Legislative Update Week 6, February 20, 2015: Jobs & the Economy

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From the desk of Representative Jeff Jones

 

Sixth Week of Session – Ending February 20, 2015

On Tuesday, February 17, we began the sixth week of the 2015 legislative session. Despite a winter storm affecting areas north of Atlanta, the General Assembly continued the session as scheduled. By the end of the week, we completed legislative day 19 of the session, meaning we are just about halfway finished. As I’ve mentioned before, I now understand the importance of managing our 40 session very carefully.  With the 2015 legislative session heating up, an increasing number of bills were and will be passed out of committees and voted upon by the full body of the House. I’ll explain the General Assembly’s “committee process” in a future newsletter.

As I do each week and before I talk about other legislation and activity at the Capitol, I want to comment on a couple of pieces of key legislation.  You can access a complete list of all the bills for which I am a sponsor and or co-sponsor by clicking on this link: Sponsored Legislation...

Transportation Funding Act of 2015 (HB170)

I refer you to our Week 5 Legislative Update newsletter, in which I discuss my concerns about HB170.  The concerns I have expressed after Week 5 have not changed.  Late Friday, after the House adjourned for the week, additional changes to HB170 were passed by the Transportation Committee.  Although I have not yet seen or read an in-depth analysis of the changes that the “substitute bill’s” language makes to HB170, my understanding is that the changes positively impacted some communities in our state, but negatively impacted others.

To repeat what I said last week, I still cannot support HB170 – as I understand the latest iteration. HB170 still looks, smells and feels like a tax increase.  If it looks, acts and sounds like a duck……well, you know how the rest of that goes...

Marsh Buffer Bill (SB101)

            Nothing remarkably new to report on this important piece of pending legislation; again I refer you back to my Week 5 Legislative Update.  I am personally working on language that I hope will help more clearly define the re-establishment of a 25 ft. marsh buffer and all that doing so means.  A properly and carefully crafted Marsh Buffer Bill is intended to provide important protection of our environment, the aquatic-life that is spawned and lives in the marshes, the beauty of the marshes, while still protecting and respecting personal property rights.  As I have stated before, I believe we can achieve all of these objectives.

Early last week, a number of citizens concerned about our environment from around the state, including the 100 Miles, the Georgia Conservancy, the Southern Environmental Law Center, the Satilla Riverkeeper and other Georgia Riverkeeper organizations, plus many others, were in Atlanta to voice their concerns and support for measures pending before the General Assembly.  The issues and concerns include items such as the Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) Act, of which I am a co-sponsor; the Marsh Buffer Bill; closing the Noyes Cut, as well as other environmentally important issues.  I was given the opportunity to speak briefly to a meeting of this group. What I plainly and clearly told the group is what I stated above about the ASR, and the Marsh Buffer bill including that I believe we can satisfy both environmental and private property concerns. Both of these bills are still very much works-in-progress, but please know that I am paying close attention to these measures.

Savannah Port Harbor Deepening Project (SB5)

After a long anticipated and hard fought effort, we saw the first major bill make its way through the General Assembly. Senate Bill 5, which is vital, job-creating legislation, passed both the House and Senate by unanimous vote, and will enable the Georgia Ports Authority to accept federal dollars for the Savannah Harbor deepening project. Work on the project, which began last month, will deepen the Savannah River from 42 feet to 47 feet, allowing the port to accommodate larger container ships. The State of Georgia has thus far designated $266 million towards the project, and President Obama recently requested the appropriation of $42 million in federal funds from Congress. Thanks to the combination of state and federal funding, the project is scheduled to be finished by 2020. The Savannah Harbor has the potential to become one of the busiest ports in the world after the deepening is completed and will be a key economic driver in this state. I am proud to see this legislation finally move and am glad it and the project will now move forward quickly.  This project will have a profound impact on every county across Georgia and will bring hundreds of jobs to our great state.

Brunswick Port Channel Deepening Project

We are still working through the complicated, bureaucratic process for obtaining the funding and approval to move ahead with deepening the Brunswick Port channel, a project that is important not only to Southeast Georgia, but the entire state.  I wish I could accurately forecast when this critical, and much-anticipated project will receive the funding, and support needed to move ahead, unfortunately at this time; I cannot.

Entry Age for Children Starting Public School (HB100)

This past week, the House passed what I believe is an important measure related to strengthening our state’s education system and towards ensuring that young children are better prepared developmentally to start public school. House Bill 100, if signed into law, changes the date/age when young children can start public school for the 2017-2018 school year, requiring that a child be 5 years old by August 1 to be eligible to enroll in kindergarten; the current cutoff date is September 1.  Effective with the 2018-2019 school year and all years thereafter, the cutoff date will be July 1.  The reason for the graduated implementation date is to allow parents time to adjust to the changes this law will have on family planning and scheduling.

This change is made in recognition that many schools across our state begin their school year the first week in August. Under current law, children who are only 4 years old can enroll in and begin kindergarten. Some educators have expressed concern that many younger students are often not developmentally prepared or mature enough to begin kindergarten at age 4, hindering not only their progress but also the progress of other, older students. Since school systems go back to school earlier now than in years past, HB 100 simply aligns the age requirement date with the start date of the new school year.

I believe that this legislation will provide children with a greater likelihood for success throughout their educational careers by ensuring that they are better prepared and mature enough when they begin that important journey.

Suicide Prevention Training (HB198)

The House also focused on another very important area intended to help protect Georgia’s teens and young adults. House Bill 198, which passed unanimously in the House, hopes to help protect Georgia’s young people by increasing suicide awareness and prevention in Georgia schools. HB198 aims to lower the rate of suicide among teens by requiring two (2) hours of annual suicide prevention training for certified public school system personnel in order for them to better identify symptoms of suicide. The annual expected cost of implementation of HB198 is nothing, zero dollars. Yet, if carried out successfully, the training will teach staff when to refer students to mental health services, and how to identify resources within their schools and communities. Suicide is a very real problem among young people, and is the third leading cause of death for youth ages 10 to 24, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. My hope is that through this legislation, Georgia school employees will be better equipped to handle these unfortunate situations.

Probate Judges Granted Additional Authority for Disclosing Certain Information to Law Enforcement (HB119)

The House also passed legislation (HB119) intended to help protect our law enforcement officers because it authorizes probate judges to disclose to them if a patient - who is being held in their custody and is legally determined to be mentally ill -  has AIDS. By allowing judges to provide our law enforcement officers with this important information, our men and women in uniform can take appropriate health safety precautions when faced with these scenarios. Our law enforcement officers already many sacrifices to keep us safe, and I believe it is important that we arm them with the necessary information to protect their well-being while on the job.

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If you have questions or concerns about these bills or any other pieces of legislation, I hope that you will contact me.  I am your state representative, and my job is to represent your thoughts and opinions in Atlanta.  Please stop by and visit if you are in Atlanta during the legislative session, or call my office at the State Capitol and let me know what I can do for you and your family. The phone number is (404) 656-0126.

Thank you for your prayers and your continued support.

Sincerely yours,

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Representative Jeff Jones
139-358 Altama Connector
Brunswick, GA 31525
912-386-0428

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