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What’s next on the agenda

POSTED: March 5, 2014 4:00 a.m.

This week, the Georgia General Assembly hit an important deadline: Crossover Day.

All of the bills still being considered in 2014 are now seeking the approval of the other chamber-this means that all live Senate bills are now in the House, and all live House bills are now in the Senate.

Unfortunately, this also means bills that didn't receive a vote in their chamber of origin, and therefore did not "cross over," are no longer eligible for consideration in 2014.

Since this is the second half of a biennial term, all unsuccessful bills will need to be re-introduced in 2015. Many legislators will continue to work on these bills throughout the rest of the year to fine tune these proposals and increase their chances for consideration next year.

However, there is a very large number of Senate and House bills that are still active, and I think it's safe to say our work is cut out for us over the next few weeks.

The Georgia General Assembly has passed several bills in 2014 to protect the well-being of our youngest citizens, but last week, the Senate passed what some consider the most high-profile bills of the session related to children.

The first bill was Senate Bill 167, which provides an approach for withdrawing from the national education standards known as "Common Core" and outlines new protections for student privacy.

SB 167 creates the Curriculum Content Standards Advisory Council; a group made up of parents, university professors and other citizens tasked with advising the board of education on revising and adopting content standards.

In addition, SB 167 requires all statewide tests and assessments to be only controlled by the State of Georgia, requires the Department of Education to inform the Georgia General Assembly of the long-term effects of any educational grant and prohibits officials from giving up constitutional authority over standards and testing to third parties.

One of the most important parts of SB 167 concerns student privacy. SB 167 enforces higher student privacy controls by defining limited categories of data that can be collected and disclosed without parental consent, and also bans the use of student records for commercial purposes. The bill received Senate approval last week, and is now undergoing a thorough review in the House of Representatives.

The second bill, Senate Bill 397, concerns a topic that has undergone years of debate and compromise. SB 397 extends insurance coverage to the early detection and treatment for autism spectrum disorders in Georgia's children. Under the legislation, health care policies would be expected to provide coverage for diagnostic testing, applied behavioral analysis treatments and unlimited doctor or specialized care visits. This coverage is for children up to six years of age.

After the first year of the bill's effective date, insurers who provide this coverage would result in at least a 1 percent rate hike for all policies, or the costs associated with treatment would exceed 1 percent of average premiums charged, would be exempt from providing coverage for one year.

The coverage requirements outlined in Senate Bill 397 does not apply to plans for small businesses with less than 10 employees, and there is no requirement to provide coverage for autism spectrum disorder for any insurance plans offered through the health exchange. If signed into law, Georgia would join 35 other states that currently provide some form of autism insurance coverage. SB 397 is also now in the House of Representatives for consideration.

The Senate also took action on a number of other bills last week, including:

SB 93: This bill allows the use of suppressors on legal hunting firearms, and suspends hunting privileges of a person convicted of violating certain hunting regulations.

Status: Passed Senate; under consideration in House.

SB 320: Senate Bill 320 states that any Georgia court with jurisdiction in criminal cases can create a veterans' division to handle cases involving veterans.

Status: Passed Senate; under consideration in House.

SB 343: This legislation creates the High School Athletics Overview Committee and also amends portions of Georgia code related to the athletic association participation in the Quality Basic Education Act.

Status: Passed Senate; under consideration in House.

SB 386: This measure requires sensitive information, such as Social Security numbers, taxpayer ID numbers and financial account numbers, be redacted from court filings.

Status: Passed Senate; under consideration in House.

SR 415: This resolution is a constitutional amendment limiting the power of the Georgia General Assembly to raise the state income tax above its current rate.

Status: Passed Senate; under consideration in House.

The Georgia Senate also gave final approval to the FY 2014 Amended Budget, and the bill was immediately transferred to the Governor for his signature. We are now working to complete our work on the FY 2015 General Budget.

I was pleased to welcome several District 51 visitors to the Georgia State Capitol last week, including Jenna Gearing, a two-time state champion cross country runner from White County High School; Dr. Beth Rauhaus and her political science students from the University of North Georgia; Leadership Dawson; and Gilmer County Boy Scout Troop 404. It was also an honor to host White County leadership and youth leadership for White County Day at the Capitol.

I will be hosting a town hall meeting at 9 a.m. March 8 at Mike's Restaurant in Ellijay. Like my previous town hall meetings, I will provide an update on the 2014 legislative session. I invite anyone who would like to attend.

We may be starting the final descent of the 2014 legislative session, but I want you to know I am never too busy to answer your questions or hear your concerns about proposed legislation. As always, it is an honor and a privilege to represent District 51 at the Georgia State Capitol.

Sen. Steve Gooch serves as chairman of the Transportation Committee. He represents the 51st Senate District, which includes Dawson, Fannin, Gilmer, Lumpkin, Union and White counties and portions of Forsyth and Pickens counties. He may be reached at (404) 656-9221 or via email at steve.gooch@senate.ga.gov.

 

 

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