Weekly report to the people: Mike Cheokas — March 16, 2016

Published 3:00 pm Thursday, March 17, 2016

Monday, Feb. 29, was Legislative Day 30, which is commonly known as Crossover Day. This is the last day that legislation can be passed out of one Chamber and still have time to be voted on in the other Chamber. From past experience, we all knew that it was going to be a long and busy day. By the time we adjourned, after 9:30 p.m., we had debated and voted on over 50 measures from two Debate Calendars.
Here are a few of the highlights; HB12 by Rep. Terry Roger, District 10, passed by vote of 170 to 0. This legislation makes it unlawful for an individual to misrepresent himself as a veteran or the recipient of a military decoration in order to secure a monetary or other tangible benefit.
HB 722 by Rep. Allen Peake, District 11, passed by vote of 152 to 8. This measure expands the list of medical conditions for which cannabis oil with a low THC content may be administered. These conditions include autism, epidermolysis bullosa, HIV/AIDS, peripheral neuropathy, Tourette’s syndrome, terminal illnesses, and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  This measure also allows manufacturers of the low THC oil made from the marijuana plant to be shipped legally to individuals registered with the Georgia Department of Public Health for the treatment of the above illnesses. It further adds low THC oil into the Code regarding driving under the influence. Rep. Peake has been the leading proponent for the use of medical marijuana in the treatment of illnesses. He was unable to move out of committee additional legislation which called for the legal production of cannabis oil for medical use.
HB 727 by Rep. Paul Battles, District 15, passed by a vote of 165 to 8. This measure gives local governments increased discretion over fireworks regulation. It further makes it unlawful to explode fireworks within close proximity to public roads, electric plants, wastewater treatment plants, jails, prisons, hospitals, nursing homes, and public gatherings. The bill allows for fireworks to be exploded between the hours of 10 a.m. and 10 p.m., subject to local noise ordinances.
HB 734 by Rep. Jason Spencer, District 180, passed by a vote of 164 to 8. This legislation known as the “Georgia Space Flight Act ” will increase Georgia’s competitiveness in recruiting the commercial space flight industry. It is modeled after the other “space friendly” states, and defines space flight activity and limits liability for space flight industry activities. Rep. Spencer has been a champion of the commercial space flight industry and Camden County has invested over $2 million in the “Spaceport Camden” project. They see this as an opportunity to bring good paying jobs to their part of the state and making Georgia a leader in the commercial space flight industry.
HB 779 by Rep. Kevin Tanner, District 9, also passed. This measure is the result of a House Study Committee on drone aircraft chaired by Rep. Tanner last summer. This measure makes it unlawful to equip a drone aircraft with a weapon; to obtain evidence and other information without obtaining a search warrant; to launch from private property without permission; to harass, threatened or intimidate another individual; to interfere with the operation of a train, aircraft, or motor vehicle. It further makes unlawful the use of a drone to obstruct any law enforcement officer, firefighter, park ranger, or emergency services provider. This measure does allow law enforcement to use drone aircraft in the active search of a fugitive, the monitoring a hostage situation, or in the search of a missing person. All data collected that is not being used in court proceedings shall be destroyed within five days.
HB 699 by Rep. Andy Welch, District 110, failed to reach a majority by a vote of 82 to 81. This measure would have made voidable all actions taken by outgoing local government officials during the period from the November elections to the swearing-in of the incoming local government officials. There were two measures of significant importance that were taken off the Debate Calendar by Rep. David Ralston, District 7, Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives. HB 677 and HR 807 by Rep. Ron Stephens, District 164, would have brought casino gambling to the state of Georgia. Proponents of this measure proposed that the tax revenue generated by gaming would be used to increase funding for the Hope Scholarship Program.
I was visited by Tom Rush, public affairs representative to the Georgia Baptist Mission Board. He very eloquently stated his opposition to the gaming industry and described the devastating effects it has on the moral and the economic life in a community. He pointed out that the cost of casino gambling outweigh its benefits and that they create a regressive tax that preys on the most vulnerable members of society. The Georgia Baptist Mission Board was joined by the Georgia Arts & Venues Coalition and the Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee in their opposition to this legislation.
