2017 McDonough Geranium Festival

The 40th Annual Geranium Festival is this Saturday, May 20th—9am to 5pm. This free street festival has been a McDonough citizen favorite for many years now, and you should plan to check it out.

Have you never been? You can expect local artisans, activities for kids, festival food, and a fun day with family and friends on the McDonough Square.

Parking is also free for this event! You can park at the Henry County High School and take a shuttle to the Square. You also have the option to park in  the Judicial Center Parking Deck and walk a short distance to the festival.

Don’t forget to visit local business in the square for lunch and additional shopping! This festival is a fun way to support McDonough business and learn about the community’s organizations, churches, non-profits, and more. For more details on the festival, visit the official Geranium Festival website  or their Facebook page. I hope you enjoy welcoming warm weather and outdoor fun this Saturday!

Week Eleven Update 2017

I was honored to recognize the Level 9 World Xtreme State Champions on March 24th.

The Georgia General Assembly reconvened under the Gold Dome on Monday, March 20 for day 36 of the 2017 legislative session. With sine less than a week away, the House had another busy week of reviewing legislation in committee hearings, voting on bills and resolutions on the House floor and giving final passage to several bills that will now be considered by Governor Deal. In these remaining days and weeks of the session, one might assume that our Capitol business is winding down, but on the contrary, we have especially ramped up our House efforts to perfect legislation before the 2017 session comes to an end.

Senate Bill 206

Hearing loss is one of the most prevalent defects in children from birth to age three, and early intervention is critical for these children, as oftentimes hearing loss can result in speech and literacy deficiencies. The House overwhelmingly passed Senate Bill 206, also known as the Hearing Aid Coverage for Children Act, a bipartisan measure that would provide hearing aids to children in Georgia.

  1. This bill would require that health insurance plans in Georgia cover the cost of hearing aids for children 18-years-old and under who have been diagnosed with hearing loss.
  2. Hearing aid coverage would be limited to $3,000 per hearing aid, and insurers would be required to repair or replace one hearing aid per hearing impaired ear every 48 months for those who are covered.
  3. Insurance plans would cover all medically necessary services and supplies, including the initial hearing aid evaluation and all follow up appointments. The bill clarifies that these requirements would not prohibit a health benefit plan from providing more generous coverage to an insured individual, nor can a health benefit policy deny coverage to an individual because he or she was previously diagnosed with hearing loss.
  4. It will provide deserving children in Georgia with hearing aids and allow children with hearing loss to lead an unaffected life.

Senate Bill 108

The House has passed several measures to improve our state’s military installations and honor and improve the lives of our active duty military personnel, families and veterans. Women veterans oftentimes have different needs than those of their male counterparts, and it is essential that the General Assembly leads the way in ensuring that Georgia meets the unique needs of our female veterans. Passing the House unanimously, Senate Bill 108 will…

  1. Instruct the Department of Veterans Service to create and maintain a women veterans’ office to better serve Georgia’s nearly 100,000 female veterans.
  2. This office would conduct outreach to female veterans to inform them of federal and state veterans’ benefits and services eligibility, as well as assess the specific needs of women veterans regarding benefits and services.
  3. The office would also review programs, research projects and other initiatives designed specifically to aid Georgia’s women veterans, with a focus on issues such as child care and military sexual trauma.
  4. The office would also recruit and train women veterans to serve as mentors for those participating in a veterans’ court division, which provides an alternative to the traditional judicial system for cases involving a veteran defendant.

House Resolution 462

Another military-friendly measure that passed this week was House Resolution 462. HR 462 was adopted unanimously and further confirms the House’s commitment to strengthening Georgia’s military installations and supporting our troops, their families and our veterans. House Resolution 462 reaffirms the House’s dedication to our military personnel by signaling that the House would take all actions it deems appropriate to improve their quality of life, empower them to contribute to our nation’s defenses and maximize the value of our military installations. HR 462 reiterates the House’s sincere desire that the State of Georgia remains integral to our national defense. We are proud to support our armed forces, and by reaffirming our commitment to the military and adopting HR 462, we are sure to continue this trend of passing military-friendly legislation into the future.

  1. Georgia has the fifth largest military population in the country, and with an annual impact of $20 billion, our military is one of our state’s biggest economic drivers.
  2. The Department of Defense directly employs almost 150,000 Georgians and is indirectly responsible for an estimated 330,000 additional jobs in the state.
  3. Our state is home to approximately 750,000 veterans, making Georgia state the eighth largest state in terms of veteran population in the nation.

Senate Bill 174, Senate Bill 175 and Senate Bill 176

Throughout his time in office, Governor Deal has made it his mission to transform Georgia’s criminal justice system, giving offenders a second chance, saving taxpayers money and enhancing public safety in Georgia. To further expand upon these reforms, the House overwhelmingly passed three criminal justice reform bills this week: Senate Bill 174, Senate Bill 175 and Senate Bill 176. These landmark criminal justice reforms have been nationally recognized and emulated in other states across the country, and these measures will continue to build upon Governor Deal’s efforts in promoting rehabilitation and productive citizenry and enhance Georgia’s already remarkable criminal justice reform legacy.

  1. SB 174 would allow the Council of Accountability Court Judges to establish a peer review and certification process to guarantee that veteran court divisions are following the council’s standards and are adhering to the same policies, procedures and standards of other accountability courts in Georgia.
  2. SB 174 would allow the Board of Community Supervision to offer educational, skills-based programs for probationers to encourage employment and successful reentry into society.
  3. SB 174 would give judges the ability to require fines, fees or restitution payments as a probation condition with the option to waive the payment if the court finds a significant hardship.
  4. SB 175 would allow juvenile court judges to issue parental compliance orders in cases involving a delinquent child in order to promote the child’s rehabilitation and welfare and encourage parental involvement.
  5. SB 175 would expand a court’s options when determining how to proceed in cases involving a child that has been deemed incompetent but has committed a crime.
  6. Under SB 175, a court would be allowed to temporarily detain juveniles who pose a threat to public safety.
  7. SB 176 would offer a lower cost alternative to arrest and incarceration when an individual fails to appear in court for a non-serious traffic violation.
  8. Under SB 176, an individual who commits a minor traffic violation would be issued a traffic citation, and the officer would then release the individual for further appearance before the proper judicial officer. If the individual fails to appear for court, the court would notify the accused a second time by mail before issuing a bench warrant, giving the individual 30 days to dispose of the charge or waive arraign and plead not guilty.

House Bill 44

Each legislative session, the General Assembly is constitutionally required to pass a balanced state budget, and this week both the House and Senate gave final approval to House Bill 44, the Fiscal Year 2018 state budget. The FY 2018 budget guides all state spending from July 1, 2017, to June 30, 2018, and the final version of HB 44 resulted from the collaborative efforts of a conference committee made up of House and Senate members.

  1. HB 44 was set by a revenue estimate of $24.9 billion, a $1.25 billion increase from the original 2017 state budget, and addresses some of our state’s critical needs and moves our state forward for our citizens.
  2. HB 44 focuses on our state’s most vulnerable citizens and includes funding for many of the House’s top priorities, such as child welfare, military communities and services members and rural communities.
  3. HB 44 supports our military population by providing funds for additional school counselors in school systems with large military student populations, additional scholarships for Georgia National Guard members and additional veterans support positions.

