On Tuesday, February 22, the Georgia House of Representatives reconvened for a short albeit productive seventh week of the 2022 legislative session. This week, we hunkered down and made the most of two session days and one full committee work day. As usual, we debated and voted on an array of legislation in the House Chamber, and by the end of the week, my colleagues and I reached Legislative Day 20, which means we are at the halfway point of the session.
First, I want to bring your attention to bipartisan legislation that was passed unanimously in the House that would provide greater care for incarcerated pregnant women. House Bill 1092, or the Georgia Women’s Child Care Alternatives, Resources, and Education Act, would allow eligible pregnant women who are sentenced to a period of confinement in a penal institution to have their sentences deferred for the duration of their pregnancies until six weeks postpartum. This bill would give judges the discretion to deny deferment if the pregnant woman is a safety risk, and this deferment would not count as “time served” for the offender. The pregnant woman would also have the ability to decline the deferment. During the deferred time, the offender would be required to maintain perinatal health care, treatment and assessments, as well as participate in education and resource programs. If the offender does not comply with these perinatal health care requirements, the court could rescind the deferred sentence and order immediate confinement. Additionally, HB 1092 would require every female offender who is not released on bond within 72 hours of an arrest to be given the option to submit to a urine pregnancy test. Starting in 2023, this legislation would require Georgia’s penal institutions to annually report to the Georgia Department of Public Health the total number of female offenders who are pregnant, incarcerated, declined pregnancy testing and/or declined deferred sentencing. By offering more perinatal care and resources to these pregnant women through this legislation, we can ensure better health outcomes for both the unborn child and the mother.
The House passed another bipartisan measure this week that would serve some of the most vulnerable Georgians, specifically extremely low-income, uninsured individuals living with HIV. House Bill 1192 would allow the Georgia Department of Community Health to submit a waiver request to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services of the U.S. Health Department of Health and Human Services to provide Medicaid coverage for HIV treatment services. If this waiver request is approved by the federal government, the state would be able to conduct a statewide demonstration project to provide HIV treatment through the state’s Medicaid program. This demonstration project would be designed to provide more effective, early treatment of HIV to Georgians by making a package of services available, including antiretroviral therapy. In order to be eligible, uninsured individuals with an HIV diagnosis would need to have an income of less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level. This legislation is supported by many of Georgia’s health care systems, including Grady Hospital and its infectious disease treatment clinic, which currently serves 6,200 Georgians living with HIV. HB 1192 would allow the state to expand access to lifesaving HIV detection and treatment options, as well as explore a more sustainable funding source to help end the HIV epidemic in our state.
These days, many schools systems utilize virtual learning opportunities, and the number of students with school-issued laptops or tablet devices has dramatically increased so children can learn from home. To keep up with this evolving learning environment, the House passed House Bill 1217, or the Student Technology Protection Act, to promote the safe and appropriate use of school-issued technology, whether students are using these devices in the classroom or while learning from home. The Student Technology Protection Act would require each local board of education and charter school governing body to adopt an acceptable-use policy this year that could better prevent and prohibit any school computer or network from accessing obscene materials, child pornography or material that is deemed harmful to minors. Each school system would also take necessary steps to implement and enforce its new acceptable-use policy, as well as update school technology to better block or filter access to these explicit materials online. The Georgia Department of Education would provide local school systems with information about contracted providers of technology protection measures, provide guidance and technical assistance to schools and develop guidelines for training school personnel. Finally, if the State Board of Education finds that a school has not followed its acceptable-use policy, the board could withhold a portion of state funding allotted for that school. This legislation would work in accordance with the federal Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA). However, CIPA has not been updated since 2011, and HB 1217 would allow our state to update Georgia’s laws to address the use of more modern technology in schools. As technology continues to evolve quickly, this bill would ensure that Georgia’s public schools have these policies in place and are equipped with the resources they need to protect children from harmful online content.
The House also passed the following bills on the House floor this week:
- House Bill 500, which would allow a second round of funding of $100 million to the Georgia Agribusiness and Rural Jobs Act program for capital investments, increase the program’s application fee from $5,000 to $25,000, establish an annual maintenance fee of $7,500 for all rural funds and update the program’s reporting requirements;
- House Bill 896, which would update a homestead exemption for counties that had populations between 23,500 and 23,675 on the 2010 U.S. Census with counties that had populations between 25,400 and 25,500 on the 2020 U.S. Census;
- House Bill 1008, which would amend the operations and composition of the Georgia Higher Education Savings Plan (GHSP) board of directors, dissolve the Georgia Achieving a Better Life Experience program and transfer this program’s authority and trust to the GHSP, as well as remove the board of directors’ authority to require and collect fees to cover administrative costs and impose withdrawal penalties;
- House Bill 1059, which would provide exclusions to unfair trade practices and unlawful inducements by allowing insurance companies to provide loss-mitigation safety products to consumers;
- House Bill 1086, which would lower the age at which hospitals would be required to offer an inpatient the influenza vaccine prior to discharge from 65 to 50 years of age;
- House Bill 1088, which would authorize non-judicial foreclosures of time-share estates by an owners’ association and would update notice of sale requirements for these foreclosures;
- House Bill 1146, which would require that vehicles driven by officers enforcing traffic laws be equipped with flashing blue lights and would allow the Georgia State Patrol to have vehicles without such exterior-mounted roof lights;
- House Bill 1148, which would prohibit individuals from bringing a cervid carcass, such as a deer carcass, from outside Georgia into the state if any part of the carcass contains a portion of the nervous system, and this bill would provide exceptions for antlers, skulls, skull plates, teeth or jawbones that have soft tissue attached;
- House Bill 1186, which would expand the eligibility for individuals who can have a non-diagnostic electro-physiologic screening done by a non-licensed audiologist from ages three and under to birth through 22 years of age;
- House Bill 1195, which would update the reporting options for interlocal risk management agencies within local governments to include statutory accounting principles;
- House Bill 1215, which would allow students to withdraw from their local school and enroll in a charter school with available classroom space without penalty and would require local education boards to adopt a universal, streamlined transfer process, as well as clarify how local revenue allocations would be collected and calculated for charter schools;
- House Bill 1233, which would revise the effective date of rules and regulations promulgated by the Georgia Board of Natural Resources to January 1, 2022, consolidate various species of black bass, update requirements for shotguns used for hunting migratory game birds and create the umbrella term “migratory game birds;”
- House Bill 1276, which would require the Georgia Department of Community Health to post detailed statistical reports with data for administered state health plans on its website biannually;
- House Bill 1307, which would require excavators to make an emergency 911 call to alert emergency services if they strike or damage a utility facility that carries gas or a hazardous liquid;
- House Bill 1320, which would update the state’s definition of “Internal Revenue Code” to include the provisions of the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, such as changing which bonds qualify as tax-exempt bond financing, extending interest-rate smoothing for defined benefit plans and expanding certain non-taxable contributions for government water or sewage disposal services;
- House Bill 1361, which would require that if a General Assembly act is alleged to be unconstitutional or invalid in an action, the attorney general would be served with a notice and would be entitled to be heard in defense of the act.
Heading into the second half of session, the next couple of weeks will certainly be some of our most demanding as we prepare for the Crossover Day deadline, which is the last day a bill can pass out of one chamber and still be eligible to be signed into law this year. There are still many more important bills that will be taken up before Crossover Day, including the Fiscal Year 2023 budget. I hope to hear from you soon about legislation that is still up for consideration this session. You can reach my Capitol office at 404-656-0152, or you can email me at email@example.com.
As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your state representative.