I had the honor to present HR 1052 which passed by a vote of 170 to 0. This measure is the annual road and bridge naming resolution passed each year to honor some of Georgia’s finest citizens. As I began to solemnly read the names of these outstanding Georgians, my colleagues in the House of Representatives stood in silence. Of the more than 20 individuals named in HR 1052, there were two that were known and loved in our area.
“Whereas, Sergeant First Class Victor A . Anderson, truly an American hero; demonstrated a deep personal commitment to protecting democracy and a willingness to sacrifice his own personal safety; He served as a guardian of our nation’s freedom and liberty with the United States Army and the Army National Guard for 22 years, and made the ultimate sacrifice and was killed in action while serving in Iraq; This highly decorated American soldier embodied the spirit of service and the willingness to find meaning in something greater than himself; It is therefore abundantly fitting and proper that this remarkable and distinguished American be recognized appropriately by dedicating a Highway in his memory; Be it further resolved that the portion of Highway 19 from Schley County mile marker 0 to Sumter County mile marker 15 and continuing to the northern city limits of Americus at mile marker 14;  Now therefore be dedicated as the SFC Victor A. Anderson Memorial Highway.”
“Whereas, Thomas William Poole, an avid outdoorsman, throughout his life, he continuously demonstrated a deep concern and compassion for others, going above and beyond to ensure the happiness, well-being, and care for both friends and strangers; It is therefore abundantly fitting and proper that this remarkable and distinguished Georgian be recognized appropriately by dedicating a bridge in his memory;  Be it further resolved that the Buck Creek Bridge in Schley County be dedicated as the Thomas William Poole Memorial Bridge.”
I was fortunate to have four brave young people paging for me on Crossover Day. They were accompanied by their mothers who sat in the Gallery and watched their state government at work. Maddie Crisp and her mother, Whitney Crisp; Morgan Kitchens and her mother, Donna Kitchens; Grace Ann Lacey and her mother, Jessica Lacey; Georgia Torbert and her mother, Shay Torbert.
Wednesday, March 2, 2016 was legislative day 31. There were only four  measures on the Debate Calendar which dealt with the creation of House Study Committees.
Another honor I had this week was recognizing March 2 as the first Georgia Southwestern State University (GSW) Day at the Capitol thru HR 1443. From the Speakers Podium I talked about the impact GSW has in the state. With just under 3,000 students and growing, it is one of the best values in higher education. Its degree programs range from nursing to glassblowing and from business to golf management. Its distinguished alumni include former President Jimmy Carter, former first lady Rosalynn Carter, the late Judge Griffin Bell and current Commander of the Army National Guard, Brig. Gen. Tommy Carden; as well as State Rep. Alan Powell, District 32; State Rep. Gerald Greene, District 151; and State Rep. Debbie Buckner, District 137. I then introduced GSW interim President Charles Patterson, who talked about the over 40 bachelors degree programs that are offered; the outstanding ranking of the School of Nursing, the success in athletics of the GSW Hurricanes; and that GSW is nationally ranked as one of the most affordable small colleges in Georgia. He recognized the many students and faculty seated in the Gallery that made this day possible. Booths were set up on the second floor south wing of the Capitol to highlight the many programs and activities featured at GSW. The smiles on the faces of the students were contagious, and were shared with legislators and visitors alike. It was truly a great day for GSW and congratulations are due to interim President Charles Patterson, his dedicated staff and enthusiastic students for its outstanding success.
Later that morning I went to the “Well” to recognize the Americus-Sumter County Chamber of Commerce Leadership Sumter Class for 2016 led by Executive Director Barbara Grogan who were standing in the Gallery.
Monday, March 7 was Legislative Day 32. Qualifying began at 9 a.m. for the May Primaries and the November General Elections. The second floor of the Capitol was filled with legislators qualifying for their respective seats.
The only measure on the Debate Calendar was SB 283, presented by Rep. Bruce Williamson, District 115, which passed by a vote of 162 to 1. This measure establishes a multibank contingent liability collateralization pool to share the risk of public body deposits under the supervision of the State Treasurer and the Department of Banking and Finance. This measure was supported by the Association of County Commissioners Georgia (ACCG) and the Georgia Bankers Association. It will provide greater access for financial services to our local governments.
