House Bill 538 – Georgia Early Literacy Act
Last fall, the House Study Committee on Literacy Instruction held several hearings to examine early reading education programs available within our state. Following recommendations, we passed legislation to require evidence-based literacy instruction in our public schools. House Bill 538 will require school systems to teach high-quality literacy instructional materials in kindergarten through third grade. This legislation would help identify young readers who are struggling with foundational reading skills, while ensuring our teachers are equipped with instruction plans to keep these students reading at grade level. Further requirements under the legislation are as follows:
- Ensures the use and reporting of universal reading screeners for all Georgia public schools’ grades K-3.
- Requires professional standards commission to ensure students completing teacher certification programs have the knowledge and skills to teach reading.
House Bill 462 – Raise the Age Act
Last week also brought passage of our House Bill 462, or the “Raise the Age Act.” As Georgia is just one of 3 states that allows 17-year-olds to be tried as adults, this bill would raise that age requirement to 18. As studies have proven that not all 17-year-olds have the same decision-making skills as adults, we are hopeful this act will reduce recidivism among nonviolent offenders. Details of the bill are as follows:
- Proposed age change wouldn’t apply to violent felonies.
- Superior Court system will maintain jurisdiction over minors who are charged with criminal gang activities or felony offenders.
- Implementation will take place over time with assurance that agencies have funding and are prepared, with stopgaps to pause implementation if needed.
House Bill 82 – New Tax Credit for Rural Health Care Providers
Our commitment to ensuring ALL Georgians have access to quality care continues through the passage of House Bill 82. This bill would create a new annual tax credit for physicians and dentists who choose to practice in a rural county in the next five years. We are confident that this bill will recruit and retain talent to areas within our state badly in need of healthcare services. Details of HB 82 are as follows:
- $5,000 annual tax credit for physicians and dentists who decide to practice in a rural county in the next five years.
- Total of $25,000 in tax credits over five years for eligible providers.
- Only be available to those who begin practicing in rural areas after May 15, 2023.
- Providers could also qualify for a prorated tax credit if they have practiced for less than a year, ensuring they do not miss out on the tax credit.
House Bill 196 – Expanding Access to Medical Cannabis
We are hopeful that Georgians struggling with chronic diseases will find relief through the passage of HB 196. This bill will ensure those seeking more natural avenues for pain relief have access to medical cannabis products. This bill seeks to increase accountability for the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission, which oversees and issues licenses for the cultivation, production, manufacturing and sale of low-THC oil. Details of the legislation are as follows:
- Requires the commission to follow Georgia’s Administrative Procedures Act, state purchasing laws and open and public records requests.
- Submission of annual financial disclosure reports to promote transparency of commission activities.
- Authorizes the commission to issue several new Class 1 and 2 production licenses.
- Authorizes issuance of dispensing licenses for manufacturers to sell their products directly to patients.
- Permits Dispensaries to sell these products from any licensed manufacturer in the state.
- Allows the commission to authorize additional production licenses as the registry continues to hit certain registration milestones.
- Adds ulcerative colitis and myasthenia gravis to the list of conditions eligible for low THC oil in Georgia.
State of the Judiciary Address
The House and Senate convened for a joint legislative session for the annual State of the Judiciary address. During this session, Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice, Michael P. Boggs covered current challenges and reviewed the overall state of our state judicial system. Chief Justice Boggs highlighted the backlog of criminal and civil cases that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic and noted that it could take years before the courts reach more manageable case numbers.
Our attention was also directed towards the workforce shortage within our judicial system. However, despite the challenges, our civil and criminal courts are continuing to provide alternative resources for vulnerable populations, such as veterans, human trafficking victims and low-income families. Further our judicial system is looking into ways in which we can cross-section mental illness and the justice system to identify ways to divert non-violent offenders, struggling with mental illness. The chief justice also stated that the General Assembly can expect legislative recommendations to consider next session to address security concerns.