On Tuesday, February 20, my House colleagues and I reconvened for another productive week of the 2024 legislative session. During week seven of the session, we met in the House Chamber for three days and continued to do the people’s business by voting on key legislation that aims to better the lives of Georgians. It was a short but packed week as we continued to prepare for the “Crossover Day” deadline on February 29, which is the last day that legislation can be passed out of its chamber of origin and remain eligible to be signed into law this year. With that in mind, we continued to make significant progress this week by voting on legislation to enhance public safety, behavioral healthcare and education in Georgia.   

This week, my colleagues and I voted on legislation to protect some of Georgia’s most vulnerable citizens. On Thursday, the House unanimously passed House Bill 993, which would introduce criminal penalties for individuals who knowingly and intentionally groom minors and use electronic means to persuade, induce, entice or coerce them into committing sexual offenses or acts of human trafficking. Perpetrators of this crime would face felony imprisonment ranging from one to five years, and those who commit these heinous acts could be charged regardless of whether crimes are committed within or outside of our state if it involves a minor who lives in Georgia. The General Assembly has taken decisive action in recent years to combat human trafficking in our state. By addressing the growing threat of online exploitation, HB 993 would reinforce our commitment to safeguarding the well-being of our minors and upholds the state’s dedication to justice, dignity and the protection of human rights for all Georgians. 

To help confront the opioid crisis in Georgia, the House passed House Bill 1170 on Thursday, which would require government buildings and courthouses that contain Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) to provide opioid antagonists to assist in the event of an opioid overdose on those premises. This bipartisan legislation would apply to courthouses and government buildings that already contain AED boxes, and the opioid antagonists would be added to these boxes. These buildings would be required to maintain at least three-unit doses of opioid antagonists and ensure that these antagonists would be available during the regular business hours of these buildings. Additionally, the Department of Public Health (DPH), in consultation with the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, would be required to identify and develop educational resources and guidelines on opioid-related overdoses, as well as develop a model training and implementation policy for opioid antagonist administration, both of which would be posted on the department’s website. Further, every government entity that operates out of a government building would also be required to establish and implement an internal training and implementation policy for opioid antagonist administration based on the model training and implementation policy developed by DPH. This little-to-no-cost initiative would make antagonists, like Naloxone, readily available in the case of an overdose, and the inclusion of opioid antagonists in government buildings and courthouses could certainly help prevent the loss of Georgians to drug overdose. With the current alarming fentanyl presence in drugs, my colleagues and I have worked hard to combat the dangers and tragedies of drug overdoses in Georgia. 

The House also passed House Bill 986 to address election interference using artificial intelligence (AI), specifically deep fake technology that is intended to deceive voters and influence the outcome of an election. Known as the “AI Transparency Protection Act,” HB 986 would introduce felony offenses for both the creation and solicitation of deep fake content through artificial intelligence-generated campaign advertisements aimed at interfering with elections. The term deep fake refers to a video recording, video file, sound recording, sound file, electronic image or photograph that is created through technological means, rather than through the ability of another person to physically or verbally impersonate such person, and appears to depict a real person’s speech or conduct that did not occur in reality. Under HB 986, any person who commits an offense of election interference through the creation and transmission of a deep fake campaign advertisement would be guilty of a felony, face imprisonment between one and five years and be subject to a fine up to $50,000. The bill would also clarify that the use of AI-generated content in campaign advertisements is not unlawful as long as the proper disclosures are displayed to indicate that AI was used in its creation. HB 986 would establish a precedent for accountability and security in Georgia’s digital landscape. This proactive measure is crucial in upholding trust and preserving the integrity of democratic processes, while also ensuring that artificial intelligence contributes positively to the well-being of families, businesses and communities in the state.

As we continue to prioritize educational opportunities for Georgia’s students, the House gave passage to House Bill 995, which would require public school systems to administer a nationally recognized multiple-aptitude battery assessment. The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery is an optional test designed to predict future academic and occupational success in the military and targets 11th and 12th grade students. Administered during normal school hours, the assessment would be available school and system-wide at least once a school year. If students are not interested in pursuing a career in the National Guard or armed forces, parents and guardians would be able to opt their child out of participating in the assessment. HB 995 would help address declining military recruitment numbers by guiding students towards military career paths best suited for their abilities and offering them a no-cost opportunity to make the most informed decision on where their abilities may be best matched in the armed forces. 

Finally, the House advanced legislation this week to improve behavioral healthcare for Georgians in order to ensure individuals have access to the resources and support needed to effectively address their mental health concerns. As such, my legislative colleagues and I turned our attention toward House Bill 1077 to establish a student loan repayment initiative tailored for behavioral health practitioners in Georgia. Under HB 1077, eligible providers would include licensed psychiatrists, addiction medicine specialists, psychologists, social workers, professional counselors and marriage and family therapists. While these providers are completing their internships in qualified programs, they would be eligible to apply for this loan repayment program. Participants of this loan repayment initiative would receive repayment assistance over a six-year period, with annual disbursements varying from $10,000 to $50,000, and the maximum cumulative repayment would be capped at $220,000. The legislation also seeks to incentivize these providers to treat Medicaid patients as providers would receive more loan repayment assistance based on the number of Medicaid patients served. We are seeing a shortage of mental health providers in our state, particularly among providers who accept Medicaid patients. This bipartisan initiative would play a crucial role to increase the number of behavioral health providers across our state and ensuring that all Georgians have access to the proper healthcare needed to address their mental health challenges. 

