Mike Cheokas — Weekly report to the people: March 2, 2016

Published 2:00 pm Saturday, March 5, 2016

Monday, Feb. 8, was Legislative Day 17. Our debate calendar began to fill as more and more bills and resolutions made it through the committee process and were brought to the House floor for a vote. First up was HB 775 by Rep. Earl Ehrhart, District 36, which passed by a vote of 155 to 0. This measure clearly defines “over the counter spectacles” and “spectacles, which will require a prescription.” An eye examination performed by a licensed optometrist or ophthalmologist is required before a prescription can be written for spectacles and/or contact lenses.
HB 767 by Rep. Alan Powell, District 32, passed by a vote of 158 to 0. In this measure utility service vehicles will be added to the list of emergency vehicles requiring a lane change or speed reduction for safety reasons when parked on the side of the road. This measure is intended to protect the lives of the men and women that work for utility companies.
HB 780 by Rep. Jodi Lott, District 122, passed by a vote of 160 to 0. This measure distinguishes between non-diagnostic laboratories and clinical laboratories. Non-diagnostic laboratories are used in the manufacture of drugs, while clinical laboratories, which are highly regulated, are used for the treatment of diseases. This measure will help the State of Georgia to attract pharmaceutical companies to locate their manufacturing facilities in our state and create good paying jobs for our citizens.
Visiting the Chamber while on leave from Washington, D.C., was former state Rep. and now U.S. Congressman Austin Scott. Monday evening at the legislative reception sponsored by Georgia’s Electric Membership Corporations, I visited with Bob Jernigan, chairman of Sumter EMC and David Brokamp, vice president of engineering.
Tuesday, Feb. 9 was legislative day 18. HB 483 by Rep. Debbie Buckner, District 137, passed by a vote of 167 to 0. This measure designates the Shoal Bass as the official Georgia State Native Riverine Sport Fish. This measure recognizes the importance of the Shoal Bass to the tourism and fishing industries in Georgia.
HB 697 by Rep. Tom Kirby, District 114, passed by vote of 166 to 0. This consumer protection measure amends the Georgia Code that regulates the sending of unsolicited merchandise. Consumers will no longer be required to pay for unsolicited goods after a free trial in the absence of an agreement to purchase.
Tuesday was a very busy day at the Capitol. Visiting me from Americus were Diane Monts, Sumter County Early Learning Center, and SeKeithia Lewis, Sumter County Middle School. They were here representing the “Georgia School Nutrition Association.” Also from Americus, I spoke with Russ Childers Jr., president of the Georgia Association of Health Underwriters. Tuesday was also CASA Day at the Capitol. CASA stands for “Court Appointed Special Advocates.” These volunteers explained how “CASA advocacy is essential to abused and neglected children and the child welfare system. Every abused or neglected child needs the individualized attention and sense of urgency that a CASA Volunteer brings to the court room and in the community by promoting the child’s safety, permanency, and will being. Because the volunteers make a difference and have a positive impact on children that enter foster care.” Stephanie Bennett, program director for SOWEGA CASA and her son, Perry Bennett were accompanied by Kelbey Ziegenhain, CASA volunteer, and her daughter Gracie. Paging for me were McKenzie and Lily Jernigan from Buena Vista. They were accompanied by their parents Assistant District Attorney, Wayne Jernigan and his lovely wife Angel.
Wednesday, Feb. 10 was legislative day 19. Receiving the “Do Pass” recommendation from the House Insurance Committee was HB 838, by Rep. Shaw Blackmon, District 146. This measure sets as a minimum of 5 percent of collected premiums as the compensation for the agent selling health insurance plans.
Standing in the “Well” during Morning Orders, I had the honor of recognizing a group from Marion County Middle High School: John Hagin, ag teacher and FFA-Young Farmers advisor; Kevin Wells, Young Farmers president; and Justin Turner, FFA president; along with many FFA students wearing their blue jackets; and Bill Hammonds, Young Farmer teacher at Sumter County School System.
On the debate calendar we had HB 870 by Rep. Brian Strickland, District 111, which passed by a vote of 136 to 25. This measure prohibits high schools that receive state funding from restricting religious expression on athletic clothing while participating in GHSA events. It also allows public and private schools’ athletic teams to play each other.
HP 659 by Rep. Dave Belton, District 112, passed by a vote of 162 to 0. This measure will require public school systems to make financial information available to the public on the Governors Office of Student Achievement website, thereby promoting greater transparency.
Later that morning I was presented “The 2015 Legislative Health Policy Certificate from The Advanced Health Policy Institute at Georgia State University. At the rural caucus meeting our program on the expansion of broadband in rural areas was presented by AT&T and Windstream.
At the annual Cordele-Crisp County Legislative Fish Fry held in the Georgia Railroad Depot, I had the opportunity to visit with many of my neighbors from Cordele: Monica Simmons, Chamber director; Bob Evans, president, Colony Bank; Kimberly Reid, attorney. And enthusiastically promoting South Georgia Technical College by manning a booth at the entrance of the Georgia Railroad Depot was John Watford, Ed.D., vice president of Academic Affairs.
Thursday, Feb. 11 was legislative day 20.
I had a host of Marion County Eagles visiting me today. Megan Scott and her husband Jonathan Scott, director of Admissions at GSW, brought a group of Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) students and Michael Medders and his wife Leigh Medders, principal of L.K. Moss brought the media and yearbook students. Richard McCorkle, superintendent, Marion County School System, was beaming with pride is I recognized his students from the “Well” for their academic, athletic, literary and community successes.
At the House Appropriations Higher Education Subcommittee we reviewed the FY 2017 Budget. The University System of Georgia budget request is $2.1 billion. The Technical College System of Georgia budget request is $351 million.
HB 22 by Rep. Stacey Evans, District 42 received a “Do Pass” recommendation. This measure would provide that the “Hope” Grant Award cover the full cost of tuition at Georgia’s technical colleges, thereby growing enrollment by increasing access.
Later that morning on the debate calendar, we heard HB 821 by Rep. Al Williams, District 168, which passed by a vote of 164 to 0. This measure seeks to ease the process by which military spouses and transitioning service members can obtain a professional license. It requires the State Licensing Boards to issue licenses to applicants holding a license from a state with training, experience, and testing similar to ours as well as recognizing the experience, certification, and training while in the military in license applications.
HB 757 by Rep. Kevin Tanner, District 9, passed by a vote of 161 to 0. This measure, known as “The Pastor Protection Act,” codifies our state’s strongly held believe in the rights of conscience for religious leaders and protects our ministers and other religious practitioners from having to perform marriage ceremonies in violation of his or her religious faith. This legislation also protects private businesses from being compelled by government ordinance to operate on a day of worship. It further exempts religious organizations from being required to rent, lease, or otherwise permit the use of their facilities for events that are inconsistent with the churches’ religious doctrine. During Rep. Tanner’s presentation a quiet fell over the Chamber. A series of legislators went to the “Well” to speak in favor of the bill. The last one to speak on the bill was state Rep. David Ralston, District 7, Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives. His eloquent and moving presentation held everyone’s attention. He talked about our collective conscience of faith, our history as a nation and about the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. He emphasized unity in our body. He quoted President Abraham Lincoln, “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” He said that the seriousness of this legislation will not be measured today but in generations to come. And with that the clerk opened the voting machine. Not a single red vote. Speaker Ralston did what few others could do. He united the Georgia House of Representatives on one of the most important measures facing our state. Great job!
Thank you for choosing me to represent you in Atlanta at the State Capitol.