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!