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!