By Representative Jeff Jones
This week completed week five, and the 20th day of the session. With “cross-over day”, the 30th legislative day looming and only 20 session days remaining until adjournment, the pace of committee hearings and legislative activity increased dramatically.
Spencer Pass Law - HB 767 (I voted YES): - The House voted to add utility service vehicles and workers in the fields of electric, natural gas, water, waste-water, cable, telephone, or telecommunication services to the list of those covered under Georgia’s Spencer Pass Law, also known as the “Move Over Law.”
The law requires drivers to make a lane change, if possible, when approaching any stationary towing, recovery or highway maintenance vehicle parked on the shoulder of the highway. If changing lanes is impossible, or unsafe, the driver must slow to a speed less than the posted speed limit and be prepared to stop, and violators would now be subject to a fine of up to $250. The law was officially renamed in 2011 after the death of Spencer Pass, a Georgia Department of Transportation Highway Emergency Response Operator (HERO) who was killed while assisting a motorist on the shoulder of the highway.
Education Measures - HB 739 (I voted YES):As I have discussed previously, the General Assembly continues its focus on education system improvements. HB 739 gives the State Board of Education the option to establish a committee to study and recommend instructional materials and content. This bill would also allow for local boards of education to have a review process for any locally approved instructional material. As a part of this process, for both state and locally approved instructional material, either the local or State Board of Education would post a list of all proposed instructional material and content on their website for public viewing in addition to making all proposed instructional material and content available for individual review upon request. The process outlined in this legislation is intended to increase transparency, provide greater access to proposed classroom material, allow for more local control of our education system, and increase parental involvement. This bill gives parents the opportunity to be more involved in their child’s education by providing input on the materials that are being taught in the classroom, and I think more parental involvement will ultimately result in better student performance.
Education Measures - House Bill 659 (I voted YES): This bill requires each local board of education and state charter school in Georgia to make financial information available for public access as a way to provide transparency within our public schools. Local boards and state charter schools would be required to publicly post this information to their website, if they have one, for each individual school in their district. Furthermore, each school and district would send budget information to the Department of Education, where the information would then be compiled by the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement and published on its website as well. This legislation would require the posting of the costs of all materials and equipment, staff salaries and benefit expenditures, professional development including annual training and tuition, facility maintenance and small capital projects, and new construction or major renovation on a cost-per-square-foot basis for each individual school. Similarly, the local school board will be required to publicly post their annual budget, along with audits, ratio of expenditures to revenues, total dollar amount of local property tax revenue the school system is authorized to collect in addition to the total program mill levy, and the total dollar amount of all other tax revenue. Education funding accounts for more than half of our state budget each year and transparency of those funds is essential to establishing an open dialogue about the needs of our local school systems. As your representative, I believe you have a right to know how your tax dollars are being spent in your local schools.
Pastor Protection Act - House Bill 757 (I voted YES): Passing legislation protecting the religious freedom of all Georgians is a personal priority for me. The “Pastor Protection Act” passed out of the House this week and is an important step in that direction. Many will argue that this legislation does not go far enough and leaves many Georgians potentially subject to being sued for their religious beliefs. My view is that this step is better than no step at all. The Pastor Protection Act, modeled after similar legislation in place in several states, reaffirms the separation of church and state in Georgia by assuring members of the clergy that they will not be required to perform a marriage which violates their faith. The bill further protects churches, synagogues and other places of worship as well as religious organizations from being required by state or local government to host an event which violates their religious doctrine. The Pastor Protection Act also protects businesses from any ordinance which might require them to be open on a day of rest (Saturday or Sunday). We are blessed by the freedom of religion in our great nation and our great state, and I was proud to stand with a united House to support the rights of all Georgians to uphold your religious values.
Georgia Lactation Consultant Practice Act - HB 649 (I voted YES): The bill will enact the "Georgia Lactation Consultant Practice Act." Statistics show that breast feeding helps babies by reducing a number of problems such as asthma, childhood obesity, SIDs, and other health issues. I honestly do not feel qualified to comment on this legislation but I do full recognize the importance of breast feeding to the overall health of babies so I voted YES. The bill purports to give nursing mothers an option to a clinically trained specialist to work with them on breast feeding. If passed, this newly licensed group of consultants will fall under the Composite Board of Medicine. The bill passed 129-27.
Military Spouses and Veterans Licensure Act - HB 821 (I voted YES): The act requires Georgia’s professional licensing boards to implement a process by which military spouses and transitioning service members may qualify for temporary licenses, licenses by endorsement, expedited licenses, or a combination of these for each profession, business, or trade for which a license is issued. This will help our military spouses here in the Camden County area. The bill passed 164-0.
Resolution Encouraging the EPD to Review Regulations for the Protection of Underground Drinking Water - HR 1198 (I voted YES): The resolution encourages the Environmental Protection Division to review its current regulations regarding protection of our state’s water resources, including the pristine Floridan Aquifer, to ensure they are sufficient and to revise those rules if necessary. While I personally support the State taking a stronger position to protect our water. This resolution, which passed 161-0, is a step in the right direction.
Georgia Palliative Care and Quality of Life Advisory Council - HB 509 (I voted YES): The act requires that the Department of Community Health implement initiatives to improve quality and delivery of patient-centered and family-focused “palliative care” (DEF: specialized medical care for people with serious illnesses. It focuses on providing patients with relief from the symptoms and stress of a serious illness. The goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family.) The bill passed 138-23.
Freedom of Religious Expression in High School Athletics - HB 870 (I voted YES): The act provides that high schools that receive state funding cannot participate in an athletic association which prohibits religious expression on the clothing of student athletes. The act also provides that high schools that receive state funding cannot participate in an athletic association which prohibits member schools from organizing and playing scrimmage matches, games, or other athletic competitions with nonmember schools. The bill passed 136-25
Condominium Private Pool Bill - HB 219 (I sponsored this bill and voted YES): The bill moves condominium complex pools from the list of public pools to the list of private swimming pools that includes individual homeowner pools, country clubs, subdivisions, town homes, and time shares and as such removes the private pool from health inspections by the Department of Public Health. Further, a resident, member, or the owner of a private pool may request an inspection at any time for informational purposes only. This bill passed 152-8.
Now that we are officially halfway through the 2016 legislative session, we will begin voting on more bills and resolutions every day. I encourage you to contact me at my capitol office with your thoughts and opinions, as I am always happy to answer any questions or concerns you may have regarding legislation. My capitol office phone number is 404-656-0126 and my email address is [email protected].
As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your state representative.
Representative Jeff Jones