HB 44 is a win for each one of Georgia’s 10 million plus citizens and is sure to have long term, positive impacts on our state. The FY 2018 budget now heads to Governor Deal’s desk for his final approval.

March 24th marked legislative day 38. My fellow House members and I will now be quickly and efficiently reviewing and passing quality legislation to send to Governor Deal. During this last week of the 2017 legislative session, it is especially important to me that I consider your opinions and understand your concerns, so please do not hesitate to contact me to express your thoughts on any pending House or Senate legislation. My Capitol phone number is 404.656.0254 and my email address is dale.rutledge@house.ga.gov. As always, I am honored to serve as your representative.

Week Ten Update 2017

Day 34: Cheerleading Team of the Year

On Monday, March 13, my House colleagues and I resumed our legislative business on Capitol Hill for legislative day 32 and the tenth week of the 2017 legislative session. With only a few legislative days remaining to complete our work before sine die, the House had a packed legislative agenda this week. We continued meeting in committees to review bills and voted on significant pieces of legislation on the House floor. Sine die is around the corner, and the pace has surely quickened as we continually strive to make Georgia the best state to live, work and play.

Senate Bill 85

We kicked off our week by passing Senate Bill 85, a bill that supports Georgia’s growing craft brewery and distillery industries. This legislation has been in the works for some time. SB 85 would allow craft breweries and spirit distilleries to sell limited amounts of their products directly to their visitors. Currently, breweries and distilleries are only permitted to distribute their products to customers through facility tours, but SB 85 would remove this requirement and allow these establishments to sell their products to the public for consumption both on and off the facility’s premises. SB 85 would allow malt beverage brewers and manufacturers to sell up to 3,000 barrels of malt beverages per year for consumption on and off the premises with a limit of 288 ounces per consumer per day for consumption off-premises. Spirit distilleries could also sell up to 500 barrels of distilled spirits per year for consumption on or off the premises with a limit of 2,250 milliliters per consumer per day for consumption off-premises. Currently, our state’s three-tier system requires breweries and distilleries to sell their products to a wholesale distributor who then sells the products to a retailer where the products are then sold directly to consumers. SB 85 would provide an exception to Georgia’s three-tier system, and with SB 85, Georgia would join the 49 other states that allow direct sales from breweries, bringing Georgia’s policy in line with other states and meeting the demands and needs of this growing marketplace. This bill supports Georgia’s small businesses and would make our state more economically competitive, further solidifying Georgia’s reputation as the No. 1 state in the country for business.

Senate Bill 169

This week we overwhelmingly passed a bill to honor our state’s law enforcement officers and give Georgians a way to show their appreciation to these brave men and women. Senate Bill 169 would create a specialty license plate with the phrase “Back the Badge” displayed across the bottom of the plate in support of Georgia law enforcement officers. These license plates would be available for purchase, and the proceeds from license plate sales would be distributed to the Peace Officers’ Annuity and Benefit Fund of Georgia, a fund that prepares Georgia’s peace officers for retirement and provides retired law enforcement officers with pension benefits. My colleagues and I are immensely grateful for Georgia’s law enforcement officers’ heroic and selfless service to our state, and this measure provides a mechanism for Georgians to thank and express support for the peace officers who put their lives on the line for each and every citizen.

Senate Bill 96

Senate Bill 96, a measure designed to improve lives by expediting the organ donation process, passed unanimously out of the House this week. SB 96 would:

  1. Expand the list of non-physician medical personnel authorized to determine or pronounce death if it appears the patient died of natural causes.
  2. It would authorize registered professional nurses, nurse practitioners and physician assistants to pronounce the death of a patient in a nursing home or hospice care facility in the absence of a physician, regardless of the patient’s organ donor status.
  3. It would improve the quality of care of recently deceased individuals in Georgia while also improving the lives of many organ donation recipients.

Senate Bill 47

The House saw the unanimous passage of another measure this week that would provide a licensure exemption to allow certain visiting, out-of-state medical practitioners to legally provide services while they are in Georgia. Senate Bill 47 would permit out-of-state physicians, physician assistants and athletic trainers traveling with a sports team to provide care for athletes and coaching staff during sporting events in Georgia. The visiting practitioners would be required to be licensed and in good standing in another state, and this licensure exemption would require an agreement with the sports team before care could be provided. Such out-of-state medical personnel would not be authorized to provide care or consultation services to Georgia residents, practice at any Georgia health clinic or facility or write prescriptions in this state. Under current Georgia law, out-of-state physicians, physician assistants and athletic trainers are not permitted to provide care to their teams while they are in Georgia for a sporting event, but SB 47 would let these traveling health care providers perform their medical duties while visiting our state. There are 22 states with similar legislation, and enacting this legislation in Georgia would further encourage reciprocity between states.

Senate Bill 109

Another bill that the House passed this week was Senate Bill 109, a measure designed to quickly and effectively mobilize the day-to-day movement of out-of-state emergency management services (EMS) personnel across state lines during a declared emergency.

  1. It would create the Recognition of Emergency Medical Services Personnel Licensure Interstate Compact (REPLICA) to allow emergency EMS personnel to enter Georgia and provide care to communities and citizens during declared emergencies by the governor.
  2. It would support the licensure of military members separating from active duty tours and their spouses, promote compliance with EMS personnel laws in member states and authorize member states to mutually recognize member state licenses.
  3. It would encourage member state cooperation and regulation and facilitate the exchange of information regarding EMS personnel licensure and rules between member states. The compact has been enacted in eight other states and would become fully operational once 10 states have enacted the compact.

House Bill 146

The House saw the final passage of House Bill 146 this week, one of the first of many bills this session to receive final approval by both chambers of the General Assembly. House Bill 146 would require fire departments to provide adequate insurance coverage for Georgia’s firefighters who have been diagnosed with cancer. Because of their line of work, firefighters are exposed to dangerous cancer-causing carcinogens, and according to research, firefighters more likely to be diagnosed with certain cancers than the general population. Georgia’s courageous firefighters selflessly put themselves in harm’s way, in spite of the health risks associated with their occupation, to keep our families and communities safe. As a reflection of the General Assembly’s gratitude for their service, this bipartisan measure received overwhelming support in both the House and Senate this legislative session. This critical legislation will now go to Governor Deal’s desk for final consideration.

House Resolution 173

On Tuesday, March 14, the House recognized some of its most admirable citizens in honor of National Guard Day at the Capitol. As we celebrated National Guard Day in the House chamber, Adjutant General Joe Jarrard and members of the Georgia National Guard joined us and were presented with House Resolution 173 commending the Georgia Department of Defense’s 10,908 Army National Guard Soldiers, 2,896 Air National Guard Airmen and 509 State Defense Force members. These men and women serve the U.S. Department of Defense’s combatant commanders as ready military forces, as well as support homeland defense and provide civil authorities with defense support with the governor’s consent. Georgia’s Army National Guard is the eighth largest in the country, and last year alone, the Georgia National Guard deployed more than 600 soldiers and airmen. Our state’s valiant warriors are true patriots and make tremendous sacrifices to defend our freedoms. It was an honor to recognize the remarkable and distinguished Georgia National Guard members under the Gold Dome.

