By Representative Jeff Jones
We kicked off the ninth week of the 2016 session on Monday, March 7 with legislative day 32. With Crossover Day behind us, the House has shifted much of its focus to considering Senate Bills and monitoring any changes made in the Senate to House Bills and vice versa. This week, we saw the first bills to receive final passage in the General Assembly. These bills, having passed both the House and Senate chambers, will go to Governor Deal for his consideration. The House is holding Committee Hearings on Senate passed bills; while the Senate is doing the same with House passed bills.
Seasoned General Assembly watchers know this is a time when negotiations occur between the House and Senate Leadership as both bodies jockey bills for ultimate passage by both bodies. While the end of session is in sight, it will be a frenzied pace as a mountain of bills are processed through by the House and Senate as we approach day 40, the end of this session.
Expanding Ownership Restrictions For Property Covered Against Loss By Fire SB 137
One such bill that received final passage this week by a unanimous vote in the House was Senate Bill 137. SB 137 would expand current Georgia property insurance laws to allow corporations specifically described as one or two family residential buildings to collect insurance coverage against fire damage when a building is completely destroyed by fire. SB 137 would update the value policy law in Georgia to include corporations and other legal entities owned by multiple individuals. Currently in Georgia, comprehensive fire insurance is only available to individuals renting property, but SB 137 would extend these same protections to our growing business population, further illustrating Georgia’s business friendly climate and the value placed on Georgia businesses.
“Consumer and Provider Protection Act.” SB 158
Another pro-business bill given final approval in the House this week was Senate Bill 158, the “Consumer and Provider Protection Act.” SB 158 passed unanimously and establishes a framework for rental preferred provider healthcare networks in Georgia to increase transparency for health care providers and consumers. A rental preferred provider healthcare network, or rental network, is a preferred provider network that contracts with a health insurer to provide access to the terms and conditions of its contract with the provider’s discount, and then sells that contract to another network without the provider’s knowledge or consent. SB 158 would require anyone conducting business as a rental preferred provider network in Georgia to register with the Commissioner of Insurance within 30 days of beginning their work, allowing the Commissioner to regulate this practice. Additionally, rental preferred providers would no longer be allowed to access network provider’s discounts without a contract stating the terms of the agreement, and these networks would have to create a webpage to let networks know who they are selling to in an effort to promote transparency. Currently, 15 states and the Federal Health Employee Benefit System have regulations on rental preferred provider networks to offer increased protections to their healthcare providers and more information for consumers. These rental networks give providers increased access to their customers and give customers greater access to “in-network” providers, offers access to information for both, while still promoting this business practice in Georgia.
Expanding Georgia Peace 4 Officer Standards and Training Council Membership SB 279
Senate Bill 279 also received final passage this week by a unanimous vote from the House. SB 279 would expand the current voting membership of the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training (P.O.S.T.) Council to 22 members to add the commissioner of juvenile justice or their designee and the commissioner of natural resources or their designee. P.O.S.T. provides Georgians with qualified, professionally trained, ethical and competent peace officers and criminal justice professionals. State officers such as the Georgia State Patrol, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the Georgia Department of Corrections, deputy sheriffs, county police, municipal police, and campus police are a few of the many examples of peace officers in our state. The Georgia P.O.S.T. Council is responsible for administering the regulatory process, setting the standards for training and certification, and providing essential technical assistance to the law enforcement community. The addition of these two positions to the P.O.S.T. Council will increase their involvement with the revolutionary criminal justice reform taking place in Georgia. By receiving their crucial input on important law enforcement issues, we can continue to lead the nation in innovative solutions to criminal justice reform and ensure heightened public safety standards in Georgia.
Budget for FY2017 HB 751
In addition to giving final approval to many bills this week, the Senate passed the FY2017 budget, or House Bill 751. Even though HB 751 received passage in the House, the Senate version of the 2017 budget varied slightly from the original version that was passed by our body, prompting the creation of a conference committee this week. As a bill makes its way through the legislative process, bills are likely to be changed or amended in committees or as bills pass between the House and Senate chambers. When a different version of the same bill passes in the House and the Senate, the Speaker of the House and the Lieutenant Governor will both appoint a conference committee to work out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill. Once the conference committee reaches an agreement, their final version is then presented to both the House and Senate for a floor vote. If the conference committee legislation is approved by both chambers, it is then sent to the governor’s desk for consideration. I look forward to hearing the final recommendations of the conference committee appointed this week for HB 751 and seeing a final budget proposal for FY2017.
Recognizing Outstanding Georgians
Despite a busy legislative agenda, we also took time this week to honor some distinguished Georgians in the House Chamber. We were pleased to have former Detroit Lions and Georgia Tech wide receiver Calvin “Megatron” Johnson, Jr. join us on Monday as we recognized him for his achievements and contributions both on and off the field. A native of Newnan, Georgia, Johnson attended the Georgia Institute of Technology on a football scholarship where he was named the nation’s top wide receiver with the Biletnikoff Award, a two-time All-American, and the 2006 ACC Player of the Year. He was drafted as the second overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions where he spent his entire professional career, which included being named to the NFL Pro Bowl for six consecutive seasons and a three-time All-Pro player. In 2008, he established the Calvin Johnson, Jr. Foundation (CJJRF) dedicated to the education, training, and social development of at-risk youth in addition to providing financial assistance to community organizations. CJJRF strives to help at-risk youth achieve their college and career goals through participation in relevant programs and has awarded scholarships and book awards to 36 student-athletes since its inception. Many may look to Calvin Johnson and only see his football accolades, but I applaud his efforts to better our communities and the futures of those children within them. His dedication to his craft is certainly admirable; however, his willingness to give back to those less fortunate is something truly remarkable.
We also welcomed former University of Georgia and Atlanta Falcons safety Scott Woerner, who was recently announced as a 2016 College Football Hall of Fame inductee. Woerner attended UGA on a football scholarship, where he still holds multiple school records, including Most Kickoff Return Yards in a Single Game and Most Punt Return Yards for a Season. Many football fans likely remember him for his game-ending interception in the 1981 Sugar Bowl that gave UGA the victory over Notre Dame to name the Bulldawgs the 1981 National Champions. He was drafted in the third round of the 1981 NFL Draft by the Atlanta Falcons where he played one season before joining the USFL Philadelphia Stars and eventually ending his football career with the New Orleans Saints. Since his retirement from the NFL, Woerner is now a teacher in North Georgia, and during his recognition on the House floor, many of his former students watched from the House gallery to show their support and gratitude for his work and dedication to their education over the years. It was a true testament to the impact he has had on so many young lives, and it was a privilege to be a small part of honoring this great Georgian.
Friday marked the 35th legislative day of the 2016 legislative session. With only two weeks and five legislative days remaining, we will be working long hours in committee meetings and on the House floor to pass thoughtful legislation for the citizens of Georgia. If you have questions or concerns about any of the legislation that the House or Senate will be discussing, please feel free to reach out to me; I am never too busy to hear from you. Your thoughts and opinions are important to me, and as your representative, I want to make sure that I am representing your interests in the General Assembly in Atlanta. You can reach me at my office, which is (404) 656-0126, or by email at Jeff.Jones@house.ga.gov.
As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.
Representative Jeff Jones