Week 5, Ending February 15, 2019
My colleagues and I returned to the Gold Dome in Atlanta on Monday, February 11 for the fifth week of the 2019 legislative session. We are now over one-fourth of the way through this 40-day legislative session, but we still have a great deal of work ahead of us. I still have a number of bills that I am still perfecting.
House Rural Development Council – Expanding Rural Broadband HB23
The House kicked off the week on Monday with the unanimous passage of House Bill 23 to expand internet access in rural Georgia. HB 23 is a product of the House Rural Development Council’s recommendations and would allow electric membership corporations (EMCs) and their affiliates to provide broadband services. HB 23 would prohibit cross-subsidization between an EMC’s broadband service and its electric or natural gas services, and it would also require that yearly audits be conducted to ensure that cross-subsidization does not take place. Lastly, the bill would prohibit EMCs from disconnecting broadband service if a customer fails to pay their electric or gas bills or vice versa. Subsequently, if HB 23 is signed into law, EMCs could apply for federal grants and loans through the USDA’s Rural eConnectivity Pilot Program (ReConnect Program), which a total of $600 million to aid improvement efforts for access to quality broadband services. Broadband is essential to almost every factor of economic development, and this legislation is a tremendous step in the right direction to help spur economic development in rural Georgia.
There is discussion about taxing streaming services such as Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime and others, with the tax revenue being used to help pay for rural broadband expansion as Georgia works to expand high speed internet to all corners of our state. As an alternative to taxing these streaming services, I have suggested to House leadership that the state should use the projected $100 million in revenue my Cash Wire Transfer Fee (2018 Version) bill will generate to expanding rural high-speed internet. Doing so costs Georgia taxpayers absolutely nothing. In simple terms, my Cash Wire Transfer Fee bill target human traffickers, drug dealers, gamblers and others who are intentionally trying to hide their cash. After I file the 2019 version, which is days away, I’ll discuss the bill and this opportunity to fund rural high-speed wireless expansion in future emails.
5G Small Cell Wireless Technology Deployment HB184
After over seven months of complex and intensive negotiations between AT&T, Verizon, the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA, representing Georgia city governments) and the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG, representing Georgia county governments) on small cell technology legislation, the House passed a bill this week that will provide a pathway for deployment of small cell and 5G technology in public rights-of-way in Georgia. Due to the overwhelming concentration of cellular data in our urban areas, House Bill 184, or the Streamlining Wireless Facilities and Antennas Act, would allow wireless service providers to install “stealthy” small-cell wireless towers throughout cities to offer greater wireless coverage. Starting in urban areas, this groundbreaking technology would eventually deploy 5G streaming services to all of Georgia using small boxes that are attached to utility poles in public areas, providing coverage up to a 1,000 feet in any direction of the poles. HB 184 would create a streamlined permitting process for small cell technology, establish application and attachment fees and define the rules of installation, repairs or improvements to the towers that will house this cutting-edge technology. This legislation would allow our state to move forward in deploying small cell wireless technology on a larger scale to further enhance economic opportunities across our state.
"Margie's Law” HB62 – Early Detection of Breast Cancer
This week the House overwhelmingly passed House Bill 62, or "Margie's Law," to assist in the early detection and treatment of breast cancer. This bipartisan measure passed by a vote of 166-1 and would require mammography examiners to notify patients when dense breast tissue is found. The bill also encourages women to speak with their health care provider about whether other supplemental tests in addition to a mammogram may be appropriate, based on their individual risk. While dense breast tissue is common and not always abnormal, it can make it more difficult to detect cancer through a mammogram and can increase the risk for breast cancer. Findings show that dense breast tissue is detected during annual exams in at least 40 percent of woman over the age of 40. If signed into law, Georgia would join 30 other states that have passed similar legislation to allow women to become active participants in this area of their health and help save lives from breast cancer.
Protecting Students Who Ride School Buses from Nearby Traffic
The House took up another very important measure this week to clarify existing law regarding when drivers can or cannot pass stopped school buses. Senate Bill 25 passed unanimously and clarifies ambiguous language that was enacted as a result of 2018’s House Bill 978 that allowed drivers to pass a stopped school bus when traveling in the opposite direction when a turn lane is present. Ideally, when the General Assembly passes legislation, we work to be sure there are no “unintended consequences” as was the unfortunate case with the 2018 passage of HB978; we realized the error and corrected it. This caused confusion on the roadways and created safety issues for our school children. SB 25 reduces this risk and protects our school bus riders by making it clear that drivers can only pass a stopped school bus on the other side of the road when the roadways are divided by a grass median, unpaved area or physical barrier. Governor Kemp recognized that swift action was needed to resolve this issue and signed SB 25 into law on Friday, February 15, and the bill went into immediate effect to protect the lives of our children.
Military Service Members – Relief from Certain Obligations
Over the last two years, the House has supported Georgia’s brave military service members and our veterans by passing 23 military-friendly bills. To build upon these efforts, we passed House Bill 25 this week to provide financial relief for active duty members of the U.S. military, Georgia National Guard or Georgia Air National Guard. This bipartisan legislation would allow over 100,000 active service members in Georgia to terminate contractual obligations with a provider of subscription services like television, video, and audio programming services; internet access services; or health spa or gym services. To qualify, service members must be on active duty, receive orders of deployment to a location that does not support these same exact services and give a 30-day notice. Inspired by similar legislation implemented in 18 other states, the House has worked alongside federal officials to craft legislation that would alleviate some of the financial burdens for those who protect our great state and country.
Step Therapy Protocol Relief – Helping Georgians Receive Better Health Care
The House completed the week on Friday, February 15 by passing House Bill 63 to allow health care providers to request exceptions to step therapy protocols to provide proper medication to patients when it is medically necessary. Currently, insurance companies in Georgia often use step therapy, which is a process that requires a patient to try and fail one or more medications preferred by their insurer before receiving coverage for the medication that their doctor originally prescribed. This process restricts a patient’s access to quality care and prolongs ineffective treatments by preventing an individual from starting the treatment that their doctor thinks is best, and physicians cannot override this process. This bill would allow physicians to submit a step therapy exemption or appeal if the required prescription drug will cause an adverse reaction or physical or mental harm to the patient, is expected to be ineffective, the patient has tried the required prescription drug or the patient's condition is stable on a prescription drug previously selected by his or her practitioner. HB 63 also ensures that patients would not have to begin a step therapy process for a medication after switching insurance providers. This bipartisan legislation would help patients who are suffering from serious illnesses by expediting this process and increasing access to critical treatment options.
The House and Senate will reconvene on Tuesday, February 19 for Legislative Day 17. I am here to serve you and your family here on Capitol Hill in Atlanta. With the 2019 session in full swing, I am working diligently on behalf of our entire district while I am at the Capitol, and while at home. The work of serving the people’s business never takes a rest. I hope you will take the opportunity to review updates like this to stay informed on legislative matters that affect our district and state. Our official House of Representatives website has a number of tools to help you stay up-to-date on what’s going on at the Capitol. You can watch a live stream of the House proceedings, view live and archived committee meetings and review legislation we are considering.
I welcome you to reach out to me and share your thoughts and opinions as we move throughout the legislative session this year. I can be reached via email at [email protected], or [email protected], and by phone at (404) 656-0177.
As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your State Representative.
With kind regards,
Rep. Jeff Jones