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!