Senate Bill 206 would require health insurance plans in Georgia to cover the cost of hearing aids for children 18 years old and younger. Under this bill, hearing aid coverage would be limited to $3,000 per hearing aid. Further, insurers would be responsible for repairing or replacing one hearing aid device per hearing impaired ear every 48 months. SB 206 also requires that insurers cover medically necessary services and supplies related to the diagnosis. Hearing loss is one of the most common maladies affecting children from birth to age three, resulting in a larger number of students who struggle with speech and literacy. We are hopeful this bill will offset state costs relating to special education for hearing impaired students, while help families with the high costs of medical coverage.
Senate Bill 108 would to create and maintain a women veteran’s office within the Department of Veterans Services. This office would provide our female veterans with programs designed specifically for the women’s aid and support. Additionally, the office would provide an alternative to the traditional judicial system for veteran defendants, with mentors selected from other trained women veterans. This measure would help provide a safe haven and necessary support network for our women veterans whose needs are often times much different from men, and therefore not met by standard military programs and benefits. With those things in mind, SB 108 was passed by the House unanimously.
House Resolution 465 recognizes our commitment to strengthening Georgia’s military installations while safeguarding against the threat of federal base downsizing and closure. Georgia has the fifth largest military population, and the eight largest veterans’ population in the nation. With an annual impact of $20 billion, our military is one of our state’s biggest economic drivers. The Department of Defense directly employs almost 150,000 Georgians and is indirectly responsible for an estimated 330,000 additional jobs. Federal Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) jeopardizes our current military installations and could drastically affect our state and military families. In an effort to demonstrate our dedication to and appreciation of our military, the House was proud to unanimously pass HR 462.
Senate Bill 219 would modify Georgia’s motor vehicle laws by allowing “self-driving cars” to operate on Georgia’s roadways. This legislation would exempt operators from the need to possess a Georgia driver’s license, but passengers would still be required to observe Georgia’s seat belt and child restraint laws. Further, all vehicles must be equipped with the following:
- An engaged automated driving system that would obey all traffic laws
- A certification from manufacturers stating that the vehicle complies with federal motor vehicle safety standards
- Coverage by motor vehicle liability registering the vehicle as fully autonomous
- The ability to achieve a low-risk operating mode in the event of vehicle failure to bring the vehicle to a safe state or complete stop
Criminal Justice Reform
In recent years, criminal justice reform has been a top priority. Our criminal justice reform efforts have been nationally recognized and three measures we passed last week continues our work in promoting rehabilitation for offenders.
SB 174 would allow the Council of Accountability Court Judges to establish a peer review and certification process for the veteran court, ensuring continuity across state accountability courts. SB 174 would also allow the following:
- Allows the Board of Community Supervision to offer educational, skills-based programs for probationers.
- Give judges the ability to require fines, fees or restitution payments as a probation condition with the option to waive payment if the court finds significant hardship.
- Allows Department of Community Supervision to terminate probation under if certain criteria are met.
SB 175 would allow juvenile court judges to issue parental compliance orders when dealing with delinquent children. The bill further expands a court’s options in cases where a child has committed a crime but has been deemed incompetent. Currently, delinquent children are released within five days of an incompetent determination, regardless of the threat the child poses to the public. SB 175 changes that, allowing a court to temporarily detain juveniles the see as a potential threat to public safety.
Finally, SB 176 would offer an alternative, other than immediate arrest, when a person fails to appear in court for a non-serious traffic violation. Currently, failure to appear for minor traffic violations results in a bench warrant. Under this bill, if an individual fails to appear, the court would notify the accused a second time by mail before issuing a warrant.
2018 FY Budget
After compromising with the Senate, we successfully passed our most important legislation in any session, a balanced budget for the upcoming fiscal year which begins July 1st. This year, we prioritized funding for child welfare, military communities and rural communities. Other highlights of the final version of HB 44 include:
- $162 million for a 2 percent adjustment to the state teacher, bus drivers and school nutrition personnel salaries.
- $1,000,000 to improve academic achievement of lowest performing schools
- $1.5 million for the Public-School Employees Retirement System
- $38.9 million in lottery funds to increase HOPE Scholarship award amounts
- $4.1 million for Georgia Alzheimer’s Project promoting early detection and treatment
- $358,996 for the Department of Veterans Service for four veteran benefits training officers; $137,650 for one coordinator position to work with female veterans;
- $55.5 million to annualize the 20 percent pay raise for state-level law enforcement officers and salary adjustment for criminal investigators and canine officers;
- $1.2 million to increase funds for cyber insurance premiums for the Department of Administrative services to purchase private market insurance;
While this version of the budget passed both the Senate and the House, nothing is final until Governor Deal makes his line-item vetoes and signs the dotted line.
Today will bring the 39th day of the 2017 session and we will finish day 40 Thursday, as we adjourn, Sine Die. All bills that have yet to pass both chambers are still under consideration or compromise between House and Senate members. Following adjournment, we will brief you on all major legislation passing the General Assembly. As always, it is an honor to work for the betterment of our district under the Gold Dome. With session ending in less than a week, please let me know if you have questions or concerns regarding our efforts for simple, smart and effective government.