Georgia House of Representatives works through busy Crossover Day

Published 3:27 pm Friday, March 15, 2019

On Monday, March 4, week eight of the 2019 legislative session began, and it was our busiest week yet. This week, the we reached Legislative Day 28, also known as “Crossover Day.” Crossover Day is a crucial deadline for the General Assembly as this is the last day for bills to pass out of the legislative chamber from which they originated in order to remain eligible for consideration for this session. As a result, Crossover Day is typically one of the longest days of the session, and my colleagues and I worked late into the night to pass meaningful and significant House bills to send to our Senate counterparts for their consideration.

As we started the week, we acknowledged Peanut Day at the Capitol.  On hand to celebrate from South Georgia were our own John Harrell and Andy Bell.  Thank you for coming to Atlanta and sharing your concerns of the recovery from Hurricane Michael.  Thank you for all our farmers.  That being said, I need to address the aftermath of the terrible tornado that has hit Cairo.  Both my staff, Michell Kimbler and I have witnessed the devastation to the area.  We are working with GEMA and others to help with the recovery.  Please know we are there to help.

This week, the House passed HB 324, or the “Georgia’s Hope Act,” it would allow for the cultivation, manufacturing and dispensing of low THC oil.  It creates the Low THC Oil License Oversight Board to allow registered patients to obtain low THC oil in Georgia. As a result of previous legislation that was enacted in 2015, patients with certain medical conditions, such as terminal cancer, epilepsy, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, severe autism and others, can register with the Department of Public Health’s (DPH) THC Oil Patient Registry to legally possess up to 20 fluid ounces of medical cannabis oil. This bill would authorize the DPH to issue two classes of licenses to produce, grow and manufacture low THC oil in Georgia. The DPH would also issue separate retail licenses for qualified Georgia applicants by January 1, 2020. This legislation would create a sophisticated seed-to-sale tracking system, and it would require facility inspections and sample testing of medical cannabis oil products. Though this was a difficult decision, it is going to help the more than 8,000 registered Georgians who suffer from serious medical conditions by establishing a secure, regulated and legal way to obtain this vital treatment.

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The House passed important bipartisan legislation this week that would create a hate crime statute in Georgia. House Bill 426 would increase the penalties for anyone convicted of a crime that was committed because of an offender’s belief or perception regarding the race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, mental disability or physical disability of a person or group. Under this bill, a person convicted of a misdemeanor hate crime could be sentenced to three to 12 months of jail time and face a fine up to $5,000. Additionally, individuals convicted of hate crimes that are of a high and aggravated nature would face sentencing of six to 12 months of jail time, along with a $5,000 fine, and offenders of a felony hate crime would face a minimum of two years in prison. Georgia is one of only five states that does not have a law to protect its citizens from hate crimes, and this bill would bring our state in line with the 45 other states that have enacted similar legislation.

My colleagues and I approved a measure this week to eradicate human trafficking and help victims of this grievous crime. This week, we unanimously passed the Anti-Human Trafficking Protective Response Act, House Bill 234, which would provide immense treatment for human trafficking victims through a streamlined process involving the Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) and law enforcement. This bill would authorize DFCS to provide immediate emergency care and supervision for a child human trafficking victim without a court order or the consent of the parents or legal guardian. HB 234 would also direct DFCS and law enforcement to take the child to an available victim services organization, which is certified by the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, to provide comprehensive trauma-informed services. In addition, HB 234 would give local authorities the ability to seek civil penalties against the owner or operator of any building that has benefited from any human trafficking activity. Local authorities could seek these civil penalties after the owner has received three or more separate sexually-related. This legislation would strengthen the state’s anti-human trafficking laws, while providing critical resources and care for victims of human trafficking.

Tuesday brought a visit from a wonderful group from home.  Folks representing Open Door adoption Agency, Walter Gilbert, CEO, Fred Jefferson and Doug Silvia.  We were able to meet with both Governor Kemp and Lt. Governor Duncan to discuss concerns.  Many thanks to them for bringing their issues to the Capitol.  Later in the week we passed HB 481, the Heart Beat Bill. This bill would make abortion illegal after a heart beat is identified.  There was much debate and a close vote count but it passed with bipartisan support.

