia’s outdated adoption code and keeps what we do consistent with other states.
This week the House unanimously passed two bipartisan bills that would benefit military students. House Bill 224 would give military students the ability to attend any school in their school system beginning in the 2017-2018 school year. School-aged children of our military personnel, living on or off base, would have the ability to attend the public school of their choice within their local school system if there is space available. Local boards of education would be instructed on ways to streamline the process of smoothly transitioning students between schools, and the parents of these students would be responsible for the students’ transportation. Similarly, House Bill 148, also known as the Educating Children of Military Families Act, would authorize the Department of Education to create ways of identifying students whose parent or guardian in an active-duty military service member or reserve member of the National Guard to monitor the progress and educational needs of those students. This would allow teachers, counselors, and other school employees to track the progress and educational needs of military students. The intention behind these bills is to improve the quality of life of Georgia’s military personnel and their families. Georgia has the fifth largest military population in the United States with an annual economic impact of $20 billion, and last summer, the House Military Affairs Study Committee found that a quality public education was one of the most important things to a military family.
House Bill 222 also has to do with our military. HB 222, another bipartisan bill, would allow a member of the Georgia National Guard or a member of a reserve component of the armed forces of the United States located in our state to be classified as a legal Georgia resident under eligibility requirements for HOPE Scholarships and grants. Residency in Georgia is what grants a student with HOPE eligibility, and this change would be provide eligibility for those military personnel and their families who are often relocated to have the same opportunities.
House Bill 237 would provide a way for individuals, corporations, and communities to financially assist low performing schools in Georgia. This would be done through the establishing of the Public Education Innovation Fund Foundation under the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement. Under HB 237, the foundation could receive private donations from taxpayers in order to award grants to public schools to fund academic and organizational innovations to improve student achievement. A donor must electronically notify the Department of Revenue of their donation amount and be approved to make the donation by the state revenue commissioner. After the donation is made, taxpayers would be allowed a credit of up to $1,000 per year for single individuals, up to $2,500 per year for married couples filing joint returns and up to $10,000 per year for individual members of limited liability companies, shareholders of Subchapter “S” corporations or partners in a partnership. A corporation would be allowed a credit no more than the amount donated or 75% of the corporation’s income tax liability, whichever is less. The total amount of credits, which would be distributed on a first come first serve basis, would be limited to $7 million per year through 2025 and $10 million per year for 2026 and would end in 2033, which is the bill’s designated sunset date. Finally, the foundation would be required to submit an annual report to the Department of Revenue including the total number and value of donations and tax credits approved, total number and value of public school grants awarded and a list of donors and the value of their donations and tax credits approved. HB 237 promotes partnerships between businesses, nonprofit organizations, local school systems, and public schools.
My colleagues and I also took time this week to recognize two distinguished Georgians in the House Chamber. On Wednesday, February 22, we welcomed U.S. Senator David Perdue and Congressman Sanford Bishop to the House from our nation’s capital. They presented remarks as well as words of encouragement and updates from Washington D.C. It was a privilege and honor to hear them speak.
Next week will be a busy one here at the Capitol, as March 3 is “Crossover Day.” Crossover Day is the deadline for legislation to be passed out of its chamber of origin to remain eligible for consideration for the session.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also stay up-to-date by following my Facebook page.
Thank you for letting me continue to serve and represent you.