We also passed the following House bills and resolution during the seventh week of session:

  • House Bill 472, which would expand enhanced disability benefits to sworn officers, commissioners and deputy commissioners employed by the motor carrier compliance division of the Department of Public Safety. Currently, members in this division, game wardens at the Department of Natural Resources, officers or agents of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, or alcohol or tobacco officers at the Department of Revenue already receive enhanced disability benefits. The bill is certified by the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts as a fiscal retirement bill. The actuarial investigation estimates the annual employer contribution rate would increase for Georgia State Employees’ Pension and Savings Plan (GSEPS) members from 25.51 percent to 25.55 percent and for non-GSEPS members from 29.20 percent to 29.23 percent, for a total state cost of $6,000;
  • House Bill 579, which would amend current law relating to the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship Act to allow students who previously qualified for the scholarship to remain eligible throughout the students’ education. HB 579 would require the Department of Education to electronically deposit payments into the accounts of participating schools;
  • House Bill 793, which would allow an applicant for a license in social work who is enrolled in the last semester of their master’s degree program for social work to sit for the master’s social work licensing examination;
  • House Bill 843, which would create a definition for “special entertainment district” as a contiguous set of properties that have either received public financing in the past or currently receive financing and that contain a minimum of 200,000 square feet of leasable space for retail sales and entertainment. Municipalities would be allowed to authorize these districts to sell alcohol for consumption on the premises on Saturday nights from 11:55 P.M. to 2:55 A.M. on the following Sunday mornings, as well as on Sundays from 11:00 A.M. to midnight; 
  • House Bill 896, which would allow a former spouse after divorce to petition the court by motion ex parte to restore their legal surname to the given surname on their birth certificate. The motion could be filed at any time after the judgment and decree of divorce is entered, with no publication in a legal organ required;
  • House Bill 904, which would provide a modernization update to the licensing law for electrical contractors, plumbers, conditioned air contractors, low voltage contractors and utility contractors. The bill would make numerous changes, including: 1) revising requirements of State Construction Industry Licensing Board members; 2) revising what plumber classifications can install, maintain, alter or repair medical gas piping systems; 3) exempting any licensed conditioned air contractor who also is a registered professional engineer from certain continuing education requirements; 4) removing the cap on continuing education that both the Division of Electrical Contractors and the Division of Master Plumbers and Journeyman Plumbers can require; 5) requiring each division to make all reasonable efforts to provide continuing education online or through home study courses; 6) clarifying that any licensed master plumber, or company that holds a valid utility contractor license, can construct, alter or repair any plumbing system that extends from the property line up to five feet of any building; and 7) allowing for applicable licensee’s partners, officers and employees to continue operating for 60 days after the death of a licensee, in addition to allowing the applicable division to provide one additional 60-day grace period. The bill would revise dates, timelines, adds references to internet advertising and would revise fine amounts;
  • House Bill 907, which would outline the responsibilities of motor vehicle drivers in the event they encounter a funeral procession. The bill would require drivers on a two-lane road to pull to the edge or curb of the road to give the funeral procession the right-of-way. In order for drivers not in the funeral procession to be aware of its beginning and end, both lead and rear vehicles must display flashing hazard lights;
  • House Bill 934, which would allow a self-service storage facility rental agreement to be executed and delivered electronically. If the occupant fails to sign the rental agreement within 14 days of delivery, the continued use of the storage space would be deemed an acceptance of the rental agreement and that rental agreement would be enforced against the occupant as if it had been signed, provided the agreement includes notice that the occupant’s continued use is deemed an acceptance of the agreement and would be enforced against the occupant as if it has been signed. If notice has been provided to the occupant of the agreement’s termination or nonrenewal, an occupant would have not less than 14 days after notice to remove all personal property from the facility. Prior to the occupant’s removal, the owner may place reasonable restrictions on the occupant’s use of the facility, including denying access to the facility except to remove personal property during normal business hours;
  • House Bill 946, which would amend current law relating to special district mass transportation sales and use tax to allow a county and one or more municipalities that comprise at least one-half of the total population of the territory of qualified municipalities to enter into an intergovernmental agreement that would allow the special district to establish a tax rate of up to one percent. The agreement would have to provide for the proceeds to be received by municipalities in the district that have not entered into the agreement, for which a calculation for the absent municipality minimum percentage would be provided. The agreement could exist for a maximum of five years with an option for a sixth year if municipalities representing 100 percent of the district’s population enter into the agreement. The bill would remove language allowing for a sales and use tax be established without an intergovernmental agreement;
