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Summary: Week 11 of 2022 Session

The Georgia General Assembly res umed its legi slative business on Monday, March 21. We completed Crossover Day last week, and with this legislative milestone behind us, my colleagues and I went back to work in our House committees to examine Senate bills. As a result, the House Rules Committee scheduled several Senate bills for a vote on the House floor this week. Meanwhile, our Senate counterparts gave final passage to some House bills that are now eligible to be signed into law by Governor Brian Kemp.

My colleagues and I unanimously passed Senate Bill 358 on the House floor to encourage those who serve in the U.S. military to live and work in our state as they transition to civilian life. This legislation would allow the Georgia Public Safety Training Center to reimburse the specific training costs incurred when active duty, retired or honorably discharged members of the U.S. military participate in basic law enforcement training. This bill would not authorize reimbursements for travel, lodging or supplemental salaries and would solely supplement costs of tuition incurred for training. If implemented, this funding would be subject to appropriations by the Georgia General Assembly. By making it easier for interested veterans to participate in basic law enforcement training, we can provide a pathway to good paying jobs for these veterans and help fill vacancies within our law enforcement agencies across the state. The House also passed Senate Bill 396 to help food banks purchase fresh, affordable produce from Georgia farmers. This bipartisan legislation would allow the Georgia Department of Agriculture to implement a program for regional food banks to purchase surplus food products from Georgia farmers. To help kick start this program, SB 396 would clarify some of our laws and set guidelines that would help food banks negotiate discounted prices with Georgia farmers. Specifically, this legislation would rename the Georgia State Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to the Georgia Grown Farm to Food Bank (F2FB) Program, and this bill would also set the price of produce purchased through the program at the farmer’s cost plus one half of the market price. Further, an annual report for F2FB would include each Georgia grown product purveyor, producer or processor from which the program procured food. These food banks estimate that they are offered approximately 14 million pounds of food products each year, but they are forced to turn away four to five million pounds due to a lack of funding to purchase these fresh foods. Consequently, the House and Senate are working together to ensure that state funding is included in the Fiscal Year 2023 budget to match federal funds for F2FB to address unused agricultural products and fresh produce shortages in regional food banks. With SB 396 and an increase in state funding, our state could provide fresh food to those struggling with food insecurity, while also helping local farmers across the state find a new customer base for their surplus products so they don’t go to waste.

Many Georgians living with chronic illnesses, along with their doctors, typically must jump through hoops to get certain medications covered by insurance, and this week, the House passed Senate Bill 341 to help lessen this burden for doctors and their patients and provide a better pathway for obtaining treatment. Oftentimes, patients with chronic illnesses must submit prior authorization forms to their insurance provider every few months for medications used to treat chronic conditions, but SB 341 would allow these patients to go through a single authorization process that would last for a minimum of one year. Under SB 341, the chronic condition would have to require ongoing medication that is prescribed by a provider and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This bill would not apply to opioid analgesics, benzodiazepine or medications with a typical treatment period of less than 12 months. The prior authorization approval process can be lengthy, leaving these patients without access to their crucial medications. SB 341 would allow Georgians living with chronic illnesses to get these necessary medications with minimal disruption to their daily lives, as well as allow doctors to focus on treating patients instead of navigating government red tape.