With only legislative five legislative days remaining in the 2017 session, the House will be busier than ever during this crucial time to ensure that the legislation being considered is good policy for Georgia and its citizens. As we continue working with the Senate to ensure the final passage of legislation this year, please do not hesitate to contact me with any concerns you may have about bills being considered at your State Capitol. Stop by my office at the State Capitol, call my capitol office at 404.656.0254, or reach out to me via email at dale.rutledge@house.ga.gov.

Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative!

Week Nine Update 2017

On Monday, March 6th, we returned to the Gold Dome for legislative day 29, beginning the ninth week of the 2017 session. With Crossover Day behind us, the House went back to work this week and began to focus on legislation that was already passed by our counterparts in the Senate. We spent much of our time this week reviewing Senate bills in House committee meetings to ensure that each bill is fully vetted before its final passage. My colleagues and I still have much more work to complete for the citizens of this state before sine die.

Senate Bill 69

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. Senate Bill 69 was voted on by the House this week and passed overwhelmingly. This bill 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.

Senate Bill 78

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Senate Bill 102

Passing the House overwhelmingly, Senate Bill 102 will preserve life and incentivize statewide health care facility improvements.  

  1. It would create the Office of Cardiac Care (OCC) within the Department of Public Health. This office would be responsible for designating qualified hospitals throughout the state as “emergency cardiac care centers,” similar to Georgia’s stroke and trauma care centers.
  2. The legislation would establish a three-level emergency cardiac care designation system for these centers with each level providing various degrees of care to help emergency medical technicians quickly determine the most appropriate hospital for cardiac patients depending on the patient’s needs.
  3. The OCC would be required to conduct sites visits and collect, analyze and report data on all out-of-hospital cardiac arrest and heart attack patients in hopes of improving survival rates and providing comprehensive care to patients.
  4. It would give hospitals the option to apply through the OCC to be designated as an emergency cardiac care center if the hospital meets certain criteria, and grants would be awarded to hospitals in need of funding in order to be designated an emergency cardiac care center.
  5. The OCC would submit an annual report to the governor, the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House and the chairpersons of both the House and Senate Health and Human Services committees specifying the number of hospitals that have applied for grants, the number of applicants eligible for grants, the number of grants to be awarded and the name and amount awarded to each grantee.
  6. The OCC would provide the medical directors of Georgia’s licensed emergency medical services providers with an annual list of designated emergency cardiac care centers and also maintain a copy of the list in the OCC and online.

House Resolution 389

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, 2017, 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 December 31, 2017 and the second report to be submitted by December 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.

House Resolution 490

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 Thursday, 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 the 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.

House Resolution 492

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 police 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.

March 10th marked legislative day 31 of the 2017 legislative session. As we continue working with the Senate to ensure the final passage of meaningful legislation, I encourage you to contact me in the weeks remaining with any concerns you might have about any of the bills that are up for consideration in the House or Senate. Your comments are always important to me, and I hope to hear from you soon. You are always welcome to stop by my office at your State Capitol, and you can reach me at my Capitol office phone number, which is 404.656.0254, or by email at dale.rutledge@house.ga.gov. As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative!

Week Eight Update 2017

On Friday, March 3rd we reached legislative day 28, also known as “Crossover Day.” Crossover Day marks a crucial deadline for the Georgia General Assembly as this is the last day for bills to pass the legislative chamber from which they originated to remain eligible for consideration for the session. It’s typically one of the longest days of our legislative session. We worked into the night to pass meaningful and significant House bills to send to our Senate counterparts for their consideration.

House Bill 427

My colleagues and I have focused a great deal of our attention to supporting our state’s rural hospitals and health care needs, and this week,we demonstrated our support for these areas by overwhelmingly passing legislation to would expand the current service cancelable loan program for physicians and practitioners in underserved areas. Here are just a few benefits of House Bill 427:

  • It would expand the program by making loans available to dentists, physician assistants and advanced practice registered nurses who have completed their medical or health care education and would allow those loans to be repaid by those health care practitioners agreeing to provide health care services in rural areas.

  • It would address the shortage of physicians and other health care practitioners in underserved rural Georgia and reflects a statewide push to solve this issue, as the bill’s intent is to attract quality providers to areas in dire need of medical assistance.

    House Bill 338

The General Assembly has proven its commitment to improving educational opportunities for Georgia’s students year after year through wide-ranging public policy. House Bill 338 passed the House this week, and I look forward to seeing the long-term positive effects of this legislation:

  1. It seeks to improve Georgia’s struggling and lowest performing public schools.

  2. It creates an alternative support and assistance system that falls under the State Board of Education’s (SBOE) intervention power, or schools that receive an unacceptable rating, in the form of a turnaround school which would create a new level of governance to oversee these schools that choose this turnaround alternative.

  3. This bill would expand the SBOE’s ability to remove local boards of education and would create a Joint Study Committee on the Establishment of a State Accreditation Process to explore the advantages and disadvantages of establishing a state public school and school system accreditation process and a Joint Study Committee on the Establishment of a Leadership Academy to study the possibility of establishing a leadership academy for principals and school leaders to grow in their leadership knowledge and skills.

  4. It will greatly benefit our students attending underperforming public schools across our state and also allow us to understand the root of the issues plaguing so many of our young learners.

    House Bill 245

We saw the passage of several bills this week that would further improve Georgia’s status as a “military friendly” state. House Bill 245, a bipartisan measure that received unanimous passage, would require the Georgia Professional Standards Commission to streamline the process to allow military spouses to qualify for temporary certificates, certificates by endorsement or expedited certificates to better facilitate their entry into Georgia’s workforce when moving to our state.

Military Spouses and Veterans Licensure Act: a measure requiring professional licensing boards in the state to implement a process by which military spouses can qualify for profession, business or trade temporary licenses, licenses by endorsement and expedited licenses.

The Military Spouses and Veterans Licensure Act addressed a real concern thousands of military families faced, but the act inadvertently omitted teacher’s licenses from eligibility. HB 245 authorizes military spouses who serve as certified educators in another state to teach in Georgia’s public schools, allowing the individual to immediately begin working upon relocation while they await permanent licensure.

House Bill 470

Another bipartisan bill that passed unanimously this week and would create a better quality of life for our military personnel was House Bill 470. House Bill 470 would authorize the Department of Economic Development to create the Governor’s Defense Initiative, a grant program aimed at reviewing economic development opportunities at and around military installations and providing assistance to communities surrounding these facilities. A military community would submit a grant application to the Department of Economic Development, and the department would determine the grant amount on a case-by-case basis by taking into account  the following:

  1. The proposed goal of the grant.

  2. The extent that the grant would better the relationship between the military community and military facilities.

  3. The promotion of the military installation’s economic development investment into the military community; or assistance in efforts to protect the military installation from a federal review.