Another piece of legislation that passed this week was House Bill 79, which would safeguard the rights of legally blind Georgians and their children. HB 79 would prevent courts, the Department of Human Services and child-placing agencies from discriminating or denying child placement, custody, visitation, guardianship or adoption to an individual because that individual is legally blind. If a government agency is concerned that a parent’s blindness will have a detrimental impact on a child, that agency would need to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the parent’s or prospective parent’s blindness is endangering or will likely endanger the health, safety or welfare of the child. Parents would then have the opportunity to demonstrate how the implementation of supportive parenting services, such as nonvisual parenting techniques or alternative methods, could alleviate these concerns. This bill passed the House unanimously and with bipartisan support and would protect the more than 202,000 blind Georgians from unfair societal biases that deny these families their basic right to stay together.

The House took steps this week towards implementing the 2019 House Transit Proposal to streamline state government agencies that oversee Georgia’s transit. At the recommendations of the House Commission on Transit Governance and Funding, House Bill 511 would create the Department of Mobility and Innovation (GMobile) in order to govern, coordinate, consolidate and rebuild the state’s complex transit governance structure that currently spreads across six state-level agencies and authorities, while promoting economic development. The proposed bill would also designate Mobility Zones to deliver a more consistent level of service across all of Georgia’s regions and to enable participation and buy-in by local leaders. These Mobility Zones would be designed around regional economic hubs and surrounding rural areas, and each Mobility Zone would develop a regional transit plan that defines and identifies the specific transit needs of its respective area. This bill would allow Georgians to fully embrace public transportation across the state for the first time especially in areas that currently have little to no public transit. The bill would provide transit advocates with something they have long pursued: a committed source of state funding for public transportation. Our state spends nearly $14.5 million annually on transit, and Georgia ranks 37th among the states in transit spending per capita and 45th in spending per trip. These additional, dedicated funds would provide an increase in state transit spending for Georgia to invest in transportation improvements and innovation. Overall, bundling transit governance and funding will allow our state to leverage our transit systems to keep Georgia moving, be economically competitive and to support our workforce development initiatives.

House Bill 224, a recommendation of the House Rural Development Council, passed this week to amend Georgia’s Investment Tax Credit, Job Tax Credit and Quality Jobs Tax Credit to assist and incentivize employers to bring dependable jobs to rural areas. The Quality Jobs Tax Credit was designed to incentivize better paying jobs in rural areas by providing a credit for positions that pay 110 percent of the average lowest wage when at least 50 jobs are created. This bill would create an incentive for employers that are investing in better paying jobs in rural areas of the state. Employers who relocate or expand in these locations would receive an additional credit of $500 for each qualified new job created in a Tier One or Tier Two county with a population of less than 50,000 and a poverty rate greater than 10 percent. The new jobs would have to be created in certain counties designated by the commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs and pay at least 70 or 90 percent of the average wage earned in the county with the lowest average wage earned in the state. HB 224 would also increase the minimum investment for Georgia’s Investment Tax Credit from $50,000 to $100,000 for businesses that retain a certain number of jobs and invest in property with certain property values. This legislation would not only encourage quality job creation, but it would also enrich the lives of citizens who live in our valuable rural Georgia communities.

Finally, the House passed House Bill 446, which would refine income tax credits for timber producers who suffered losses from Hurricane Michael. After Hurricane Michael devastated the timber industry in southwest Georgia, the House passed House Bill 4EX, or the Timber Tax Bill, during the 2018 special legislative session. The Timber Tax Bill allows timberland owners to apply for an income tax credit worth 100 percent of the timberland losses occurring between October 8 and December 31, 2018. The income tax credit has a cap of $200 million overall and $400 per acre damaged. Subsequently, the House passed House Bill 446 this week to ensure that the individuals who incurred timber loss are the actual recipients of this important tax refund. Georgia’s timber industry suffered a loss of more than 2.4 million acres of timberland that was valued at over $762 million after Hurricane Michael, and this bill would help timber producers to offset these losses.

During this hectic time the members of the South Georgia Delegation have been busy bringing forth important legislation.  One of Rep. Sam Watson’s many bills was HR 214.  It reauthorized the Rural Development Council so that we may continue our efforts to help Rural Georgia.  Rep. John LaHood saw that HB 374, a bill known as the Pain Relief Bill was passed out of the House. Rep Darlene Taylor ushered several bills this week including HB 168 which will help our non-profit community health centers by extending their tax exemption status.

Now that we have completed Crossover Day, all bills passed by the House must “cross over” to the Senate for consideration and vice versa. My colleagues and I will spend the remainder of the session meeting in committees and on the House floor to consider Senate bills. In the remaining days of the legislative session, I hope you will reach out to me with any questions or comment you may have about bills that may be up for consideration during these final weeks. You can reach me at my capitol office at 404-656-7857, or via email at: Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.