Legislative Week Five - February 24 - 28, 2020
On Monday, February 24, the House reconvened for the start of the seventh week of the 2020 legislative session, and we met in Session all five days to vote on important legislation. We also convened with the Senate for a joint session to hear Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold D. Melton deliver the annual State of the Judiciary address. By the end of this eventful week, we reached Legislative Day 21 and passed the half-way point of the legislative session.
At the beginning of the week, the House overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan bill to further improve the quality of Georgia’s freight rail infrastructure, which spans several hundred miles across the state. At the recommendation of the Georgia Commission on Freight and Logistics, House Bill 820 would establish the Georgia Freight Railroad Program within the Department of Transportation (DOT). This innovative program would enhance the state’s investment in our freight rail system by delegating projects to three subprograms that specialize in different aspects of improving freight rail across the state: rail enhancement, rail preservation and rail industrial. It is estimated that the amount of freight that will move through our state will more than double by 2040, and this proactive legislation would allow our state to take the necessary next steps to move goods in a more safe and efficient way, as well as help ease future traffic congestion, reduce emissions and limit wear and tear on Georgia’s roads.
We also passed House Bill 842, or Gracie’s law, to prohibit discrimination of individuals with physical and/or mental disabilities from receiving an organ transplant. Through this legislation, individuals who are candidates for an organ transplant would not be deemed ineligible or denied insurance coverage solely based on the individual’s physical or mental disability. HB 842 would also prohibit this type of discrimination for the following care regarding transplants: diagnostic or referral services, evaluation, surgery, counseling and postoperative treatment and services. Additionally, if an individual has an adequate support system to assist with post-operative requirements, the individual would not be deemed ineligible for the transplant. Federal law currently prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities, but many Georgians still experience discrimination when they need a life-saving transplant. Inspired by a Georgia child with Down syndrome who almost needed a transplant, Gracie’s Law would prevent organ transplant discrimination for children and adults with disabilities, allowing Georgians to receive the live-saving surgeries they need.
The House also unanimously passed legislation this week to increase access to dental care in our state. House Bill 521 would allow non-Georgia licensed dentists and dental hygienists who are licensed and are in good standing in other states to provide dental treatment and services to low-income Georgians on a volunteer basis. This bill would authorize temporary, limited licenses to dentists and dental hygienists to practice dentistry in Georgia under the direct supervision of a Georgia-licensed dentist, and the temporary license would be valid for five days every six months. These out-of-state dental care providers would be able to treat patients at free or charitable dental events, approved dental clinic sites or a private dental office owned by a Georgia licensed dentist. Accessing affordable dentistry services is often one of the most difficult health care challenges that some low-income Georgians face, but HB 521 would provide an avenue for our citizens to access quality dental care free of charge.
My colleagues and I unanimously passed another bipartisan measure this week in honor of Georgia’s veterans. Under House Bill 819, Georgia residents who are U.S. citizens and veterans of the armed forces for countries that are allies of the U.S. during a time of war or conflict would qualify for a Georgia veteran’s license. Additionally, unmarried, surviving spouses of these veterans would qualify for an honorary veteran’s license. Georgia has a significant population of Korean American veterans, some of whom fought alongside U.S. soldiers in the Vietnam War, and many of these veterans were present in the House gallery as we passed HB 819 this week. This legislation recognizes these veterans for their service, sacrifice and willingness to fight for democracy and peace throughout the world.
State of the Judiciary
Also this week, Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Herold D. Melton delivered his second annual State of the Judiciary address on Wednesday. During his address, Chief Justice Melton implored the General Assembly to continue to ensure that all Georgians, rich and poor, have access to justice. Our courts have seen a growing number of self-represented Georgians in court, and today, more than 1 million citizens in our state have represented themselves. To aid in this matter, Chief Justice Melton spoke about several initiatives around the state that offer new services and resources at our law libraries, such as self-help videos on specific legal matters that help litigants better navigate the complex legal process. Chief Justice Melton has also formed an ad hoc committee to explore and promote best practices for transforming law libraries across the state to assist self-represented litigants. In addition to this ad hoc committee, our chief justice also established a cyber-security committee to identify and mitigate against ransomware attacks on the state’s judicial networks. This committee is working to produce tools and solutions that will safeguard the vital information that is entrusted to the judicial branch of government, and the committee will make specific recommendations in the near future to protect our judicial branch.
Chief Justice Melton went on to applaud Governor Brian Kemp and the General Assembly for creating the Behavioral Health Innovation and Reform Commission, which is working to identify the ways that behavioral health problems lead to entanglement with the criminal justice system. Chief Justice Melton also shared about the success of our state’s mental health courts that reduce recidivism rates, save tax payer dollars and provide alternative solutions for citizens struggling with mental illnesses.
Finally, Chief Justice Melton shared about an innovative program that is helping to identify and curb gang activity by offering new pathways for juvenile offenders. Through Fulton County’s Level Up program, district attorneys and public defenders are working together with the juvenile court to identify 13 to 16 year olds who have already committed three non-violent offenses, and the program seeks to intervene in their lives before they enter into the adult criminal justice system. The Level Up program strives to make a difference in our communities, keep vulnerable children out of gangs and put them on a better path.
Please contact me with your input and thoughts on proposed legislation that may impact our community.
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