  • House Bill 987, which would amend current law relating to the equalization grant. The term “qualified local school system” would be amended to reduce the minimum required millage rate or effective millage rate from 14 to 10 mills, beginning July 1, 2024. School systems that receive equalization would have to meet these requirements or risk a 25 percent midterm adjustment of the initial equalization grant amount;
  • House Bill 994, which would hold boat operators liable for injury or damage when negligence occurs on the part of the operator. A rented boat operator would be held liable for negligent operation. Boat livery owners would be required to carry insurance with coverage of at least $250,000 per person per occurrence and $500,000 per event;
  • House Bill 1001, which would allow licensees to present their driver’s license on a wireless telecommunication device to a law enforcement officer upon their request. If a physical copy of the license is presented to the officer, the licensee would not have to present an electronic version as well. HB 1001 would not require the licensee to release their telecommunication device to the officer under this circumstance. The individual would not be considered to have consented to a search and seizure of said device;
  • House Bill 1020, which would amend current law relating to tax credits for businesses in less developed areas to eliminate language requiring a qualifying census tract that contains a federal military installation to also contain an industrial park owned and operated by a governmental entity;
  • House Bill 1041, which would increase the maximum bond indebtedness of the Savannah-Georgia Convention Center Authority from $50 million to $400 million;  
  • House Bill 1049, or the Insurance Business Transfer Act, which would allow insurance companies to transfer lines of business to other parties. Required reviews would be conducted by the Office of Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner and the Fulton County Superior Court;
  • House Bill 1054, which would give an individual the option whether or not they wish to sign a citation issued by an officer to appear for a trial. If the individual refuses to sign the citation, the officer would note the individual’s refusal to sign said citation;
  • House Bill 1069, which would amend current law relating to standing timber assessments to allow the State Forestry Commission to request confidential reports provided to tax assessors;
  • House Bill 1072, which would address pharmaceutical expiration dates, as well as the ratios of pharmacy technician to pharmacists in connection with the drug repository program. The bill states the General Assembly’s intent that settlement proceeds and appropriations would be proportionately distributed based on program participation rates;
  • House Bill 1073, which would repeal hearing and notice provisions relating to zoning decisions for halfway houses, drug rehabilitation centers or drug dependency treatment centers;
  • House Bill 1114, which would allow the Office of Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner to collect and analyze anonymous data from insurers related to tort-related risks. A report would be required to be submitted to the governor, the House Committee on Insurance and the Senate Insurance and Labor Committee by November 1, 2024. This Code section would be repealed on January 1, 2030;
  • House Bill 1124, which would provide College Completion Grant eligibility to students who have completed 70 percent of a four-year program or 45 percent of a two-year program;
  • House Bill 1150, which would make it unlawful to obtain fingerprints for violations related to window tinting on motor vehicles;
  • House Bill 1183, which would require school boards that provide certain health information to parents and guardians to include information about Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. Information would include risk factors, warning signs and recommend screenings;
  • House Bill 1193, which would revise current law to allow the display of a revolving light on a stationary towing or recovery vehicle, highway maintenance vehicle or utility service vehicle. Red lights would be removed as being one of the potential colors to be flashed or revolved. HB 1193 would define what vehicles should utilize flashing or revolving lights and under what circumstances;
  • House Bill 1199, which would require state auditors to provide the General Assembly with annual statistics on the architectural and engineering firms doing business with the state;
  • House Bill 1203, which would entitle a landlord to use an off-duty sheriff, sheriff’s deputy, marshal or POST (Peace Officer Standards & Training Council) certified officer with jurisdiction to execute a writ of possession at the landlord’s sole cost and expense when an on-duty official is unable to execute the writ within 14 days of the landlord’s application or request for execution. The landlord would have access to a list of authorized off-duty personnel and provide written notice to the sheriff, constable or marshal of the time of execution of the writ at least five calendar days in advance of the execution;
  • House Bill 1207, which would require election superintendents to electronically send a ballot proof to candidates appearing on the ballot in order for the candidates to verify the information within 24-hours of receipt; 
  • House Bill 1235, which would create a definition for “self-propelled crane” and would establish the annual license fee for the operation of this vehicle to be $31. The bill would further amend other code sections for inclusion of self-propelled cranes;
  • House Resolution 918, which would designate the Golden Isle Greenway Corridor as an official greenway corridor in Georgia. 

The Georgia House of Representatives will resume its work on Monday, February 26, and when we return, only two legislative days will remain until we reach “Crossover Day” on Thursday. With this deadline rapidly approaching, it is important that I hear from you about issues that are significant to you and your family. I hope you will reach out to me with your thoughts or concerns regarding legislation that is still up for consideration. You can reach my Capitol office at 404-656-0152 and via email at dale.washburn@house.ga.gov

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

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