Tuesday, March 8 was Legislative Day 33. There were over 24 measures on the Local Legislation Calendar which passed by a vote of 163 to 0. The Local Calendar consists of legislation requested by local governing bodies to change, amend, or create provisions is the charter establishing City or County governments. Visiting the Chamber was former Americus resident and now Executive Director for the Association of County Commissioners Georgia, Ross King.
Although Wednesday, March 9 was not a Legislative Day, it remained a committee day.
The House Insurance Committee met at 8 a.m. to take up five Senate measures. And at 10 a.m. the House State Properties Committee met to take up four measures. SR 954 and SR 955 are the annual state conveyance of property resolutions which received the “Do Pass” recommendation.
At the weekly Rural Caucus luncheon, our program was presented by Coastal Solar. Bill Johnston, site systems analyst, explained how solar energy could be used in agriculture to reduce the cost of electricity. He pointed to savings in the operations of chicken houses, processing, and storage.
Thursday, March 10 was Legislative Day 34. SB 191, presented by Rep. Don Parsons, District 44, passed by vote of 140 to 9. This measure provides for a uniform utility locate process throughout the State, overseen by the Public Service Commission.
SB 305 presented by Rep. Sharon Cooper, District 43, and chair of the House Health and Human Services Committee, passed by vote of 162 to 0. This measure requires the Department of Public Health to notify all the members of the House and Senate Health and Human Services Committees at least 60 days prior to implementing any changes to the Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) form. These forms contain medical orders to be followed by healthcare professionals.
Visiting the Capitol for their 19th consecutive year was the Marion County Middle High School eighth-grade class as part of their Georgia history studies. Principal Glenn Tidwell led the group of adults that chaperoned the 100 students. They included Coach Trey Reeves, Nicole Janovsky, Adam and Sarita Griggs, Gina Teate, Perry Smith, Alicia Dunn, Jennifer Anthony and Lovell Ivory.  Filling up the Gallery, I had the honor to recognize these outstanding students and the faculty and staff that accompanied them. From the “Well” I commended the students for their outstanding accomplishments in academics, humanities, and athletics. Marion County Middle High School has produced State Championships in football and the performing arts. The State Champion four-man quartet performed on the Floor of the House in January 2014. Go Eagles !
Friday, March 11 was Legislative Day 35. One of two measures receiving considerable debate was SB 277 presented by Rep. Jason Shaw, District 176, which passed by a vote of 113 to 45. This measure, supported by the Georgea Chamber of Commerce, more accurately defines the employer-employee relationship of a franchisee and states that neither the franchisee nor a franchisee’s employee are considered employees of the franchisor.
Receiving over an hour of debate was SB 308 presented by Rep. Sharon Cooper, District 43, which passed by vote of 103 to 52. This measure creates the Positive Alternatives for Pregnancy and Parenting Grant Program within the Georgia Department of Public Health, DPH. Its purpose is to promote healthy pregnancies and childbirth by awarding grants to nonprofit organizations that provide pregnancy support services. DPH will oversee the program and execute a legal contract with a management agency to administer this program. Grants cannot exceed 85 percent of the providers annual revenue.
Last year, I sponsored HR 661 which recognized and honored the 1963 Leesburg Stockade Women, heroes of the American Civil Rights Movement. These 14 young girls from the ages of 10 to 15 dared to speak out against injustice and racial inequality and were illegally arrested and held captive in an abandoned stockade in Leesburg, Georgia. For over two months, these brave adolescent girls endured horrendous hardships while their parents suffered the nightmare of not knowing where their daughters were nor if they were even still alive. Four of these brave young girls, now grandmothers, came to the Capitol to be recognized. Shirley Reese, Ph.D., Carroll Barner Seay, Jocque McCollum, Emmaene Kaigler Streeter and her son John Streeter received a standing ovation from the members in the Chamber as I recognized them from the “Well.” Reese, now a member of the Americus City Council, plans to publish a history of that period In their lives.
Thank you for choosing me to represent you in Atlanta at the State Capitol.