Americus Times-Recorder, Americus, Georgia

Local Columnists

March 4, 2014

Weekly Report to the People: Feb.10

Atlanta — Feb. 4 was legislative day 16. Even though we only had one measure on the debate calendar, Tuesday turned out to be quite a busy day. The Georgia State Firefighters Association and the Georgia Association of Fire Chiefs held the 42nd Annual Fire Fighters Recognition Day at the Capitol. Governor Nathan Deal, House Speaker David Ralston and Lt. Governor Casey Cagle addressed this distinguished group assembled on the second floor of the Capitol. In their remarks they praised the hard work, dedication and bravery that the firefighters across this state display on a daily basis.

I joined Rep. Calvin Smyre, District 135, and Rep. Spencer Frye, District 118, at the “well” to recognize Habitat for Humanity of Georgia. Since 1976, Habitat for Humanity has had a $2.9 billion economic impact of construction activity in Georgia, with over 5,228 homes constructed and sold to families in Georgia. I mentioned that Millard and Linda Fuller founded Habitat for Humanity in Americus, adding that for the years 2002-2004,

We also honored the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for over 25 years of service dedicated to the children of Georgia. Brad Ray, local director of CASA, had planned on but was unable to attend this recognition. The Annual Equine Youth Day at the Capitol was also held on Tuesday. Students from around the state attended a ceremony congratulating their achievements in their respective equine discipline. Student champions representing our area were Morgan Kitchens, Americus; Cheyenne Martin, Ellaville; Riley Preston, Plains; Dillion Studdard, Ellaville; Britney Tyler, Buena Vista; Morgan Weaver, Americus; and, Cassie Young, Buena Vista. These distinguished young students displayed the highest level of distinction in their various equine disciplines and brought honor not only to their families and their communities but also to the State of Georgia.

On the debate calendar was HB 829, by Rep. Wendell Willard, District 51, which passed by vote of 163-0. This measure extends the sunset and adds legislative review provisions for

Paging for me was Amanda Murray, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Brett Murray. Brett is the director of the Law Enforcement Academy at South Georgia Technical College.

During morning orders Rep. Ben Harbin, District 122, spoke from the “well” in support of Ava's Law. This measure, named after Ava Bullard, would require autism insurance coverage for Georgia families. Ava's mother, Anna Bullard, has been at the Capitol for over a year advocating for this measure. According to the CDC, autism now affects one in 88 children. More children will be diagnosed with autism this year than with AIDS, diabetes and cancer combined. Insurance coverage for evidence-based treatments, which is endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the U.S. Surgeon General, is routinely denied by health insurers, leaving families who pay health insurance premiums to pay for treatment out-of-pocket or, even worse, to forego treatment altogether.

Feb.. 5 was legislative day 17. My day began at 7:30 a.m. with the House Higher Education Appropriations Committee meeting. At the meeting we reviewed the House changes to the Governor’s Recommended Budget for FY 2014. Teya Ryan, executive director of Georgia Public Broadcasting (GPB) gave us an update on the Georgia History Textbook Project. GPB has developed a Georgia history textbook in an electronic format for all Georgia students as well as lesson plans for school teachers.

A large group of City and County leaders from Sumter County were at the Capitol for the 2014 Georgia Economic Developers Association (GEDA) Legislative luncheon: Randy Howard, chairman, Sumter County Board of Commissioners;  Thomas Jordan, Sumter County Commissioner; Bill Twomey, CAO, Sumter County; Barry Blount, Mayor, City of Americus; Lou Chase, Council member; Carla Cook, Council member; Laura Lee Bernstein, CAO, City of Americus; Barbara Grogan, executive director, Americus-Sumter Payroll Development Authority and Maggie McGruther, Sumter Archway Partnership.

This distinguished group met with Speaker  Ralston. There the topic was economic development for Sumter County. The group went to the Georgia Senate to meet with Sen. John Crosby, District 13 and Sen. Freddie Powell Sims, District 12. While there, they met and talked with Lt. Governor Casey Cagle. After the luncheon they returned to the Capitol to meet with the Governor.

A Joint Session of the General Assembly was convened for the purpose of hearing the Annual State of the Judiciary address from the Honorable Hugh Thompson, Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court. Thompson began his remarks by talking about the need of legal services for low-income Georgians.

"As a result of the lack of adequate legal services our courts are seeing a growth in the number of people representing themselves. Our judges take an oath guaranteeing a fair trial to all parties, but where one party has a lawyer and the other side does not, Judges find it difficult to believe that justice has in fact been done."

Speaking about the success of the Accountability Courts created by the Criminal Justice Reform Legislation passed two years ago, Thompson said, “Access to justice also means giving those who break the law the sentence they deserve. It does not mean automatically sending some people to prison when their true crime is being addicted to drugs, or failing to take medication for their schizophrenia, or not paying child support because they've lost their job."

On the Debate Calendar, HB 824 by Rep. Richard Smith, District 13, passed by vote of 162-0. This measure clarifies the difference between financial charges and interest for state chartered banks.

Feb. 6  was legislative day 18. HB 740 by Rep.  Kevin Tanner, District 9, passed by a vote of 169-0. This measure allows active-duty military personnel stationed in Georgia to be considered in-state residents for the purpose of obtaining hunting and fishing licenses.

HB 786 by Rep. David Knight, District 130, passed by vote of 170-0. This bill will expand the availability of sportsman licenses by allowing the purchase of a Type 1 Lifetime Sportsman's License for any child less than two years of age, no matter the residency of the child or parents, and changes the definition of residency to be consistent across all recreational license types under Title 27.

HB 791 by Rep. Ron Stephens, District 164, passed by vote of 168-0. This bill prevents certain areas adjacent to military installations from losing the “less developed area” qualification because of minor census adjustment”

HB 809 by Rep. Bruce Williamson, District 115, passed by vote of 169-0; and is modeled after similar laws in other states. This bill is aimed at preventing what has become known as "patent trolling," the act of purchasing patents in order to reap licensing fees through litigation.

Feb. 7 was legislative day 19. First on the Debate Calendar was HB 654 by Rep. Mary Oliver, District 82, which passed by a vote of 157-0. This measure clarifies guardianship law for children without a living mother and father.

HB 766 by Rep. Eddie Lumsden, District 12, passed by a vote of 163-1. This measure replaces the Youth Apprentice Program with a Work-Based Learning Program. Students in the 11th and 12th grades or at least 16 years of age are allowed to enroll. Work-Based Learning Programs are designed to provide students with the real-world work opportunities to prepare them for a future career. These students will be granted leave time from school to work as student learners for business enterprises approved by the local Work-based Learning Coordinator.

Anticipating a lengthy debate, HB 837 was postponed until the next legislative day. We then adjourned until Feb. 10.

Thank you for choosing me to represent you in Atlanta at the State Capitol.


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