In order to receive the grant, each military community would be required to match these awarded funds allocated by the Department of Economic Development. HB 470 would provide military communities with the opportunity and financial means to simultaneously invest in the communities and protect Georgia’s precious military installations. Our military installations represent the single largest economic development investment in our state, providing thousands of jobs to their surrounding communities. Investing in these communities encourages stronger relationships between military installations and the communities they host. Our military personnel and families make great sacrifices to ensure our safety, and this measure, and other the military-friendly bills passed this session, are the least we can do to thank the brave men and women who selflessly protect our freedoms.

House Bill 330 & 331

Finally, the House unanimously passed two bipartisan bills to improve kinship care in Georgia. House Bill 330 would require the Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) to provide kinship caregivers, meaning relatives or family friends who have taken on the responsibility and guardianship of a child, with contact information for a regional DFCS case worker who is knowledgeable in kinship care and financial assistance information.

House Bill 331, known as the Caregiver Educational Consent Act, would authorize a kinship caregiver to give legal consent for educational services, medical services relating to academic enrollment and curricular and extracurricular participation, making it easier for kinship caregivers to enroll children in school. The bill would create the Kinship Caregiver’s Affidavit, a form that would be valid for one year and would designate the caregiver as a school’s point of contact for the child regarding attendance, discipline and educational progress, but would not affect the rights of the child’s parent or legal guardian. There are over 100,000 children in Georgia in kinship care, and this legislation would provide support to these families across the state by simplifying processes and providing caregivers with necessary resources to help them raise a child.

All bills passed by the House must “cross over” to the Senate and vice versa. We will spend the remaining 12 legislative days considering Senate bills. In these last days of the 2017 session, I hope you will reach out to me if you have any questions on bills that may be up for consideration during these final weeks. As your representative, your thoughts and opinions on these important issues are essential to my decision-making process. I appreciate your input and am happy to answer your questions. You are always welcome to stop by my office at your State Capitol, and you can reach me at my Capitol office phone number, which is 404.656.0254, or by email at dale.rutledge@house.ga.gov.

Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative!

Week Seven Update 2017

Last week marked the 7th week in the 2017 legislative session. My colleagues and I worked hard to draft, discuss, and pass legislation that addresses the current issues facing our great state. The week was full of long hours and hard work, as we are preparing for the quickly approaching Crossover Day, but it resulted in the successful passage of several key pieces of legislation. The following bills were discussed and passed this week on the House floor:

House Bill 250

HB 250 is aimed at giving foster parent applicants, caregivers to foster children, and education program employees the ability to submit a previously passed satisfactory background and fingerprint record check to the Department of Family and Children Services to satisfy the department’s record check requirement. As the requirement currently stands, anyone who cares for a foster child must complete their background check through DFCS, making background checks from other agencies unacceptable. This bill seeks to allow satisfactory background and fingerprint record checks from the previous 24 months to be submitted to DFCS for approval. The bill came to be after an early child care teacher, who had recently passed a background check, was unable to care for a child in foster care because their background check was not completed through DFCS. The bill’s purpose is to remove all obstacles that would prevent the successful placement of children into foster homes, and to allow flexibility for those who are trying to care for and better the lives of Georgia’s foster children.

House Bill 159

HB 159 aims to reform Georgia’s adoption laws based on the interests of the child, birth parents, and adoptive parents. This bill would do the following:

  1. Reduce the minimum age of a single petitioner from 25 to 21; thus allowing judges the ability to discern if an adoption is in the best interest of the child on a case-by-case basis.
  2. Provide an exception to the requirement that the petitioner must be 10 years older than the adoptive child in relative and stepparent adoptions.
  3. Provide a path for the domestication of a foreign decree of adoption and makes the adoption process easier for Georgia’s adoptive parents who have dealt with the complex and stringent federal foreign adoption laws.
  4. Make the signature of the individual over the age of 18 seeking the surrender of parental rights permanent, therefore waiving the 10-day right to revoke period.
  5. Eliminate the 6 month residency requirement for adoptive parents to petition to adopt.
  6. Allow non-residents of Georgia to adopt Georgia-born children.
  7. Allow Georgia residents to adopt from out-of-state agencies.
  8. Allow birthmothers in non-agency adoptions to receive limited living expense payments covering the cost of food, rent and utilities, and authorizing independent attorneys to dispense these funds in connection with private independent adoptions.

Our state currently has an outdated adoption code, and we seek to align Georgia’s adoption process with other states to allow for quicker and more efficient adoptions.

House Bill 224 and House Bill 148

As we have navigated the 2017 legislative session, my colleagues and I have made it a priority to improve the lives of Georgia’s veterans, active duty military personnel, and their families. This week we continued this effort by passing two bills that seek to benefit Georgia’s military students. Beginning in the 2017-2018 school year, House Bill 224 gives military students the ability to attend any school within their school system. Children of a military service member that live in military housing, on or off base, would have the ability to attend any public school of their choice, if it is in their school system and if space is available. The local boards of education would notify parents of military students of the opportunities available to them, and help to transition these students smoothly between schools.  The parents of these students would be responsible for the student’s transportation to and from school. House Bill 148 also seeks to service the children of military families. HB 148 is also known as the Educating Children of military Families Act, and would authorize the Department of Education to create unique identifiers for students of either active-duty military service member or reserve member of the National Guard families. These unique identifiers would help to monitor the progress and educational needs of these students and would make sure that teachers, counselors, and other relevant school employees would be aware of the unique challenges facing military students. These bills seek to improve the quality of life for Georgia’s military personnel and their families, in order to protect Georgia’s military bases from future BRAC closures. Georgia is home to the 5th largest military population with an annual economic impact of $20 billion. The quality of public education was one of the most important priorities for military families according to the House Military Affairs Study Committee. These bills aim to provide children of these families with the best educational experience possible.

House Bill 222

Under HB 222, a member of the Georgia National Guard or a member of a reserve component of the armed forces of the United States located in our state can be classified as a legal Georgia resident under eligibility requirements for HOPE Scholarships and grants. Under eligibility for HOPE Scholarships and grants, students must be a legal resident of Georgia for 12 consecutive months prior to the first day of classes. Unfortunately, members of the Georgia National Guard or the reserves are frequently required to relocate, and may be unable to meet this requirement. Military personnel and military spouses or dependent children who are stationed in Georgia on active duty or who list their home of record as Georgia are recognized as residents under eligibility requirements for the HOPE Scholarships and grants. HB 222 would add the Georgia National Guard members and members of a reserve component of the U.S. armed forces located in Georgia to that list. These brave men and women are defending our freedoms and serving in our state, and we want to honor their service by giving them the opportunity to receive a quality education.

