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Update from the Capitol - 3/6/18

Senator Tyler Harper

By: Sen. Tyler Harper (R - Ocilla)

Crossover Day is finally behind us and as the days of session begin to wind down, the work load continues to increase. We were in session for three days this week, passing a total of 72 bills and resolutions. We closed out February with Crossover Day on Wednesday and we debated legislation well into the evening passing 41 bills on that day alone.

One of the biggest beneficiaries of the bills we passed this week would be our state’s military service men and women. Senate Bill 82 would allow members of the Georgia National Guard to meet residency requirements to obtain the HOPE scholarship. On a similar note, SB 354 would allow certain active duty military personnel the ability to be classified as in-state residents for tuition purposes at schools in the Technical College System of Georgia. Both of these bills will make it easier for the brave men and women in the military to achieve their educational goals while proudly serving our country.

Rural broadband also secured two big wins on Wednesday. Senate Bill 232, known as the FIBRE Act, would expand access to public rights of way and set certain regulations for EMC’s in Georgia to deploy broadband services. SB 426 would address the ability of local governments to regulate private companies seeking to use existing infrastructure (such as utility poles) to house small cell technology to expand broadband service. Basically, both of these bills will make it easier for private companies to bring broadband to rural Georgia by cutting red tape and burdensome regulations.

Public safety was also a key topic and we passed several bills relating to criminal justice reform. Specifically, we passed SB 406 and SB 407 which represented Governor Deal’s criminal justice reform package for the year. SB 406 deals with background checks for those who work in long-term care. SB 407 makes substantial updates to our criminal justice system, including improved use of our accountability courts and updated sentencing procedures for misdemeanor offenders. Both of these bills will go a long way to ensuring a safer Georgia.

Healthcare was another big issue this week. We passed SB 325 which would make Georgia a member of the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact Act. This means that if a natural disaster or some other tragedy occurred, medical professionals from states also part of the Compact can travel in to treat patients. This is great news for rural Georgia as sometimes medical centers in Alabama or Florida can be closer to home than one in Georgia. SB 359 was also passed which would expand transparency in medical billing and would require hospitals and physicians to clearly post on their websites what fees they charge. The final healthcare bill we took up this week was SB 444, which was named the “Senator Thornorn “Ross” Tolleson, Jr. Act.” Ross Tolleson was a member of the state Senate for many years and has first-hand experience related to Alzheimer’s and dementia. This bill would create the Georgia Alzheimer’s and related Dementia State Plan Advisory Council so our state can look into ways we can better treat and diagnose Alzheimer’s and dementia.

One of the biggest pieces of legislation discussed throughout the Capitol this week was the new tax plan worked out by Gov. Deal, Lt. Governor Cagle, and Speaker Ralston. The bill, HB 918, passed through the Senate on Thursday and would double the standard deduction for taxpayers of all statuses. On top of this, it will lower the top income tax rate from 6 percent to 5.75 percent as of January 1, 2019, and contains a provision to lower the rate further to 5.5 percent on January 1, 2020. This is Georgia’s first tax cut since 1937 and is the result of years of conservative stewardship of your tax payer dollars and I am proud to support the measure which will save Georgia taxpayers $5 billion over the next five years, decreasing the tax burden faced by Georgia’s citizens.

I want to mention a few other bills that we passed this week which will have a positive impact on our area:

SB 339 would direct the University System of Georgia’s Board of Regents to establish policies to protect the freedom of speech on Georgia’s university campuses.

SB 409 would make it illegal to cross railroad tracks when on-track equipment is approaching. This bill was especially meaningful because a constituent in our district brought this to my attention. We worked with railroads and the railroad unions to get this bill passed and I am eager to see it signed into law.

SB 458 would allow family owned farms who wish to discontinue their Conservation Use Valuation Assessment to do so at a reduced cost if certain requirements are met. 

SR 774 would create a Joint Study Committee on Adoption Expenses. This resolution goes along with the adoption overhaul bill we passed earlier this session. This joint committee will allow Senate and House members to study this issue of adoption expenses more closely. 

Finally, I want to mention a few groups that took the time to stop by the Capitol this week. We had the state champion Pierce County Cheerleaders, the Charlton County Commissioners, the Georgia Cattlemen’s Association, and others all pay us a visit this week. It’s great seeing folks from home and am so glad these groups had the opportunity to visit.

Our work load will only increase from here, as now the Senate will only be taking up House Bills for consideration. We still have a number of important items still pending, such as the budget, that we’re expected to take up soon. If I can ever be of any assistance, or if I can address and comments or concerns, please reach out to my office.