Weekly report to the people — Mike Cheokas: March 30, 2016

Published 6:00 pm Thursday, March 31, 2016

Tuesday, March 22, 2016 was Legislative Day 39. This is the next to the last day of the 40 Day Legislative Session of the 2016 Georgia General Assembly. As you would have guessed the volume of activity has increased geometrically. We had three Debate Calendars and two pages of Agrees/Disagrees. Agrees/Disagrees are measures that have passed their respective Chambers and then have been changed either by amendment or substitute in the other Chamber and are returned to their initial Chamber to be approved by vote with the changes.
Before a measure can go to the Governor to be signed into law it must pass both Chambers in identical language. If the measure is Agreed to then it goes to the Governor. If the measure is Disagreed, then it returns to the Chamber where it was changed for an Agree or left unchanged for an Insist. If the other Chamber Insists on the new language which is Disagreed to by the initial Chamber then a Committee of Conference is formed to negotiate identical language. A Committee of Conference consists of three Senators chosen by the Lieutenant Governor and three Representatives chosen by the Speaker. Should the Committee of Conference not reach an agreement then the measure dies. Should the Committee of Conference reach an agreement then it must be approved in both Chambers before going to the Governor. The Governor then has three options. First, he can sign the measure into law. Second, he can veto the measure, preventing it from becoming law. Third, he can neither sign nor veto the measure, and it will become law in 40 days.
SB 18 presented by Rep. Richard Smith, District 134 passed by a vote of 164 to 0. This measure requires the Technical College System of Georgia to grant academic credit to active duty military or veteran students for college level learning acquired through course work related to their training and experience from their military service.
SB 230 presented by Rep. Rick Jasperse, District 11, passed by a vote of 164 to 5. This measure is titled “The Uniform Emergency Volunteer Health Practitioners Act.” It will allow the Governor in times of emergency or a natural disaster to utilize Voluntary Health Practitioners from outside the State of Georgia to provide disaster relief and emergency care. It further requires the Department of Public Health to maintain a registry to monitor and confirm the licensure and good standing of each volunteer.
SB 323 presented by Rep. Robert Dickey, District 140, passed by a vote of 166 to 2. This measure expands the non-public disclosure provision in the Code for the Department of Economic Development. It restricts the disclosure to other state agencies of the details of active economic development projects. An amendment was added in the Rules Committee to bring Georgia in line with other states regarding college athletic associations. The amendment allows these associations 90 days to respond to open records requests.
Last week receiving the “Do Pass” recommendation in the State Properties Committee meeting was SB 327, by Sen. Judson Hill, District 32. This measure, which was presented by Rep. David Clark, District 98, was on the Debate Calendar and passed by a vote of 95 to 71. It will prohibit any entity of the State of Georgia from entering into a contract to provide goods or services with an individual or company that is engaged in a boycott of Israel. This week’s terrorist bombings in Brussels are a poignant reminder of how important to the security of our nation our relationship is with Israel, our strongest ally in the Middle East.
Receiving the most debate was HB 1036 by Rep. Bill Hitchens, District 161, which passed by a vote of 116 to 48. This measure establishes the “State Commission on Petroleum Pipelines” to study the use of eminent domain in the acquisition of property. The Commission is to complete its work by Dec. 31, 2016. It suspends the power of eminent domain for petroleum pipelines through June 30, 2017. It further suspends the issuance of all permits and licenses from the State, even if the petroleum pipeline company already owns the land or easement through June 30, 2017. There were compelling arguments on both sides of this issue. The gavel finally fell at 11:50 p.m. ending Legislative Day 39.
Thursday, March 24, 2016 was Legislative Day 40, the last Legislative Day for the 2016 Georgia General Assembly. We had two Debate Calendars and three pages of Agrees/Disagrees still to accomplish.
SB 416 presented by Rep. Rick Jasperse, District 11, passed by a vote of 160 to 0. This measure creates within the Georgia Bureau of Investigation a “Fusion Center” to gather intelligence reports from local and state agencies about suspected threats, both criminal and terroristic. It will analyze the information and provide assessments to Jim Butterworth, Director of Emergency Management and Homeland Security and federal officials if the possibility of threat is determined.
SB 304 presented by Rep. Scott Holcomb, District 81, was agreed to by a vote of 167 to 0. This measure will require Georgia law enforcement to find and count untested sexual assault evidence (rape kits). Upon final passage late in the evening the House broke into thunderous applause. The original measure HB 827 (Pursuing Justice for Rape Victims Act) had been blocked in the State Senate but after strong vocal support from women’s advocates and victim’s groups it was added to SB 340.
HB 216 by Rep. Micah Gravley, District 67, was agreed to by vote of 146 to 20. This measure will allow workers compensation benefits to firefighters in the event they are diagnosed with cancer, if it can be proven it was directly linked to the profession of firefighting.
HB 783 by Rep. Bruce Broadrick, District 4, was agreed to by vote of 167 to 4. This measure was amended to include Rep. Allen Peake’s original legislation dealing with cannabidiol oil. It expands the conditions for which THC oil may be prescribed for treatment and sets a  maximum of 5 percent  by weight of tetrahydrocannabinol. It further requires the Department of Public Health to issue a registration card for the possession and use of low THC oil.
The final measure to be adopted by the 2016 Georgia House of Representatives was SB 258 which was Agreed to by vote of 163 to 0. Rep. Geoff Duncan, District 26, amended SB 258 to include HB 919 which passed the House by a vote of 137 to 30 on Feb. 25, 2016. This measure provides $100 million in tax credits to individuals and corporations who donate to Rural Healthcare Organizations that participate both in Medicaid and Medicare, provide healthcare to primarily indigent patients, and receive at least 10 percent of their gross revenue from the treatment of indigent patients. It is an effort to provide some financial relief to our struggling rural hospitals. I want to congratulate Rep. Geoff Duncan on his perseverance. Good job!
It was a bittersweet day for me as many of my friends in the Georgia House of Representatives went to the “Well” to announce their retirement and to bid us farewell. During my tenure here I have made some of the best friends of my life. We often describe it as our family. We share each other’s joys and each other’s sorrows. The men and women that serve under the Gold Dome are truly some of the finest I have ever met.
Bidding us farewell were: Rep. Tom Weldon, District 3; Rep. Stephen Allison, District 8; Rep. Mike Dudgeon, District 25; Rep. Carl Rogers, District 29; Rep. Joe Wilkinson, District 52; Rep. Virgil Fludd, District 64; Rep. Matt Ramsey, District 72; Rep. Tom Rice, District 95; Rep. B.J. Pak, District 108; Rep. Barbara Sims, District 123; Rep. Nikki Randall, District 142; Rep. Alex Atwood, District 179. I want to thank them for their service and wish them God’s blessings.
It was half past midnight before House Speaker David Ralston hammered the gavel down adjourning the Georgia General Assembly “Sine Die” (which is Latin for with out day). And with that confetti made from the stacks of papers placed upon our desks filled the air.
Thank you for choosing me to represent you in Atlanta at the State Capitol.

Mike Cheokas, R-Americus, represents District 138.