House Bill 237

HB 237 establishes the Public Education Innovation Fund Foundation under the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement and allows for individuals, corporations, and communities to financially assist Georgia’s low-performing schools. This bill would allow the foundation to receive private donations from taxpayers that would in turn allow grants to be awarded to low-performing schools in Georgia, thus allowing public schools to fund academic and organizational innovations to improve student success. Taxpayers must electronically notify the Department of Revenue of their donation amount and must be approved to make the donation by the state revenue commissioner. Taxpayers would then be allowed a credit of up to:

  1. $1,000 per year for single individuals
  2. $2,500 per year for married couples filing joint returns
  3. $10,000 per year for individual members of limited liability companies, shareholders of Subchapter ‘S’ corporations or partners in partnership

A corporation would be allowed credit no greater than the amount that they donated or 75% of their income tax liability, whichever is less. The total amount of credits, distributed on a first come, first serve basis, would be limited to:

  1. $7 million per year through 2025
  2. $10 million per year for 2026

These credits would end in the year 2033, the bill’s designated sunset date. The foundation would also be required to submit an annual report to the Department of Revenue that included the number/value of of donations and tax credits approved, the total number/value of public school grants warded, and a list of donors and the value of their donations/tax credits approved. This bill provides a way for taxpayers to assist schools in Georgia that may need support.

In addition to passing many significant bills this week, we also took time to recognize and welcome U.S. Senator David Perdue and Congressman Sanford Bishop to the House. They provided us with words of encouragement, updates from Washington D.C. and remarks from our nation’s capital. It was an honor to hear from these leaders.

Next week begins one of the busiest weeks of the 2017 legislative session. Crossover Day lands next Friday, March 3rd. Crossover Day is the deadline for passed legislation to be considered this session. My colleagues and I will work long hours and pass even more legislation this next week. Please contact me during this critical time with any concerns you may have. You can view my committee assignments for the 2017-2018 legislative term here. You are always welcome to come and visit me at my capitol office located at 601-C Coverdell Legislative Office Bldg. Atlanta, GA 30334. Please feel free to contact me by phone at 404.656.0254, or by email at dale.rutledge@house.ga.gov.  

Learn more about me on my website www.votedale.com or interact with me on my Facebook page. To livestream House proceedings, view both live and archived committee meetings and to review legislation that my colleagues and I are considering visit www.house.ga.gov Continue to stay up-to-date on the current legislative session and check back here next week. As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative!

 

Week Six Update 2017

Tuesday, February 14th marked the beginning of the sixth week of the 2017 legislative session. By the end of the week we had completed legislative day 20, marking the halfway point of the session. With only 20 days remaining, and “Crossover Day” quickly approaching, my colleagues and I are working hard to pass important bills. This week marked the passage of one of the most important pieces of legislation of this session: the Fiscal Year 2018 (FY 2018) budget, or HB 44.

House Bill 44

The General Assembly is mandated to pass a balanced budget every year, and this past Friday the House fulfilled this duty. The Fiscal Year 2018 Budget was passed on Friday, February 17 and will direct our state’s spending from July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018. The FY 2018 budget is 5.3% or $1.25 billion higher than the FY 2017 budget at $24.9 billion, making it the largest in Georgia’s history. The following allotments were made in the FY 2018 budget:

Education

The mass of the FY 2018 budget is designated to the 1.74 million students, as well as teachers, administrators, faculty and staff in Georgia. With $780.2 million budgeted towards education, the FY 2018 budget seeks to ensure that Georgia has the educational resources we need to succeed. $162 million of this is designated towards a 2% merit pay increase, incorporated into their salary schedule, for more than 126,000 teachers in Georgia.  A 2% salary increase is also included for nutrition personnel and bus drivers in our school systems. In order to promote school safety and help reduce disciplinary incidents, $1.6 million is allocated towards the addition of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) trainers and school climate specialists. $2.7 million in new and current funds is designated towards one AP STEM exam for each student taking an AP STEM course in the state. Additional school counselors for all school systems are also included in the budget, with $4.05 million allocated towards these positions. $445,145 is designated for school systems that have a large military population for the creation of a competitive grant program for the funding of counselor positions to provide support for students of military families. The Governor’s Office of Student Achievement was also allocated $1.5 million in order to provide low performing high schools with a certified school counselor-graduation specialist, giving priority to the chronically failing high schools first.

Department of Human Resources

HB 44 includes funding for several key areas found under the Department of Human Resources including $10.7 million for a $10 per diem rate increase for foster parents. This rate increase helps to aid over 19,000 young people in the foster care system. Additionally, $25.8 million is allocated for a 19% salary increase for child welfare services caseworkers. $14.9 million is designated for relative foster parents caring for our state’s children.  HB 44 includes $2.8 million in funding for 80 new Department of Family and Children Services positions that will provide support for foster parents.The Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) is allocated $500,000 in order expand and advocate on behalf of Georgia’s children. A $1.5 million allocation is also included for a $5 hourly pay increase for Special Assistant Attorneys General who support child welfare cases. HB 44 also designated $6 million towards the creation of a Behavioral Health Crisis Center, which would provide 24/7 walk-in services for individuals struggling with mental illness or substance abuse, providing an alternative to hospital care. The FY 2018 budget also includes $500,000 towards the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation agency in order to provide scholarships for students with developmental disabilities. Lastly, $2 million is designated to the Alzheimer’s Project which is dedicated to the promotion of early detection and treatment of Alzheimer’s.

Military

The allocation of funds for our military communities and services members was a priority for the 2018 FY Budget.  The legislation provides $358,996 for 4 veteran benefits training officers who would work with the Veterans Accountability court to serve those who have entered the criminal justice system upon returning from war. Additionally, the bill allocates $137, 650 to ensure the challenges facing female veterans are met through the creation of a women veterans coordinator position. $359,437 is designated to the actuarially determined employer contribution for the Georgia Military Pension Fund to continue fiscal sustainability. A commissary for active-duty and retired military personnel and their families will also be established in Marietta under HB 44. This commissary will be called the Military Family Support Center and would allow the 400,000 authorized users in Georgia to be eligible to purchase discounted groceries and household goods.

Health

The 2018 FY budget includes $92 million in Tenet settlement funds. These funds will be matched by federal funds and used to meet many needs, including $38.4 million for Medicaid expansion, $20.7 million for behavioral health services for children diagnosed with Autism  under the age of 21, $325,000 for an Adolescent to Adult Transition Model for adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder, $2.5 million for behavioral health services for children under the age of 4, and other health programs.  The budget also allocates 97 new residency slots for primary care medicine, 10 slots for OB/GYN residency and a new psychiatry residency program.

Law Enforcement

Under HB 44, $55.5 million is allocated towards the annualization of a 20% salary increase for Georgia’s law enforcement officers, as well as increases for canine officers and criminal investigators in order to attract new recruits and to reduce turnover. The legislation also includes a $2.6 million public safety training allocation, in order to ensure that local law enforcement officers are equipped to face the challenges of today’s police forces. The budget additionally includes funds for 4 scientist and 2 technical positions for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, in order to increase the rate at which rape kits are processed and to address the untested rape kits that were a result of the Senate bill 304 from the 2016 legislative session.

