The Georgia General Assembly is well into the 2022 legislative session, and we resumed our work at the State Capitol on Tuesday, February 1, 2022. This was our fourth week of session, putting us at more than a quarter of the way through the legislative session. While the House convened Tuesday through Thursday to cast our votes on legislation each day, I want to bring your attention to certain bills, including education and health care legislation that may impact our communities and citizens in House District 141.
To start the week, my colleagues and I took up House Bill 385 to help address the recent teacher shortage in Georgia. This legislation would allow retired certified pre-K and K-12 teachers who have obtained 30 years of creditable service to return to the classroom full-time while receiving their full retirement benefits. After one-year of retirement, eligible members of the Teachers Retirement System of Georgia would be able to return to work in an “area of highest need.” These subject areas would be designated by the Georgia Department of Education in tandem with the Georgia Professional Standards Commission and would vary based on determinations from each school system’s Regional Education Service Agency. Under this bill, the state would conduct a performance audit on the value, necessity and impact of retired teachers returning to our classrooms full-time to measure the effectiveness of the legislation. If this bill is signed into law, HB 385 would go into effect ahead of the next school year and would sunset after a few of school years. Not only would this legislation offer an immediate solution to the state’s overall growing need for teachers, but it would also ensure that our students are able to continue to receive quality classroom instruction from experienced educators.
We also unanimously passed legislation to help ensure that Georgians have the power over decisions regarding their mental health care in a way that best suits their needs and desires. House Bill 752, or the Psychiatric Advance Directive Act, would allow competent adults to legally establish their expectations and preferences for future mental health treatment and medication. These individuals would also have the ability to appoint someone as a “mental health care agent” to act on their behalf if they are incapable of making mental health decisions. Under this bill, Georgians would be able to fill out a psychiatric advance directive that documents emergency contact information, situations that have been known to trigger a mental health crisis, information about the individual that may help de-escalate a crisis, information to assist care providers if the individual enters a treatment facility, past and current medications, treatment expectations and if they have a designated a mental health care agent, among other useful information. Providers and treatment facilities would be required to comply with the directive to the fullest extent possible. Through HB 752, our state laws would help bring greater parity to mental health so that individuals who struggle with mental illness will be treated as equally as someone with a physical illness. This legislation is the result of over a decade’s worth of work, and I am proud of the bipartisan efforts that led to the passage of the Psychiatric Advance Directive Act in the House Chamber this week.
In an effort to lower prescription drug prices for Georgians, we passed House Bill 867, or the Truth in Prescription Pricing for Patients Act. This bill would specifically address how pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), which are third-party administrators of prescription drug programs for health insurance plans, calculate the price for prescriptions that individuals and their health coverage plans pay in a way that is more transparent to consumers. Under HB 867, PBMs would be required to calculate a prescription’s “true cost” based on what the drug cost to purchase at a pharmacy, minus any eligible rebates. HB 867 would also require PBMs to communicate their calculations to consumers, as well as reimburse any excess amounts to individuals if their final calculation would save the individual money. However, if the PBM calculates a higher final cost than what an individual must pay, the PBM or health plan client cannot hold the individual or pharmacy responsible for the underpaid amount. This bill would not apply to state administered health plans, including the State Health Benefit Plan, Medicaid and PeachCare for Kids. House Bill 867 would ensure that PBMs conduct their business fairly and transparently in our state, and ultimately, lower the out-of-pocket costs Georgians pay for prescription drugs.
My colleagues and I passed bipartisan legislation this week to help prevent wrongful convictions in criminal trials. House Bill 478 would change the standard for admissible court evidence and testimony in criminal cases to match the standard used in civil cases. Since the early 1990s, Georgia’s federal court system has used this same standard for expert testimony, but our state’s criminal courts have not. This new standard would provide a list of factors that a judge may consider to help determine the admissibility of scientific evidence or witness testimony. Without this standard, wrongful convictions have occurred in criminal cases due to unreliable scientific evidence. In the last 30 years, faulty scientific evidence admitted under the current standard has contributed to at least 25 out of nearly 40 documented wrongful convictions in Georgia. Fortunately, HB 478 would raise this standard and act as a gatekeeper to protect the integrity of the scientific evidence and expert witness testimony allowed in our criminal courts.
The House also passed a number of other bills throughout this week. On Tuesday, we passed House Bill 624 to provide an additional superior court judge to the South Georgia Judicial Circuit. House Bill 907 was also passed this week, and this bill would specify the date for a special election to present a question to voters on sales and use taxes, under certain circumstances. We also voted on several local bills each day, which you can learn more about here.
Members of the House Rural Development Council provided an update about their work while we were in the House Chamber this week. More than five years ago, Speaker David Ralston launched an initiative that specifically focused on the needs of our rural communities, and since then, this council has consistently produced effective, sound policies that have already benefited our rural regions. Last December, the council released its legislative recommendations for the 2022 legislative session, which include supporting agriculture, economic development, education, health care and mental health needs across rural Georgia. This week, the council announced that 11 House bills that are based on its recommendations have been introduced and assigned to seven different House committees. The council members also mentioned that eight other House bills are in the pipeline and will be introduced later this session. I look forward to providing further updates about these rural development initiatives as they make their way through the legislative process. You can learn more about the House Rural Development Council and its 2022 legislative recommendations here.
In other news, the governor announced this week that the state will provide approximately $408 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funding to help provide faster and more reliable internet to homes and businesses in rural Georgia. These preliminary awards will support 49 broadband infrastructure projects that will impact 70 Georgia counties. These projects and their funding represent an investment of more than $738 million in Georgia when matching funds are contributed. According to data from the Georgia Broadband Availability Map, 482,374 specific locations in Georgia are currently unserved. However, these projects could expand broadband services for 183,615 homes and businesses, including 132,050 locations that do not have broadband at all. Georgia has been a major leader in broadband development for several years, and these funds go hand-in-hand with our efforts to provide a major boost to rural communities that are without adequate, high-speed internet. You can learn more about the governor’s announcement here.
The bills that were passed in the House this week have all been sent to our counterparts in the State Senate for consideration, and my colleagues and I will vote on more legislation when we resume our business on Monday, Feb. 7. As we continue to make our way through the legislative session, I encourage you to contact me with your questions about the bills that have passed so far or any other policies that interest you. To discuss your thoughts, you can reach my Capitol office at 404-656-0152, or email me directly at email@example.com.
As always, thank you for allowing me the opportunity to serve as your state representative.