We returned to the Gold Dome on March 6 for legislative day 29, which began the ninth week of the 2017 session.
We have completed Crossover Day, and with that legislative milestone behind us, the House went back to work and began to focus on legislation that was already passed by our counterparts in the Senate.
We spent much of our time reviewing Senate bills in House committee meetings to ensure that each bill is fully vetted before its final passage.
The end of session is drawing closer, but my colleagues and I still have much more work to complete for the citizens of this state before sine die.
As House committees shifted their focus to measures from our Senate colleagues this week, some Senate bills began making their way through the committee process and onto the House floor for a vote.
One such bill was Senate Bill 69, which was voted on by the House this week and passed overwhelmingly.
SB 69 would eliminate the duplicative registration requirements for those who produce, process, distribute or handle any certified organic food or products in Georgia.
Currently, these individuals are required to register with both the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Georgia Department of Agriculture before producing, processing, distributing or handling any food or product labeled "organic."
Under this legislation, certified organic producers would no longer be required to register with the Georgia Department of Agriculture and would only be required to register with the USDA. Both the state and national Departments of Agriculture currently use these registration requirements, which are identical between both agencies, to compile individual lists of Georgia's certified organic producers.
While, the Georgia Department of Agriculture would no longer collect this data under SB 69, the department would continue to provide public access to this list on its website by linking to the USDA's list. By eliminating this unnecessary and redundant state certification requirement, we would improve and simplify this process for Georgians who provide organic foods and products to our state.
My colleagues and I passed another Senate bill this week dealing with the Georgia Department of Agriculture that would better ensure the quality of our food. Senate Bill 78 passed by a wide margin in the House and would authorize the Commissioner of Agriculture to issue variances or waivers to certain Department of Agriculture rules and regulations.
Variances or waivers would be issued to rules regarding food contamination and misbranding within the food retail service industry, including establishments such as grocery stores and meat markets that make food products like smoked salmon and beef jerky.
SB 78 would authorize the Commissioner of Agriculture to grant a modification to all or part of a food safety requirement or rule if the rule would create a substantial, unique and obvious economic, technological, legal or other hardship that would impair that person's ability to continue to function in the regulated practice or business.
Under SB 78, in order for the commissioner to grant an individual a rule waiver or variance, the individual must first demonstrate that the rule can still be achieved through an alternative method, and variances or waivers would not be authorized if doing so would be harmful to the health, safety or welfare of the public.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) already permits this flexibility at the federal level, and this bill would simply afford Georgia's Commissioner of Agriculture this same flexibility to help those subject to the department's rules while also continuing to protect the health of our citizens.
In addition to passing Senate bills this week, the House also voted on and adopted a number of noteworthy House resolutions, which are typically not subject to the Crossover Day deadline. One resolution, House Resolution 389, would create the House Rural Development Council to identify the challenges and economic development opportunities in Georgia's rural communities, an issue that has been at the forefront of many discussions this session.
The House Rural Development Council would be made up of 15 members of the House of Representatives appointed by the Speaker of the House and would be tasked with examining the various challenges facing rural areas across our state.
This council will also explore potential legislative solutions in policy areas such as education, infrastructure, health care access and economic growth incentives to revitalize our rural areas. Beginning April 1, the council would lead a thorough, intensive and systematic two-year study of rural Georgia by holding meetings throughout rural areas on a regular basis to hear from local officials, educational and business leaders, healthcare providers, civic groups and individuals interested in offering input.
The council would submit two reports detailing its findings and legislative recommendations, with the initial report to be submitted by Dec. 31, 2017 and the second report to be submitted by Dec. 31, 2018.
Although Georgia is the No. 1 state in the nation to do business, not all parts of our state have enjoyed the same levels of economic success, and rural Georgia faces its own unique challenges.
The House Rural Development Council would provide our legislators with the opportunity to examine and seek solutions to these distinctive issues in rural parts of our state, and I look forward to seeing rural Georgia thrive as a result of this council's work.
In addition to passing these bills and resolutions this week, my colleagues and I also had the chance to honor some very deserving Georgians.
On March 9, Major General James E. Rainey and men and women of Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield's Third Infantry Division joined us in the House chamber as the House of Representatives recognized Third Infantry Division Day at the Capitol.
Fort Stewart is home to more than 20,000 active duty military soldiers and has been distinguished as the top U.S. Army installation worldwide six times.
The Third Infantry Division, which is based at Fort Stewart, has one of the most successful combat records of any U.S. Army division, having been deployed in both world wars, the Korean War, the Persian Gulf War and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Additionally, the Third Infantry Division played a key role during the Cold War, and 51 Third Infantry Division members are Congressional Medal of Honor recipients.
The House commended Major General Rainey and the Third Infantry Division with House Resolution 490 for their heroic service and great sacrifices for the people of our state and nation, and I am honored Fort Stewart and its courageous soldiers call Georgia home.
Finally, we took time this week to celebrate Law Enforcement Appreciation Day at the State Capitol. House Resolution 492 recognized March 6 as Law Enforcement Appreciation Day. This day was dedicated to honoring Georgia's highly trained and professional certified peace officers who daily put their lives on the line to serve and protect every one of us.
Georgia's approximately 54,000 certified peace officers serve across many state agencies.
All of these officers must undergo a comprehensive training program that includes classroom instruction, practical skills building sessions and advanced specialized courses based off of their specific sections, such as criminal investigations and legal and organizational development. Georgia's certified peace officers enforce traffic laws and investigations, provide criminal investigation and forensic laboratory assistance, respond to natural disasters and promote and facilitate overall crime prevention and public safety.
We have lost 699 officers in the line of duty throughout our state's history, including nine officers within the past year alone, and it was only fitting that we honor the lives of the brave men and women we have lost and those who continue to serve and protect our communities.
As you know, I am continuing the tradition of holding a weekly informational breakfast each Saturday during session. This Saturday we will be meeting at 9 a.m. at the Wagon Wheel in Dahlonega.
I am honored to serve as your Representative at the State Capitol. I am always available to assist you and encourage you to contact me with questions or your opinions. I can be reached on my cell phone at (678) 776-5059, at the Capitol at (404) 656-3947 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.