My colleagues and I also passed a number of other bills that will now make their way to the state Senate for consideration. The following bills were passed out of the House this week:

House Bill 139

This legislation aims to increase the transparency in Georgia’s public school systems. HB 139 aims to do this by requiring the Georgia Department of Education to create and publish an online database that reports the financial performance of the local school systems and schools in Georgia. This database would disclose the following:  the costs of all materials and equipment, staff salaries and benefits, professional development, facility maintenance, new construction or renovation, per student expenditures for each school system, the annual budget of the school system, the ratio of expenditures to revenue, and the total property tax revenue the system is authorized to collect. As it currently stands, there is no user-friendly, public way to access this information. Thus, HB 139 would also require each public school with a website to display a link to the Department of Education’s website, where the public will be able to access this compiled, aggregated, and reported financial data. It is important that Georgians know how their tax dollars are spent and this legislation seeks to bring transparency to just that.

House Bill 160

HB 160 aims to create the Georgia Commission on Transit Governance and Funding. This commission would be co-chaired by the chairmen of the House and Senate Transportation committees and would be composed of 4 members appointed by the governor, 4 members of the House chosen by the Speaker of the House, 4 members of the Senate chosen by the President of the Senate, the Georgia Department of Transportation’s Commissioner of Transportation, the Executive Director of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority and the CEO of MARTA. The commission would hold meetings that would allow for the public’s input and then compile their findings and offer recommendations for the creation of a mass transportation system, including the funding and legislation required to accomplish its proposals.  Our state’s growing population and traffic congestion needs could be addressed through the structure, knowledge base, and support of the Commission on Transit Governance and Funding.

House Bill 1

The Georgia Space Flight Act (GSA), or HB 1, would bring the $330 billion per year commercial spaceflight industry to our state. The bill would define procedures for commercial space flight activity and limit the ability of a willing spaceflight participant to sue for damages related to spaceflight activities occurring in this state if the participant was required to provide written consent. It would not protect against any injuries suffered by non-consenting third-parties affiliated with space flight activity. The language of HB 1 mirrors that of the federal regulations regarding liability coverage as well as industry standard used in states with space programs. The proposed site is located in Camden County and would be called Spaceport Camden. It would have a huge impact on not only Camden County’s economy, but also the surrounding counties. In terms of our state’s economy, STEM related job growth and tourism would be evident in Georgia, both growing and diversifying our economy.

House Bill 9

After the Georgia Court of Appeals ruling overturned the conviction of an individual for one count of criminal invasion of privacy for videotaping underneath a woman’s skirt in the grocery store, this legislation was introduced. HB 9 updates Georgia’s invasion of privacy law, closing the loophole found in current Georgia law. The above ruling was overturned because the defendant’s actions occurred in a public space. Current Georgia law related to the invasion of privacy is applied only to situations that occur in a “private place of viewing.” HB 9 seeks to make filming under or through a person’s clothing a felony in Georgia by criminalizing the use of a device to secretly observe, photograph, videotape, film or record underneath or through a person’s clothing to view parts of the body where the individual has reasonable expectation of privacy. The legislation would also make it unlawful to distribute the images or recordings. This bill was overwhelmingly passed by the House.

House Bill 43

Gov. Deal signed the Amended Fiscal Year 2017 Budget, or HB 43, into law this past week authorizing $24.3 billion in spending for the current fiscal year. This marks one of the first pieces of legislation in the 2017 session that has been signed into law by the governor. Governor Deal, along with officials and legislators, held a signing ceremony for HB 43 at the future site of the Georgia Cyber Training and Innovation Center in Augusta on Wednesday, February 15th. This location was significant as it is the future home of the $50 million Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center that will be a state-owned education and training center that will aim to promote innovation in cybersecurity technology.  The amended budget will also include investments in economic development initiatives, law enforcement salary increases, growing educational needs, and the improvement of our state’s transportation system.

Please continue to reach out as the remainder 2017 legislative system continues to quickly progress. You can view my committee assignments for the 2017-2018 legislative term here. You are always welcome to come and visit me at my capitol office located at 601-C Coverdell Legislative Office Bldg. Atlanta, GA 30334. Please feel free to contact me by phone at 404.656.0254, or by email at dale.rutledge@house.ga.gov.  Don’t hesitate to reach out with any opinions or questions you may have. I look forward to hearing from you!

You can learn more about me on my website www.votedale.com or interact with me on my Facebook page. To livestream House proceedings, view both live and archived committee meetings and to review legislation that my colleagues and I are considering visit www.house.ga.gov Continue to stay up-to-date on the current legislative session and check back here next week. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative!

 

Week Five Update 2017

My colleagues and I returned to the Gold Dome on Tuesday, February 7th to start another exciting week in the 2017 legislative session. This week was full of House committee activity as many bills, and their respective committees, began to make it to the House floor for a vote. This week marked the passage of several bills that will better the lives of many Georgians. The following bills were voted on this week:

House Bill 146

HB 146 is legislation that will help to protect the lives of  Georgia’s firefighters. The purpose of this bill is to require insurance coverage for Georgia’s firefighters who are unable to continue working, having been diagnosed with cancer. HB 146 would require fire departments to maintain insurance coverage for these firefighters, if they have served on-duty for 12 consecutive months. The insurance benefits would include:

  1. Lump-sum benefit: $25,000 or $6,250 based on severity of the cancer
  2. If the firefighter is unable to perform their duties due to their diagnosis they will receive a monthly benefit starting 6 months after proof of diagnosis and continuing for 3 years, a monthly benefit of 60% of firefighter’s monthly salary at the time of diagnosis, or a monthly benefit of $5,000, whichever is less.

Volunteer firefighters who are unable to work due to a cancer diagnosis would also be covered by the bill. Volunteer firefighters would receive a monthly benefit of $1,500 for the same 3 year period. Additionally, the bill allows firefighters to maintain their insurance coverage through retirement or career change, but they would be responsible for any premiums in those respective circumstances. HB 146 would allow counties and cities to use tax revenue to buy the insurance for the firefighters under this bill. Firefighters are frequently exposed to cancer-causing carcinogens. Studies have shown that firefighters tend to have higher rate of particular cancers than the rest of the population. The bill would cover the following types of cancer:  bladder, blood, brain, breast, cervical, esophageal, intestinal, kidney, lymphatic, lung, prostate, rectal, respiratory tract, skin, testicular, thyroid, leukemia, multiple myeloma or non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Firefighters selflessly work to protect our citizens, often times not considering the long-term risks that can be associated with their bravery. HB 146 was passed with overwhelming support. I was proud to vote in favor of legislation that seeks to help and support the brave men and women who fearlessly work to protect us all.

House Bills 83 and  84

HB 83 and HB 84, both in support of the Georgia Firefighters’ Pension Fund, were also passed this week. The Georgia Firefighters’ Pension Fund was established in 1955 and benefits Georgia’s firefighters and their beneficiaries through assets held in trust. Under HB 83, the Georgia Firefighters’ Pension Fund would be able to invest up to 10% of its total assets in real estate. This is currently prohibited. If the Georgia Firefighters’ Pension Fund decreases in value, it is able to retain its real estate investments if they were owned prior to the decrease in assets. Allowing the fund to invest in real estate will provide the fund additional income from rent received, as well as help secure the fund’s assets for future beneficiaries. Under HB 84, the Georgia Firefighters’ Pension Fund would be able to invest up to 10% of its total assets in alternative investments or nonconventional assets. These include privately placed invest pools, private investment funds and venture capital funds, and more. Currently, the fund can only invest up to 5% of its total assets in these alternative investments. Both of these bills seek to provide flexibility and investment opportunities for the Georgia Firefighters’ Pension Fund, in turn providing even greater benefits for Georgia’s firefighters.

