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Update from Sen. Harper

It has been just over two months since the 2017 legislative session of the General Assembly came to a close. Although we adjourned for the year, there is still much work that needs to be handled prior to next session.

Out of session our schedules remain hectic with study committee meetings, constituent issues, round table discussions, legislative panels, and district events. This past month I have attended events in District 7, throughout Georgia, as well as, our nation’s Capital, Washington.
Since President Trump’s inauguration, I have been invited to D.C. by the administration in order to participate in roundtable sessions, in regards to the various issues affecting our state and country. Most recently, I was humbled to take part in a discussion at the White House with DJ Gribbin, Special Assistant to the President for Infrastructure Policy. It is an incredible honor to be involved and I look forward to actively working with President Trump on shaping his policy efforts in regards to infrastructure in areas such as transportation, water/sewer, or much needed rural broadband, among other topics. I can say that after this meeting, there is no doubt that the Trump Administration is committed to finding ways which will streamline and advance infrastructure in America.


As the Senate Public Safety Chairman and member of the Homeland Security Task Force, I am very pleased with the steps we took this year to protect our law enforcement community, while cracking down on crime. One major accomplishment of the session was the passage of the Back the Badge Act of 2017. This legislation was a collaborative effort, as we work to ensure that our public safety and law enforcement community knows they have our full support. Georgia has lost a record number of police officers over the last year, and I am thankful that we could further show our commitment to these brave individuals and their families through this legislation.
I am also very pleased that the General Assembly, as well as, our friends at the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, continue to ramp up efforts in assisting growth and development of our rural communities. This year, Georgia's House of Representatives implemented the formation of the House Rural Development Council, which will work with communities across the state to discuss solutions vital to the well-being of our less populated areas. Many of our House members within our Senate district have been chosen to serve on this committee and I have no doubt that they will represent us well. Meetings began in Tifton recently and will continue through the end of the year in various communities throughout our state. These meetings are also streamed on the internet, so I encourage you to watch, even if you can’t physically attend.
In addition, earlier in the year, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce announced plans of opening an extension office in Tifton. I was excited to attend the grand opening of the GA Chamber Regional office, known as, the Center for Rural Prosperity, earlier this month! This center will specifically focus on issues facing rural GA and our citizens. I am proud the GA Chamber recognizes the importance of investing in less populated areas, giving our south GA communities direct access to their resources, while taking steps to help us address and improve our economic development efforts.

By law, Governor Deal is required to sign or veto legislation 40 days after the legislative session adjourns. This year’s deadline was May 9th. Governor Deal lent his signature to the majority of legislation, making these bills the law of the land. Below is a quick reference list highlighting major issues the Governor signed into law:

Bills Signed by Governor Deal


Education

  • House Bill 37 prohibits private postsecondary institutions — whether acting through their governing bodies or officers or by any other process — from enacting, adopting, implementing, or enforcing any sanctuary policy as it relates to immigration status.
  • House Bill 139 promotes transparency within our public-school systems by requiring the Department of Education to post certain school-level budget and expenditure information, excluding information made confidential by law, on its website.
  • House Bill 224 changes the 'Quality Basic Education Act' to allow military students to attend any school within their school system, if space is available, beginning in the 2017-2018 school year.
  • House Bill 237 allows the establishment of the Public Education Innovation Fund Foundation. The foundation may receive donations to provide grants to public schools for the improvement of student achievement. Funds will be awarded through a competitive grant process.
  • House Bill 338 creates an alternative “Turnaround” school system which will support and provide assistance for the lowest-performing schools which receive below a 60 on the statewide accountability system for three consecutive years.
  • House Bill 463 allows the Department of Early Care and Learning to incorporate a non-profit corporation which will aid the department in promoting public-private partnerships between businesses, non-profit organizations, higher education institutions, local school systems, public schools, as well as, early care and education programs.
  • Senate Bill 211 ensures dual-enrollment students are not penalized by local school systems for taking collegiate coursework while still in high school. Under the bill, no school system can exclude a dual-enrolled student from eligibility for class valedictorian or salutatorian.


Military and Veterans

  • House Bill 245 requires the Georgia Professional Standards Commission to allow military spouses to qualify for temporary certificates, certificates by endorsement, or expedited certificates when moving to Georgia.
  • House Bill 470 allows the Department of Economic Development to administer a grant program to provide assistance to military communities. Grant amounts will be determined case-by-case and communities will be eligible if it is found the money will assist in furthering positive relationships between military installations and surrounding communities, while assisting in efforts to defend the success of a military installation from a federal review or closure.
  • House Bill 196 includes the original HB 209 that amends Georgia code relating to homestead exemption by qualified disabled veterans. The bill allows disabled veterans who receive a final determination of disability from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs containing a retroactive period of eligibility, or their surviving spouse or minor children, to receive a refund of up to three years of ad valorem taxes paid during the retroactive period.
  • Senate Bill 108 establishes a new Women Veterans' Office which will reach out to female veterans improving awareness of eligibility while conducting assessments of the specific needs of women veterans with respect to benefits and services.


