Legislative session is at midpoint

Published 10:10 am Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Well, time is flying. This week marks the halfway point of the 2012 legislative session. Friday, February 17, was legislative day 21 of the 40 days that we meet. With the end of session drawing closer, we continued to work in committees and on the House floor to ensure important legislation makes it through the House while there is still time.

House Resolution 1325 is one piece of legislation we passed this week. This resolution urges Congress to repeal an outdated law so that illegal cell phone use can be more easily detected in prisons. Illegal cell phone use has become a huge problem in Georgia’s prisons. In 2011, the Georgia Department of Corrections confiscated more than 8,500 illegal cell phones. These phones are often used by inmates to initiate attacks against prison guards and coordinate gang activity from behind bars.

Georgia corrections officers have reported that they could dramatically decrease the violence with the use of cellular jammers. Unfortunately, prisons are unable to use cellular jammers due to an outdated federal law. While we cannot change this law ourselves, we can send a strong message to Washington, D.C.   Now that this measure has been approved by the House, this resolution will be considered by the Senate.

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We continued working on legislation in committees. For example, the Judiciary Non-Civil Committee began work on House Bill 974, also known as “Caylee Anthony’s Law.” Along with the bill’s author, Representative B.J. Pak, Representatives Darlene Taylor, Jan Tankersly and Alex Atwood presented the bill at a press conference this week.

As you may remember from last summer, Caylee Anthony was a 2-year-old girl who was reported missing by her grandmother a month after she had last been seen. Caylee’s mother, Casey Anthony, was later acquitted of charges that she murdered little Caylee, a result that many felt to be a miscarriage of justice. People across the nation found it troubling that Caylee’s mother failed to report the disappearance of her daughter for a month and then admitted to lying about the circumstances surrounding the disappearance and death of Caylee.

Although Caylee’s mother ultimately served some time in prison for the misdemeanor offense of lying to law enforcement, Florida had no laws to enable prosecutors to penalize a criminally negligent parent who fails to report the disappearance or death of their child. HB 974 would ensure that Georgia prosecutors do not face the same challenge.

“Caylee Anthony’s Law” would require parents in Georgia to report their child’s disappearance or death in a timely manner. Under HB 974, adults or organizations responsible for children younger than 13 must maintain contact with those children. If the responsible adult has not been able to contact the child for 18 hours, the adult must report the child as missing.

The legislation would also require these individuals to report the death of a child within 12 hours. This bill is designed to penalize criminally negligent parents, and does not apply to parents who are simply unable to communicate with their child due to a situation where a child was away at a summer camp or another similar scenario.

Another important bill that was passed was HB 785, which provides that the issuance of state licenses for physicians and dentists will not be conditioned upon or related to participation in any public or private health insurance plan, public health care system, public service initiative or emergency room coverage. This is an important protection for our medical doctors.

In addition to learning about newly introduced legislation like HB 974, we also continued our Red Tape Watch initiative this week. Through this series of hearings, we have had the opportunity to hear from small businesses across the state, as they shared the challenges they face with unnecessary government regulations.

The feedback has provided us with some insight into possible areas for improvement. For example, business owners from several different industries have complained about delays in working with state agencies to obtain inspections and licenses. Also, many owners of day care centers complained of a new requirement that employees must have a technical or college degree. Some of these centers say they may have to lay off workers who have been working with them for 20 years.

We need to look at policies like these and determine if this is the right step to take. My colleagues and I appreciate these many business owners who have stepped forward with their stories, and we look forward to finding ways to resolve these issues so that small businesses can flourish and create more jobs.

This week was busy for me as I continue to perfect my bill known as the responsible dog owner bill. I, along with Representatives Ellis Black and Darlene Taylor, met with the Judiciary Non-Civil Committee. We have also been busy with local legislation for our County Boards of Commissioners and Education with redistricting.

As we move into the second half of the 2012 legislative session, we will continue to hear from more small businesses and review more legislation. We encourage you to contact us. Contact me at my Capitol office at (404) 656-0152. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.

Gene Maddox, R-Cairo, is the representative for State House District 172, which includes all of Decatur County.