House Bill 176

HB 176 is legislation that seeks to ensure the efficiency of the Georgia Department of Agriculture. The bill would allow the Georgia Department of Agriculture to enter into agreements with the Food and Drug Administration, under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). Under the FSMA, various farms and packing houses are required to be inspected. Currently, the federal government is responsible for carrying out these inspections. Under HB 176, the Georgia Department of Agriculture would have the ability to conduct inspections of farms and packing houses, in addition to other regulatory actions, that would ensure the provisions of FSMA. The bill would allow the Department of Agriculture to streamline its processes by giving them the ability to enforce federal law independently of the federal government. HB 176 was passed with tremendous support.

House Bill 75

This unanimously passed bill would help to protect Georgia’s youngest citizens by allowing law  enforcement or prosecution agencies to confidentially share information regarding ongoing child abuse, neglect, or dependency investigations with the Department of Human Services and The Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) and other child protective agencies. Under current legislation, important information pertaining to these pending investigations is subject to open records requests. In an effort to protect the lives of other children, a law enforcement agency in North Georgia shared information with DFCS regarding a pending investigation into the death of a child. While this was necessary, it also allowed for those confidential law enforcement records to have the possibility of being made publically available through DFCS, no longer deeming them confidential. Thus, this bill was introduced. Law enforcement officers need the ability to privately share information with DFCS and other governmental child protective agencies when deemed necessary. The purpose of HB 75 is to ensure information like this is kept confidential until an investigation is completed in order to ensure both the safety and wellbeing of Georgia’s children.

As the legislative session continues, the House committees will be meeting more frequently to consider legislation. You can view my committee assignments for the 2017-2018 legislative term here. You are always welcome to come and visit me at my capitol office located at 601-C Coverdell Legislative Office Bldg. Atlanta, GA 30334. Please feel free to contact me by phone at 404.656.0254, or by email at dale.rutledge@house.ga.gov.  Don’t hesitate to reach out throughout the legislative session with any opinions or questions you may have. I look forward to hearing from you!

You can learn more about me on my website www.votedale.com or interact with me on my Facebook page. To livestream House proceedings, view both live and archived committee meetings and to review legislation that my colleagues and I are considering visit www.house.ga.gov Continue to stay up-to-date on the current legislative session and check back here next week. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative!

 

Week Four Update 2017

Monday, January 30th marked the start of the fourth week of the 2017 session. The committees and subcommittees were busy as we considered a multitude of bills that are making their way through the legislative process. In addition, my colleagues and I met in the House chamber to pass legislation that best serves the needs of the voters in our district, as well as the state of Georgia.

House Bill 38

This legislation was unanimously passed and seeks to differentiate three-wheeled vehicles that are controlled by a steering wheel from motorcycles. These three-wheeled vehicles, like the Polaris Slingshot, are currently seen as motorcycles under Georgia law despite their classification as automobiles under federal safety standards. Under Georgia law, drivers of these three-wheeled vehicles are required to obtain a Class M motorcycle license. House Bill 38 seeks to change this. With this legislation, drivers of three-wheeled vehicles would be required to obtain a Class C commercial driver’s license to ensure their proper education in the operation of their vehicles. The ultimate purpose of this bill is to make our roadways safer for all drivers.

House Bill 58

Also promoting roadway safety is House Bill 58. This legislation will update the reference date in Georgia law regarding the safe operation of motor carriers and commercial motor vehicles to the federal regulations. Currently, these federal regulations are effective as of January 1, 2016. HB 58 would update this date to January 1, 2017. This law was unanimously passed and seeks to keep Georgia law up to date with federal regulations.

House Bill 49

House Bill 49 seeks to protect both Georgia’s farmers and the agriculture industry, the oldest and largest industry in the state. In Georgia, livestock dealers and auction operators are required to be licensed, however, these licenses do not cost the dealers anything and they never expire. Under this bill, licensed livestock dealers and auction operators would be required to obtain a license from  the Commissioner of Agriculture. In addition to the possession of this license, the dealers would also be required to renew the license every 3 years and maintain surety requirements. Under current law, the Georgia Department of Agriculture is unable to track the number of licensed dealers and the respective financial health of those dealers. House Bill 49 would require the Commissioner of Agriculture to publish the names and locations of the licensed dealers in Georgia both online and in writing. With the introduction of online livestock dealing has come a regulatory gap in our state. This has resulted in many transparency concerns. Too frequently our hardworking farmers are taken advantage of by fraudulent livestock dealers. The legislation will also define the terms surrounding livestock dealing, including ‘livestock dealers’ and ‘surety,’ or a document that ensures the steadfast performance of the terms of contract performance. The bill will also permit the Georgia Department of Agriculture to charge a triennial fee of $25 to both livestock dealers and buyers, as well as a triennial fee (not exceeding $200) based on surety required  to livestock markets. The purpose of this bill is to further ensure consistency and transparency in our largest industry. This legislation was unanimously passed by the House.

As we devote our time to the legislative process, it is also important that we take time to honor the dedicated Georgians that we are privileged to serve.  On Tuesday, we remembered the lives of Peach County Sheriff’s Deputy Daryl Smallwood and Sgt. Patrick Sondron. These courageous officers were shot and killed on November 6, 2016 when responding to a call. State Representative Robert Dickey presented House resolutions that honored these officers to their families. We were joined by their colleagues in the House chamber as we all commemorated the lives of these brave officers. We praise the ultimate sacrifice that they made to both their community and the state of Georgia.

This week concluded with the unanimous House adoption of an adjournment resolution.  This resolution set the calendar for the remainder of the 40 day session, and marked the last day of session on Thursday, March 30. This is the 40th day of session and is known as ‘sine die.’ I am looking forward to continuing to work hard on your behalf here at the capitol. If you have any questions or concerns about current legislation being considered here, please feel free to reach out. You can view my committee assignments for the 2017-2018 legislative term here. You are always welcome to come and visit me at my capitol office located at 601-C Coverdell Legislative Office Bldg. Atlanta, GA 30334. Please feel free to contact me by phone at 404.656.0254, or by email at dale.rutledge@house.ga.gov.  Don’t hesitate to reach out throughout the legislative session with any opinions or questions you may have. I look forward to hearing from you!

You can learn more about me on my website www.votedale.com or interact with me on my Facebook page. To livestream House proceedings, view both live and archived committee meetings and to review legislation that my colleagues and I are considering visit www.house.ga.gov Continue to stay up-to-date on the current legislative session and check back here next week. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative!