Healthcare

  • House Bill 154 expands the role of licensed dental hygienists, making care more accessible throughout the state. The bill authorizes licensed hygienists to perform dental screenings and certain duties without the supervision of a dentist.
  • Senate Bill 14 also known as the Rural Hospital Organization Assistance Act of 2017, will assist in offsetting high costs which greatly affect our rural hospitals by allowing these healthcare organizations to apply for state grants.
  • Senate Bill 16 expands Georgia’s medical cannabis oil program by adding six illnesses to the list of qualifying medical conditions. The bill also allows patients to legally possess a maximum of 20 fluid ounces of cannabis oil with a maximum of 5 percent THC.
  • Senate Bill 88 updates the application process and licensing requirements for Georgia’s drug abuse treatment and education programs and narcotic treatment facilities that treat individuals who are dependent on heroin and opiate-like drugs.
  • Senate Bill 109 is a compact which would allow out-of-state nurses with multistate licenses to practice in Georgia, while Georgia nurses with multistate licenses could practice in member states. Georgia would be the 26th state to join this compact.
  • Senate Bill 121 will make Naloxone, a lifesaving drug that counteracts opioid overdoses, more readily available through over the counter sales without a prescription.


Public Safety

  • Senate Bill 160, Back the Badge Act of 2017, broadens the offenses of aggravated assault on public safety officers. The bill also requires a mandatory sentence minimum of 10 years and maximum of 20 years for individuals whom discharge a firearm at a public safety officer.
  • Senate Bill 169 creates a special license plate to honor law enforcement. The plate will contain the words “Back the Badge,” and proceeds will go to the Peace Officers’ Annuity and Benefit Fund (POAB).
  • Senate Bill 176 offers citizens a lower cost alternative to arrest and incarceration when an individual fails to appear in court for a non-serious traffic violation.
  • Senate Bill 219 changes our motor vehicle laws to allow fully autonomous vehicles to operate on Georgia’s roadways.
  • Senate Bill 109 is the Recognition of Emergency Medical Services Personnel Licensure Interstate Compact. The REPLICA Compact would facilitate movement of EMS personnel across state lines by allowing EMS personnel licensed in Georgia to practice in other participating states, and vice versa. Of neighboring states, Tennessee has already adopted this compact, and legislation has also been introduced in Alabama.
  • House Bill 146 requires fire departments to provide adequate insurance coverage for firefighters who have served 12 consecutive months on duty and are disabled and unable to continue to work as a result of career causing cancer.
  • House Bill 452 requires the GBI to post on its website a list of aliens released from federal custody into Georgia, as provided by the federal government through the Law Enforcement Notification System of the Enforcement Integrated Database of the United States Department of Homeland Security or the National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System. The GBI must also send a copy of this information to the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association. The bill also contains part of SB 1 which redefines “domestic terrorism” to include any felony, or attempt to commit a felony, which is intended to cause serious bodily harm or kill any individual or group, or which is intended to disable or destroy critical infrastructure, a state or government facility, or a public transportation system when such disability or destruction is intended to intimidate civilians, alter/change/coerce government policy, or affect the conduct of government by use of destructive devices, assassination, or kidnapping.


Rural Georgia

  • Senate Bill 133 eliminates the corporate net worth tax for corporations worth $100,000 or less. In addition, SB 133 includes HB 314, the Georgia Agribusiness and Rural Jobs Act. It creates a tax credit for investments in rural businesses. These are businesses with fewer than 250 employees and which have their principal business operations in one or more rural areas in Georgia.
  • House Resolution 389 creates the House Rural Development Council to identify the challenges and economic development opportunities in our rural communities.
  • House Bill 50 expands liability protections to include activities involving livestock — swine, cattle, sheep, and goats.
  • House Bill 73 creates a system of tax credits for businesses and investors in small town areas suffering from economic distress. These “revitalization zones” will be located in areas with populations below 15,000 and must have a concentration of historic commercial structures at least 50 years old within the targeted area.
  • House Bill 155 provides income tax credits for expenditures related to musical and theatrical performances. The bill includes a specific provision aimed at rural Georgia: companies will receive an additional 5 percent credit for expenditures incurred in a tier 1 or tier 2 county.
  • House Bill 199 creates a postproduction tax credit for postproduction companies with aggregate Georgia payrolls of at least $250,000. The bill includes a specific provision aimed at rural Georgia: companies will receive an additional 5 percent credit if the production expenditures were incurred in a tier 1 or tier 2 county.
  • House Bill 290 clarifies the ad valorem tax exemption for farm equipment. Instead of “farm equipment,” this bill uses the term “agricultural equipment” and exempts farm tractors, combines, and all other farm equipment other than motor vehicles, whether fixed or mobile, which are owned by or held under a lease-purchase agreement and directly used in the production of farm products by a family owned qualified farm products producer.
  • House Bill 427 adds dentists, physician assistants, and advanced practice registered nurses to the existing Physicians for Rural Areas Assistance Act. The program is intended to increase the number of health care providers in underserved, rural areas of Georgia.


If you are interested in learning more about the bills listed above, or other legislation passed this session please visit, www.legis.ga.gov and click on the legislation tab. As always, I will continue to update you monthly on the major issues affecting Georgia citizens. Thank you for allowing me to serve our district. It is an honor to work for you and the people of this great state. If you ever need anything at all, please don’t hesitate to contact me at anytime. God bless the great folks in District 7 and may God continue to bless the great state of Georgia!