The Georgia House also passed the following Senate bills this week: Senate Bill 226, which would require local boards of education to create a complaint resolution policy for local schools by January 1, 2023, to allow parents or guardians to submit complaints to the school about inappropriate content that is harmful to minors and available to the students at the school. This bill would also require the school’s principal or designee to investigate a complaint and confer with the parent/guardian in a timely manner; SB 226 also includes requirements for an appeals process, and it would make any material deemed harmful to minors available online for parents to review; following the bill’s passage, a motion was filed to reconsider this action, and the House will vote on SB 226 again on the next legislative day; Senate Bill 331, the Protecting Georgia Businesses and Workers Act, which would prohibit local jurisdictions from enforcing any rule or ordinance that regulates the hours or scheduling that a private employer is required to provide to employees or that regulates employee output during work hours; Senate Bill 346, which would require a company that submits a bid or a contract proposal with the state to certify that the company is not owned, operated or affiliated with the Chinese government; a company’s false certification would result in civil liability, termination of contract and ineligibility for future state contracts; this prohibition would not affect state contracts with Taiwan; Senate Bill 395, which would increase the number of superior court judges in the Mountain Judicial Circuit from two to three; the third judge would be appointed for a term beginning January 1, 2023, through December 31, 2024, and his or her successor would be elected at the non-partisan judicial election in 2024; Senate Bill 469, which would align Georgia’s laws with federal laws regarding requirements for visual distress signals and floatation devices on watercrafts; Senate Bill 493, which would authorize non-judicial foreclosures of timeshare estates by an owners’ association, and this bill outlines requirements for these foreclosures; Senate Bill 514, the Unmask Georgia Students Act, which would prohibit local public and charter schools from making or enforcing any rules that require students to wear face masks or face coverings at school, unless the rule would allow parents to exempt their child without disclosing their reason for opting out; SB 514 would also prohibit schools from disciplining students whose parents have elected to exempt their child from the mask policy; following the bill’s passage, a motion was filed to reconsider this action, and the House will vote on SB 514 again on the next legislative day; Senate Bill 543, which would clarify Georgia’s slayer statute by prohibiting an individual who kills, conspires to kill or procures the killing of an individual from subsequently claiming a right to recover from the decedent’s estate; Senate Bill 581, which would designate the Georgia State Plane Coordinate System as the system for defining and stating geographic positions for property surveying within the state, and continued use of the old system’s legal descriptions would remain valid in the new system designation.

Several House bills also moved along in the Senate this week. The Senate passed an updated version of House Bill 911, or the Fiscal Year 2023 budget, and the House and Senate will continue to work towards a final version of FY 2023 budget before it receives final passage. The Senate gave final passage to House Bill 385, which would allow retired educators to return to teaching in the classroom while still receiving their state retirement benefits; this teacher workforce initiative will head to the governor’s desk for his consideration. House Bill 1064 also received final passage and will create tax exemptions for military retirement income for both working and fully retired service members once it is signed into law.

In other news, the governor signed House Bill 304 at the end of last week to immediately suspend the state’s motor fuel excise tax through the end of May 2022. Gas prices have continued to increase as a result of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, but this measure seeks to offer some financial relief and save Georgians a few more dollars when they visit the pump. The governor also signed House Bill 1302 into law this week to create a onetime tax credit for Georgians using $1.6 billion in undesignated surplus funds from the Amended Fiscal Year 2022 budget. Eligible Georgia taxpayers can expect to receive a tax credit based on their 2020 tax filer status. Single tax filers will receive a $250 refund, head-of-household filers will receive $375, and those who file jointly will receive a $500 refund. The two measures reflect the House’s goal to keep Georgia an affordable place to call home. There are only five legislative days left in the 2022 legislative session, and the House will be busier than ever during these final days to ensure that we pass sound policies for Georgia and all of its residents. As we continue to work with the Senate to secure the final passage of legislation this year, please do not hesitate to contact me with any thoughts you may have about bills being considered at your State Capitol during these finals days of the session. Your input will help guide my decisions during this crucial time, and I always appreciate your feedback. My Capitol office phone number is (404) 656-0188, and my email address is robert. [email protected] As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.

As the State Representative for District 149, Robert Pruitt serves Dodge County, Telfair County, Wheeler County, Cadwell, and Hazlehurst. During the second week of the 2021 Legislative Session, Rep Pruitt was appointed to serve on the Industry and Trade, Economic Development, and Small Business committees for the next two years. Robert and his wife Kelly have been long time residents of Eastman.

By Rep. Robert Pruitt (District 149)

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