Week Three Update 2017

Last week marked the third week of the 2017 legislative session. This week was both busy and profitable, as several House committees and subcommittees met throughout the week to consider legislation and pass the first bill of the session: the Amended Fiscal Year 2017 budget. On Wednesday, the House convened with the Senate to hear Chief Justice P. Harris Hines of the Supreme Court of Georgia. Chief Hines delivered the annual state of the Judiciary Address, reporting the previous accomplishments and current challenges the judicial branch faces.

In his State of the Judiciary Address, the head of the judiciary, Chief Justice Hines addressed the following:

Supreme Court Expansion

2017 marks a “historic year of change” for the already strong judicial branch of our state government. Previously being comprised of only 7 Supreme Court Justices, our state’s highest court is soon to expand. For the first time in Georgia’s history the Supreme court of Georgia will now include 9 Supreme Court Justices and 32 superior court judges, marking a historic growth for Georgia. Georgia’s continued growth in economy and population requires equal judicial growth. My colleagues and I look forward to the addition of these new justices and judges, as well as the fresh perspective and coherent interpretation of the justice system that they will bring.

Council on Criminal Justice Reform

Georgia has made substantial improvements to its criminal justice system over the past 6 years, resulting in great progress and national recognition. Unfortunately, the state still has the highest rate of individuals on probation in the country. Of these individuals on probation, half are serving for misdemeanors. In hopes of continued reform, Chief Justice Hines called upon the General Assembly to work towards continued advancement in this area by announcing that the Council on Criminal Justice Reform will work together with the General Assembly in order to improve probation sentencing for low-risk offenders. The Council on Criminal Justice reform is a bipartisan council that conducts periodic reviews of criminal laws, and aims to decrease the supervision of low-level offenders. This decrease in supervision saves taxpayer dollars and allows officers to focus on high-risk offenders. I look forward to the continued reform and future legislation regarding the state’s probation and criminal justice systems.

Legal Representation for Georgians who Cannot Afford an Attorney

In the last year, Georgia courts heard over 800,000 cases in which Georgians represented themselves in court. These cases were due to a gap in legal representation for Georgians who are unable to afford an attorney. There are many working, middle-class citizens that cannot afford legal representation in Georgia. These individuals are making too much to qualify for aid, but not enough to hire a lawyer. This results in many Georgians representing themselves in court which both slows down court proceedings and decreases the likelihood of them winning. Chief Justice Hines plans to work alongside Georgia’s State Bar and our law schools to implement a program that will further the current practices of law students to cover these individuals. This year, over 1,000 law students will represent low-income Georgians who cannot afford a lawyer. This program helps our law students gain experience, Georgians who cannot afford representation, and does so without creating excess cost for the state or the citizen. Chief Justice Hines hopes to expand the current program to cover this unrepresented gap in legal coverage.

Juvenile Court Judges

Chief Justice Hines specified the need for full-time juvenile court judges who are among the best and that have the proper resources needed to recognize the requirements of Georgia’s children. Chief Justice Hines also asked for the General Assembly’s support in institutionalizing a data exchange system for the juvenile court. The system would help to ensure that the judge and the state agencies in the child’s life have the same information available to them. We must make sure that the juvenile court judges are fully able to serve the needs of Georgia’s children.

The House was particularly hard at work this week as we passed the Amended Fiscal Year 2017 budget, the first piece of legislation this session. The initial 2017 fiscal year budget was passed in 2016 and set state spending at $23.7 billion, but in order to recognize discrepancies in projected budget and actual revenue obtained the legislature also has to pass an amended state budget. The AFY 2017 budget recognized $606.2 million in additional revenue, a 2.5% increase from the FY 2017 budget. This brings the total Amended Fiscal Year budget to $24.3 billion. House Bill 43, or AMY 2017, was introduced to the House floor on January 26, after diligent work from the members of the House Appropriations Committee, subcommittees and the House Budget and Research Office. House Bill 43 was passed with a vote of 174-1. The following issues are addressed in the bill:

Improving the Georgia’s Education System

To make sure that every child in Georgia has the educational resources they need, House Bill 43 includes $108.9 million for midterm enrollment growth of .68%. The budget also allocates $16.7  million to the Move on When Ready Program, which allows eligible Georgia students to take advantage of dual enrollment and to advance at their own pace. The AFY 2017 budget also allocates $2.3 million for the  Georgia center for Early Language and Literacy at Georgia College and State University, a educational center that will educate teachers on how to develop literacy skills among children up to age 8. My colleagues and I are working hard to provide the brightest possible future for Georgia’s students.

Public Safety Officials

A 20% pay raise for law enforcement officers statewide, including both officers and investigators from the Department of Public Safety, the Department of Community Supervision and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, was included in the AFY 2017 budget. This translates to $25.1 million of the budget; additionally $23.5 million was allocated for the replacement of old vehicles with 612 new vehicles for public safety agencies. These budget items will allow our state troopers faster response times and more reliable vehicles.

Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center

The House allocated $50 million of the AFY 2017 to the governor’s proposed Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center. This state-owned facility will be developed in Augusta, and is designed to enhance both public and private cybersecurity technology as well as prepare students to combat cyber-attacks. The facility will bring both young talent and business to our state, and will help to protect our state and country from cyber-attacks.

Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS)

The AFY 2017 budget allocates $974,712 to the rate increase for the DFCS foster parents. This part of the budget is in place to expedite the 57% per diem rate increase for the foster parents, moving the effective date to April 1, 2017. Also included in the budget is a $1 per day increase for the foster care providers, amounting to $746,243.

Governor’s Emergency Fund

Last weekend Gov. Deal declared a state of emergency in 16 South Georgia counties, as the southwest region of our state was devastated by severe weather. This horrific storm took the lives of at least 15 Georgians and injured many others, all while ravaging homes and businesses. FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, assisted 6 of these Georgia counties to make certain they received the help that they needed. The Amended Fiscal Year 2017 budget includes a $5 million allocation to supplement the federal funding received by FEMA. My colleagues and I send our condolences to these communities and families who have been affected by these tumultuous chain of events.

In addition to the legislative accomplishments we achieved this week, the House of Representatives also took time to commemorate the life of State Representative Bob Bryant from Garden CIty. Bob passed away last year during the legislative session. He is remembered as a friend, a colleague, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a veteran. On January 26, in memory of his legacy and his 12 years of  service as a state representative for the state of Georgia, Mickey Stephens with the Savanah-Chatham Delegation and the Bryant family introduced the House Resolution 116 in his honor.

As the legislative session continues, the House committees will be meeting more frequently to consider legislation. You can view my committee assignments for the 2017-2018 legislative term here. You are always welcome to come and visit me at my capitol office located at 601-C Coverdell Legislative Office Bldg. Atlanta, GA 30334. Please feel free to contact me by phone at 404.656.0254, or by email at dale.rutledge@house.ga.gov.  Don’t hesitate to reach out throughout the legislative session with any opinions or questions you may have. I look forward to hearing from you!

You can learn more about me on my website www.votedale.com or interact with me on my Facebook page. To livestream House proceedings, view both live and archived committee meetings and to review legislation that my colleagues and I are considering visit www.house.ga.gov Continue to stay up-to-date on the current legislative session and check back here next week. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative!